It is going to be another scorching summer of motorcycling this year and it all starts to heat up in just a few weeks’ time.
Suzuki Series road-race competition organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy says he has been absolutely swamped with entries and he will again have trouble fitting them all in. He said he may shortly have to close off some classes, although he is overjoyed with the huge interest being shown from overseas too, and he believes the 2018 edition of the series, set to kick off at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on December 9, could be the biggest yet.
The popular three-round series – with Manfeild following as host venue a week after the Taupo round and the action wrapping up on the public streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day – is New Zealand’s richest motorcycle competition and it has again attracted a huge overseas contingent, with top riders arriving from the United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Germany, and Australia.
“This year’s entry list is building to be the largest we’ve had in the 10 years since the inaugural Suzuki Series (in 2008). The popularity is global, particularly for the Cemetery Circuit final round on Boxing Day,” said Willacy. “It has been truly incredible. We have all the usual suspects entered in the Formula One (superbike) class and we welcome the return this year also 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 and he will this year be bringing his own Yamaha bikes with him. However, Saiger, along with all the other premier F1 class riders, may have their work cut out this time around with Suzuki Series debutant Peter Hickman, arriving from the United Kingdom. Internationally-renowned Hickman won at the Isle of Man earlier this year, setting a new lap record on the fabled Mountain Course, and also celebrated wins in 2018 at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland and at the Ulster Grand Prix. Hickman will race at all three rounds of the Suzuki Series and will be racing his BMW motorcycle under the Carl Cox Motorsports banner.
Other international stars set to make the trip Downunder include British and world sidecar championship contender John Holden, who will again have Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter as his “wingman”. Holden and Shorter won the sidecars class in the 2016 edition of the Suzuki Series. British duo Gary Bryan and Phil Hyde also add international sparkle to the sidecars class in what will be their first Kiwi appearance, while Manx racing regular Nigel Rea, also from the UK, will make his Kiwi debut as well and offer undeniable class to the 600cc class. Former Dutch sidecar champion Kees Endeveld and Australians Phil Underwood and Stephen Ford will also be hoping to put their respective nations on the map here this summer.
Current New Zealand Superbike Champion Sloan Frost, from Wellington, should also be greatly respected and he is certainly a contender. Frost won the Suzuki Series in 2015, ahead of Whakatane’s Tony Rees, with Saiger, the early leader in the series that year, slipping down to eventually settle for third overall.
The year before that, in December 2014, it was a classic down-to-the-wire battle in the Suzuki Series between Saiger and Taupo hero Scotty Moir. In the end, Saiger won the series by just three points from the hard-charging Kiwi. Suzuki rider Moir broke through to finally claim the Suzuki Series F1 crown last year, but this year it’s again anybody’s guess as to who will dominate the series or, perhaps even more importantly, who will win the Boxing Day finale and its signature Robert Holden feature race.
The Suzuki Series F1 winner in 2016, Whakatane’s Tony Rees, will have his two equally-talented sons, Mitch and Damon, riding “shotgun” with him this season and these three Honda men will almost certainly also rate among the series frontrunners.
Another top Kiwi, Wainuiomata man Shane Richardson, won the Formula Two (600cc) class last year and he will return from a successful racing stint in the United States to compete here again in 2018.
In addition to the F1, F2 and sidecars classes, the Suzuki Series programme also caters for F3 sport bikes, supermoto bikes, GIXXER Cup bikes, pre-89 post classics, pre-89 sidecars and Bears (non-Japanese bikes).
“The series’ growing popularity has created a bit of a headache for me again this year in terms of overflowing entries. But I suppose it’s a nice problem to have,” said Willacy.
Willacy said members of the public could save money by purchasing “early bird tickets” through Ticketek online and then they’ll also go in the draw to win a Suzuki GIXXER150 bike.
As well as being a passionate supporter of motorcycle racing, international DJ Carl Cox will also host a concert at the end of the day’s racing at Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan