It was a stunning opening round for this season’s New Zealand Superbike Championships in Canterbury at the weekend, with close racing through all the various bike categories, a major lap record shattered and several new ones set.

The Yamaha-sponsored five-round series was launched at Mike Pero Motorsport Park (Ruapuna) in Christchurch at the weekend and, right from the first race on Saturday afternoon, it dealt up drama of the highest order and then heated up further as temperatures soared to 31 degrees Celsius by late Sunday.

Whakatane’s Damon Rees qualified fastest in the glamour Superbikes class and led at the start of the first of the weekend’s three races for the class.

But, when he ran off the track on that opening lap of the race, dropping to 11th and last on the track, it left the way clear for local favourite Alastair Hoogenboezem to inherit the No.1 position.

Rees’s elder brother and team-mate, Mitch Rees, was now in second spot and he kept Hoogenboezem honest until Mitch Rees crashed spectacularly on the seventh lap of 10, allowing Hoogenboezem’s team-mate and fellow Christchurch man Jake Lewis into the No.2 spot and that’s how the race finished.

However, eyes were mostly fixed on the brave fight-back from Damon Rees, who rocketed from last place to third at the final flag, setting a new Ruapuna lap record of one minute 29.189 seconds in the process.

Damon Rees then backed that up with two superb race wins on Sunday, the last race of the weekend also counting for Grand Prix trophy honours, and he was, therefore, the overall winner of the class at Ruapuna, although this has been declared provisional as engine checks are yet to be undertaken on several machines.

With Hoogenboezem adding a pair of runner-up placings to his score-card on Sunday, it meant had to settle up for overall runner-up for the event in the superbike class, albeit ending the weekend just two points behind Damon Rees.

“I could not have asked for a better weekend actually. Some would say I should be happy with my third on Saturday, but I’m never happy unless I’m winning,” said Damon Rees afterwards.

Hoogenboezem was also highly-satisfied with his weekend. 

“I’m pretty happy with that. Damon (Rees) has been racing in Australia all last season, so it feels like a win achieving this against him,” said Hoogenboezem. 

“The grids might be a little down on numbers, but certainly there’s plenty of talent out there on the track and I’m happy with my results here.”  

Meanwhile, Whanganui’s Richie Dibben was simply sensational in the Supersport 600 class, the virtual newcomer to the class qualifying fastest and then winning all three 600cc races over the weekend.

The third race win, which also gave him the GP title win for 2020, was perhaps the highlight as he won the gruelling 15-lapper by a solid 3.9 seconds over Te Awamutu’s David Hall, with Manukau’s Toby Summers third in that prestigious race. 

That result also gave a Hall a share of second overall for the weekend, putting him level on points with Palmerston North-based former Greymouth rider Ashton Hughes, the two men 29 points behind Dibben as the riders now head to Timaru for round two of the series next weekend.

In addition to the Superbikes lap record achieved by Damon Rees, Whangarei’s Jason Hearn set a new time of one minute 44.404 for the Supersport 300 class and Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan set a new time of one minute 59.06 for the inaugural Supersport 150 class.

Other class leaders after the weekend’s racing are Whangarei’s Jason Hearn (Supersport 300); Whangamata’s Benjamin Rosendaal (650 Pro Twins); Christchurch’s Dennis Charlett (250 Production, support); Christchurch’s Matthew Hoogenboezem (Supersport Lightweight, support); Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (Sidecars); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150) and Nelson’s Tyrone Kuipers (GIXXER Cup 150, support).

GP title winners for the weekend were: Damon Rees (Superbikes, provisional only); Richie Dibben (Supersport 600); Auckland’s Nathanael Diprose (Supersport 300); Whangaparoa’s Nathan Jane (650 Pro Twins); Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (Sidecars) and Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150).

The 2020 New Zealand Superbike Championships are supported by Yamaha New Zealand, Aon Insurance, ICG and Pirelli, Trust Aoraki, Blue Wing Honda, NZ Racing Board, Timaru District Council, Bike Rider Magazine and Sky Sport Next.

2020 NZ Superbike Championships calendar:
Round 1 – January 11-12, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch;
Round 2 – January 18-19, Levels International Raceway, Timaru;
Round 3 – March 7-8, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato, Mike Pero MotoFest;
Round 4 – March 28-29, Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild, Feilding;
Round 5 – April 4-5, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.

Credit: Words and Photo by Andy McGechan