Racing will go down to the wire in Whanganui
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Saiger and Frost headline exciting Whanganui meeting
The public streets of Whanganui will again echo with the sounds of top international motorcycle racing on Boxing Day, the fans this year hoping to witness a hometown hero step up or at least eager to see a fresh name engraved on the coveted Suzuki Series trophy.
Saturday's packed programme of racing is the third and final round of the Suzuki Series and it is doubly exciting that, especially in the premier Formula One Superbike class, nothing can be decided until the end of the day.
Racing will go down to the wire in the F1 class after a penalty was imposed on defending champion and series leader Horst Saiger at the previous round at Manfeild less than a fortnight ago, that decision throwing a lifeline to main challenger Sloan Frost.
Liechtenstein's Saiger (Kawasaki ZXR-10R) was adjudged to have jumped the start in the second of two F1 races at Manfeild and was penalised by 20 seconds, relegating him from first to sixth position and handing the race win instead to Wellington's Frost (Suzuki GSX-R1000).
The two men will now arrive at Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit on Saturday level on the points table and with everything to fight for in what is expected to be another scorching encounter.
The irony that a man named Frost, a refrigeration engineer by trade, could put the freeze on his rival is not lost on defending Saiger, who has nonetheless vowed to make things very hot indeed on Saturday.
"I'm looking forward to Whanganui and the Cemetery Circuit. It's better for the competition (that the racing is close). There will be no silly games ... I'll just ride as hard as I can," said Saiger.
And it will be more than just a two-horse race, with the man who is currently third in the F1 standings, Whakatane's Tony Rees (Honda CBR1000RR), also the same individual who won the day at Whanganui last December 26.
Hamilton's nine-time former national superbike champion Andrew Stroud (Suzuki GSX-R100) and Taupo's Scott Moir (Suzuki GSX-R100) fill out the top five in the rankings and could also spring a surprise on Boxing Day.
The 34-year-old Frost said he didn't like to win the race courtesy of his rival being penalised, but he said: "I'll take it".
"It has certainly closed up the championship and it's going to be all-on in Whanganui. I like racing at Whanganui, although I crashed pretty hard there in 2013, so I've been bitten by the track in the past.
"It's a place that has got to be respected. You can't really push 100 percent. But if I'm going to beat Horst then I'm going to need to push 100 percent."
Meanwhile, it will require nerves of steel for Formula Two 600 Supers class leader Shane Richardson (Kawasaki ZX6-R), the Wainuiomata man mindful that any mistake on the streets of Whanganui will be punished by the rider who is just nine points behind him, Aucklander Daniel Mettam (Suzuki GSX-R600).
Wellington's Sloan Frost (Suzuki GSX-R1000), within strike range of visiting international Horst Saiger in the Formula One class. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
It has been a fairytale campaign for 20-year-old Richardson, who only started racing road bikes in October 2012.
"I raced motocross from ages four to 16 and then got a street bike to go riding on the road at weekends. At first, mum wouldn't let me ride on the road until I got my full licence, so I went to a track day and that sort of kicked things off. I bought my first proper race bike in January 2013."
Now, less than three years later, he's among the elite of the sport and tipped to win his first major trophy this weekend.
Whanganui rider Richard Dibben (on his modified-for-the-road Honda CRF450 motocross bike) knows he'll have the fans' backing when he hopefully stretches his unbeaten run in the Super Moto class right to the end.
As fastest qualifier at both rounds thus far and with four wins from four starts in the races proper, Dibben is overwhelming favourite to win the series in this class. Tauranga's Duncan Hart (Yamaha YZ450F) was super moto class winner last season, but he is a distant runner-up, 18 points adrift of Dibben leading into this weekend's action.
Feilding's John Oliver is a rare breed of racer, a leading competitor in two classes, as he tackles both the super moto and Bears (non-Japanese bikes) class as well.
Oliver is leading the Bears class on his BMW S1000RR, 14 points clear of Whanganui's Dwayne Bishop (Aprilia RSV4), and he is currently ranked sixth overall in the super moto class on his TM450SMX.
World sidecars champion Tim Reeves, from the United Kingdom, has been a class above his Kiwi rivals in the sidecars class, and that is perhaps not unexpected, but he may have to share his Suzuki Series trophy three ways now after he lost his regular swinger, fellow Briton Mark Wilkes, to a non-racing motorcycle accident last week.
The injured Wilkes hopes to at least be a spectator on Saturday as Reeves teams up instead with Tauranga's multi-time Kiwi champion Robbie Shorter, a late call-up but also a very capable replacement.
Tauranga pair Aaron Lovell and Tracey Bryan and Wairarapa pair Spike Taylor and Astrid Hartnell are currently positioned second and third overall respectively in the sidecars class.
Class leaders after two of three rounds of the Suzuki Series are Liechtenstein's Horst Saiger (F1 Superbikes, Kawasaki ZXR-10R) and Wellington's Sloan Frost (F1 Superbikes, Suzuki GSX-R1000) (first equal); Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson (F2 600cc Supers, Kawasaki ZX6-R); Taumarunui's Leigh Tidman (F3 sports bikes, Yamaha RS450); Te Awanga's Eddie Kattenberg (post classics seniors, pre-89, Bimota YB8S); Hamilton's Shayne Lawrey (post classics juniors, pre-89, Yamaha FZR600J); Raglan's Robert Whittall (Bears, seniors, non-Japanese bikes, Aprilia SXV550) and Waipukurau's Craig Sergeant (Bears, seniors, Triumph 675R) (first equal); Whanganui's Richard Dibben (super moto, Honda CRF450); UK pair Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes (sidecars, LCR Kawasaki ZXR-10R).