The 2019 Suzuki International Series
Summer is here, Christmas is coming and the nation’s best motorcycle road race tracks are beckoning.
It is just a few days now until the 2019 edition of the always-popular Suzuki International Series begins.
The 12th annual, three-round Suzuki International Series kicks off at Taupo this coming weekend and it is again swamped with potent, world-class entries right through all the various bike categories.
Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park hosts the opening round this Saturday and Sunday, December 7-8, setting into motion three consecutive weekends of blistering motorbike action, the series again proving to be somewhat of a magnet for international stars.
Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, follows as host venue a week later, on December 14-15, and the action wraps up, as it traditionally does, on the public streets of Whanganui, riders tearing around the world-famous Cemetery Circuit, on Boxing Day (Thursday, December 26).
Spectators can save money by purchasing “early bird tickets” through Ticketek on-line and they’ll also go in the draw to win a Suzuki GIXXER150 bike.
While it is true that Taupo’s Scott Moir has his fingers crossed that he can make it three wins in a row in the premier Formula One Superbikes class, there are so many talented individuals lining up again this year that picking a winner is almost impossible.
In addition to Suzuki ace Moir’s traditional Kiwi rivals in the class – riders such as Glen Eden’s current national superbike champion Daniel Mettam, Wellington’s two-time former national superbike champion Sloan Frost, immensely-talented Whakatane brothers Mitch and Damon Rees, the ever-consistent Al Hoogenboezem, from Christchurch, and Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson, who has just returned from a successful season of racing in the United Kingdom – there are also several overseas visitors who could shatter Moir’s dreams of a three-peat.
Top riders are arriving from the United Kingdom, France and Australia, with Isle of Man and British Superbike Championship winners among them.
British rider Richard Cooper and Ireland’s Lee Johnston are just a couple of the international headliners.
Cooper is the British Superbike Championships (BSB) Superstock Champion for 2019 and his performance as a newcomer at this year’s North West 200 was a definite highlight of that iconic event.
Johnston is the 2019 Isle of Man TT winner, icing on a cake to his 2019 season that also saw him win the Scarborough Gold Cup and also finish runner-up in the Ulster GP.
But, despite the hefty odds stacked against him, Moir remains defiantly confident.
“I certainly believe I can win the series again,” said the 36-year-old Moir.
“Surely the competition couldn’t get much harder than it was for me racing against (UK rider) Peter Hickman last year. I’ve raced before against Lee Johnston, and I beat him on that occasion, but I don’t know about Richard Cooper, except that he’ll be fast.
“I know these New Zealand tracks well, though, so that should give me an advantage over the internationals.”
Frenchman Morgan Govignon will be here too, set to race in the Bears (non-Japanese bikes) class.
Flying Welshman Ian Lougher makes a welcome return to New Zealand this December.
He last raced here in 1999, making many Kiwi friends along the way, and his credentials make him something of an icon in the sport.
Lougher has clocked up 10 Isle of Man TT wins, eight North West 200 wins, 18 Ulster GP wins, a record 32 Southern 100 wins (one win more than the legendary Joey Dunlop). He has registered a record 140 race wins at the Scarborough races and he has lined up for 139 races at the Isle of Man TT, more than anyone else in history.
Wellington’s Glen Skachill returns to racing after a number of years away and he will also add spark to the F1 class on his BMW bike, while reigning national 600 Supersport champion Avalon Biddle announced that she will again race at Taupo and Manfeild and this time also make her debut on the public streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Rangiora-based Kiwi international Biddle will race her Kawasaki ZX6R in the F2 (600cc) class.
The Suzuki International Series also offers races for Formula Three, Classics (pre-89), sports bikes, super motard bikes and sidecars, so there’s no shortage of on-track action.
The crowd-favourite GIXXER Cup class, reserved for riders on identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, is in the programme again this year with the rider age-limit restriction lifted, meaning individuals such as Moir, Frost and Mettam are expected also to line up and give talented youngsters such as Jesse Stroud (Hamilton) and Caleb Gilmore (Whanganui) something to really think about.
The GIXXER competition, hatched in late 2017 as a nursery ground for motorcycle road-racing – and with the catch-phrase ‘Growing Future Champions’ – has truly been an outstanding success.
Numerous young riders, many of whom who would perhaps previously not even have considered tackling the sport, have now embraced racing and are showing signs that they indeed could be superbike champions in years to come.
There is nothing quite like the Suzuki International Series for providing true international class and handlebar-to-handlebar racing is virtually guaranteed.
Words and Photo by Andy McGechan