The popular annual Suzuki Series kicked off near Taupo on Sunday with all the usual fizz, fanfare and frenetic race action and, despite the star power of the international entries, it was the Kiwi locals who emerged as the early frontrunners. That’s not to say that any of these New Zealand riders can afford to rest on their laurels, however, with the riders visiting from overseas sure to grit their teeth and fight back at round two in the Manawatu this coming Sunday.

Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, on the outskirts of Feilding, is the venue for racing this Sunday and the visiting riders from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany and Australia are determined to make the most of Saturday’s practice day to ensure they’re fighting fit and fast for the racing proper on Sunday. The prestige of the Suzuki Series is such that, each year since the inaugural running in 2008, it entices many of the world’s leading road-race exponents to make the long journey Downunder.

This year has been no exception with British rider Peter Hickman certainly a draw-card, despite this being his first time racing in New Zealand. Internationally-renowned Hickman won at the Isle of Man earlier this year, setting a new lap record, and also celebrated wins in 2018 at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland and at the Ulster Grand Prix. Hickman is here to compete at all three rounds of the Suzuki Series, racing his BMW motorcycle under the Carl Cox Motorsports banner, although his first foray at Taupo last weekend was stymied by a little off-track excursion.

Running with the leaders in Sunday’s first of two Formula One Superbike class races, Hickman’s bike was clipped from behind by another rider and the two of them shot off the track and into the catch-gravel, often endearingly referred to by the riders as the “kitty litter”. Hickman managed to rejoin the race and settled for 14th at the finish. He crossed the finish line in 11th position in race two, the heat of the race track surface playing havoc with tyre traction and the pace of Kiwi riders Mitch Rees, Damon Rees, Shane Richardson and Scott Moir simply outrageous.

This year’s Suzuki Series has also welcomed the return of likeable Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger.

Saiger was absent for family reasons last year but he did win the Suzuki Series’ F1 class in 2014. However, his experiences at this year’s series opener in Taupo was not a good one. Suffering issues with the set-up of his suspension, Saiger managed only 10th and 15th in his two F1 outings on Sunday, well below what everyone knows he is capable of. Expect to see a very different Saiger at Manfeild this weekend, a circuit that has been a happy hunting ground for him in the past.

Another international star who has made the trip to New Zealand is British and world sidecar championship contender John Holden, who has again this year teamed up with Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter as his “wingman”. Holden and Shorter won the sidecars’ F1 class at the 2016 edition of the Suzuki Series and it looks as if they already have one hand on the sidecars trophy this year too. The Holden and Shorter combo qualified fastest in the F1 sidecars class at Taupo and then blitzed the field in winning both of Sunday’s points races.

British sidecar duo Phil Hyde and Gary Bryan also added international sparkle to the F2 sidecars class in what was their first Kiwi appearance last weekend, and they twice finished runners-up, both times behind Bay of Plenty heroes Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan.

“This year’s entry list is the largest we’ve had in the 10 years since the inaugural Suzuki Series. The popularity is global, particularly for the Cemetery Circuit final round on Boxing Day,” confirmed Suzuki Series organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy.

Hundreds of talented racers, engineers and mechanics, team managers, sponsors and the many fans have all become engrossed in this special ‘mini’ season of pre-nationals racing and there are still two weekends of racing to come. After Manfeild on Sunday, the Suzuki Series will wrap up with its traditional Boxing Day street races, around Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit.

Leading standings after Sunday’s first of three rounds in the Suzuki Series are:

Formula One Superbike: 1. Shane Richardson (Wainuiomata) 44 points; 2. Scott Moir (Taupo) 40; 3. Jake Lewis (Rangiora) 36.
Formula Two 600: 1. Damon Rees (Whakatane) 51 points; 2. Avalon Biddle (Waimakariri) 44; 3. Toby Summers (Manukau) 38.
Formula Three: 1. Jacob Stroud (Palmerston North) 26 points; 2. Leigh Tidman (Taumarunui) 22; 3. Glen Skachill (Wellington) 20.
GIXXER Cup: 1. Jesse Stroud (Hamilton) 48 points; 2. Zak Fuller (Taupiri) 47; 3= Shane Miller (Sanson) and Clark Fountain (Greymouth) 38.
Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior: 1. Duncan Coutts (Whangarei) 51 points; 2. Peter Bogusz (Paraparaumu) 44; 3. Gian Louie (Hastings) 40.
Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior: 1. Scott Findlay (Auckland) 51 points; 2= Chris Sales (Palmerston North) and Dean Bentley (Lower Hutt) 42.
Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and Formula Sport, Seniors: 1. Brendon Coad (Auckland) 51 points; 2. Steve Bridge (Ngaruawahia) 40; 3= Brad Groombridge (Taupo) and Malcolm Bielski (Wellington) and Glen Eggleton (Rotorua) 35.
Bears (non-Japanese bikes) and Formula Sport, Seniors: 1. Gary Morgan (Te Awamutu) 45 points; 2. Stephen Bates 44; 3= Paul Jenkins (Kaikohe) and Robert Lammas (Palmerston North) 36.
Super Motard: 1. Duncan Hart (Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Jette Josiah (Taumarunui) 44; 3= Russell Josiah (Taumarunui) and Andrew Rudd (Ashburton) and Will Young (Wellington) 36.
F1 Sidecars: 1. John Holden/Robbie Shorter (England/Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Chris/Richard Lawrance (Warkworth) 42; 3. Ian Staples/Mark Thompson (Whanganui) 38.
F2 Sidecars: 1. Barry Smith/Tracey Bryan (Tauranga) 51 points; 2. Gary Bryan/Philip Hyde (Leceister, UK) 44; 3. Mark Halls/Darren Prentis (Auckland) 40.


Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan