Two of five rounds are now in the record books, but it would be foolish indeed to read too much into the current points standings in so many of the bike classes.
Whakatane’s Damon Rees may be comfortably leading the glamour superbikes class, but, sadly, it is certain that he won’t win the national title this summer.
It has been edge-of-the-seat stuff for the riders and for the spectators too in the early part of the series, as three or four riders cut and thrust for an advantage on the race track in every one of the superbike races at round one at Ruapuna (Christchurch) and at round two at Levels International Raceway (Timaru) too, the Yamaha-sponsored 2020 New Zealand Superbike Championships so far delivering all that was promised in terms of high-calibre entertainment.
In the end, there is room only for three riders on the podium and it was Whakatane’s Damon Rees (Honda), Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem (Yamaha) and visiting Australian rider Lachlan Epis (Suzuki) who claimed those coveted top spots as the series wrapped up its South Island phase in mid-January.
Rangiora’s Jake Lewis (Yamaha), Taupo’s Scott Moir (Suzuki) and defending national superbike champion Daniel Mettam (Suzuki), from Glen Eden, round out the top six in the superbikes class after Timaru.
Rees smashed the superbike lap records at both Ruapuna and at Timaru, surely confirming him as the fastest Superbike rider in New Zealand this summer.
However, the racing at Timaru was also the Honda man’s farewell performance at home and he is off to tackle the British Superstock 1000 championships, therefore committing himself overseas while the Kiwi domestic series continues on without him, the latter three rounds of the championships set for the North Island in March and April.
So it probably won’t be Honda taking the superbikes crown this year, leaving it to the top men from Yamaha and Suzuki to battle for that honour, unless Rees’ elder brother Mitch Rees (Honda) can step it up a fraction at the events coming up.
Mitch Rees languishes in ninth position overall on the points table, but not because he’s going too slow, just because he keeps crashing. If he can stay on his bike, it’s almost certain he’ll rise above that ninth ranking by the end of the series.
It’s interesting to note that the Rees siblings’ father, Tony Rees, was the previous Honda winner of the premier title, winning the Superbikes class crown in 2017.
Meanwhile, just 33 points to separate the next four riders behind Damon Rees in the standings after round two – Hoogenboezem, Epis, Lewis and Moir.
“It wasn’t a perfect weekend at Timaru, actually … I didn’t get the fastest time in qualifying,” Damon Rees laughed.
“But I’m happy with my results and feeling really confident ahead of my overseas trip.”
He leaves in late February and will be based in the East Midlands.
“I believe I’m riding the best of my career and felt I was able to pass riders at will. I think I might need to develop a bit more of a mongrel attitude in the UK though. It will be more intense over there.”
It has been a similar story of high intensity too in the other classes raced at Ruapuna and Timaru, with multiple race leaders and constant positional changes right through the racing in all classes.
The series will almost certainly go right down to the wire at the final round in April and there’s a lot that could still happen between now and then.
No rider can afford to rest on his or her laurels, although there is a short break now before the series resumes with round three at Hampton Downs on March 7-8 and then the nationals continue on at Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, on March 28-29, before wrapping up at Taupo on April 4-5.
Class leaders after the second round of five at Timaru are Rees (Superbikes, Honda); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supersport 600, Suzuki); Whangarei’s Jason Hearn (Supersport 300, Yamaha, provisional); Whangaparaoa’s Nathan Jane (650 Pro Twins, Suzuki); Taupo’s Andy Scrivener and Tina McKeown (Sidecars); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150, Yamaha) and Nelson’s Tyrone Kuipers (GIXXER Cup 150, Suzuki).
It’s worth noting also that Timaru’s Harry Parker (Yamaha) repeated his Allan Ramage Memorial trophy success from 2019 by winning the special tribute event for a second time at Timaru.
He scored 1-2-1 results to take the memorial race honours ahead of Auckland’s Nathanael Diprose (KTM) and Hamilton’s Jacob Stroud (KTM) in the separate series of three quick-fire, three-lap races that wound up that weekend. The threesome shared the race wins – Diprose finished 3-2-1 in the three memorial races, while Stroud finished 1-4-4.
Entries for the Allan Ramage Memorial races were by invitation only, comprising the fastest 12 qualifiers from the Supersport 300cc class.
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.
Words and Pictures: Andy McGechan