It took a global virus outbreak to bring Whanganui’s iconic and world-renowned Cemetery Circuit motorcycle race meeting to its knees this year.
But the fight-back has already begun and plans are in place to make it bigger and better than ever with a “resurrection” of the three-round Suzuki International Series set to take place in 2022.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced organisers to reluctantly cancel the 2021 running of the immensely-popular motorcycle racing series and its street race finale – the first time in 70 years there will be no racing around the streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day – as demand for vaccine passports and the huge numbers of spectators expected placed an impossible strain on event management.
But, undeterred by the set-back, a massive resurgence is being planned for 2022, when it may also be possible to welcome back international racing stars to again light up the tarmac on the world-famous Cemetery Circuit.
The popular three-round Suzuki International Series had to be put on ice for 2021, but it will be thawed out again to mark its 13th season next December, with Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park again the traditional round to kick things off, with racing on Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, in Feilding, the following weekend, and the Cemetery Circuit race meeting on Boxing Day the traditional final showdown.
Every season (except, tragically, this one) the safety barriers have been put up alongside Whanganui’s world-renowned motorcycle “street fight”, with straw bales positioned and spectator fencing laid out along the gutters of the city’s public streets.
“We already have many internationals wanting to come back out in 2022,” said Suzuki International Series promoter and organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy.
“Everyone, including the cream of Kiwi talent, world class riders in their own right, will be dead keen to get back to some action and our sponsors have stood by us, still generously on board for next year.”
First started in 1951, the Cemetery Circuit final round event should be another scorcher on Boxing Day next year, both in terms of the sun beating down and in terms of riders, unleashed from pandemic restrictions, once again frantically trying to beat each other to the chequered flag.
Leading riders expected to challenge for the top honours include Taupo’s two-timer former Suzuki International Series champion Scott Moir, Glen Eden’s former national 600cc and superbike champion Daniel Mettam, Wellington’s two-time former national superbike champion Sloan Frost, Whanganui firebrand Jayden Carrick, Auckland’s Dave Sharp, powerhouse Whakatane brothers Mitch and Damon Rees, Whanganui’s multi-talented Richie Dibben and Te Awamutu’s Dave Hall.
Damon Rees was champion at Whanganui last year and, if his current overseas racing schedule allows, he’ll be determined to come back and defend his crown.
In addition to the glamour Formula One class, there will again be races for Formula Two (600cc bikes), Formula Three, Bears (non-Japanese bikes), 150cc GIXXER Cup class racers, pre-89 Post Classics, F1 Sidecars, F2 Sidecars, Supersport 300 and Super Motard (dirt bike) riders.
Expect to see riders such as Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem (Formula One); Rangiora’s Avalon Biddle (Formula Two); Nikau Valley’s Richard Markham-Barrett (Formula Three); Wellington’s Malcolm Bielski (Bears Senior); Whanganui’s Blane Hannah (Bears Junior); Hastings’ Gian Louie (Post Classics, pre-89 Senior); Ngaruawahia’s Steve Bridge (Post Classics, pre-89 Junior) and Tauranga sidecar pair Barry Smith and Stu Dawe, to name a few, all vying for the top prizes.
This time next year, the bike racers will once more hare down Ridgeway Street, along Wilson Street, into Taupo Quay and Heads Road, before looping around Guyton Street and back into Ridgeway again, all of it at eye-watering speeds, often in excess of 200kmph.
There is no doubt that these riders will ignore stop signals, fail to give way and, most probably, swerve across the centre line at every opportunity, with police no doubt turning a blind eye to the legal mayhem.
And there are very few places in the world where this can happen, Whanganui counted as the premier street race venue in the Southern Hemisphere.
The 1.6-kilometre course comprises eight corners, a railway crossing, an over-bridge and blind s-bends, flanked on either side by graveyard headstones.
Thousands of spectators will cram every nook and cranny as bikes race past almost within touching distance. Riders can’t believe it and spectators love it.
You have to be there on Boxing Day next year to see who takes out the 2022 series overall and, of course, to witness who claims the most sought-after, one-off Robert Holden Feature race trophy.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan