Suzuki Series finale jam packed
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It is going to be a "Crazy Christmas" season of superbike racing this year. The popularity of the annual three-round Suzuki Series has grown each year and organiser Allan "Flea" Willacy is extremely satisfied about that, but this year it's also giving him headaches.
"I simply don't know where I'm going to find space for all the entrants. Although I suppose it's a good problem to have," he said.
Each year Willacy organises for the public streets of Wanganui to be closed off for a dramatic 24-hour Boxing Day period as he and his workers run the Cemetery Circuit event, one of the few motorcycle street race meetings in the world.
This year he has been swamped with entrants, many of them from overseas, and he really will be stretching the boundaries to fit them all in.
The Cemetery Circuit event on December 26 will again be the third and final round of the Suzuki Series, which kicks off at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park near Taupo on December 4, then takes riders to Manfeild for round two on December 11, before its traditional finale.
The Boxing Day event always draws crowds in their thousands and invariably turns on a spectacle worthy of all the attention.
Last year's breakthrough Suzuki Series winner was Wellington Suzuki ace Sloan Frost, who later went on to win the 2016 New Zealand Superbike Championships, which wrapped up at Hampton Downs in March.
Frost won the 2015 Suzuki Series ahead of Whakatane's Tony Rees (Honda), with Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger (Kawasaki), the early leader in the series, slipping to eventually settle for third overall.
The year before it was a classic down-to-the-wire battle between Saiger and another Suzuki Kiwi, Taupo's Scotty Moir.
Although at that stage in just his third season of racing superbikes, Moir belied his relative inexperience in the premier grade as he pushed Saiger right to the brink, his most impressive performance coming on the streets of Wanganui.
Moir finished fourth in the first of two Formula One/Superbike races, just one place behind Saiger, but Moir stepped it up to roar to victory in the next race, and Saiger could manage only fifth.
However, it just wasn't enough for the brave Kiwi to snatch the trophy away and Saiger won the series by just three points from the hard-charging Moir.
This year it's anybody's guess as to who will dominate the series or, perhaps even more importantly, win the Boxing Day finale and its signature Robert Holden race.
In addition to former series winners Frost and Saiger, and runners-up Rees and Moir, Northern Ireland's Michael Dunlop and fellow UK rider James Flitcroft are also sure to be contenders, not to mention all the other nationally-ranked Kiwis, while British sidecar rider John Holden, a two-time Isle of Man winner, who is teaming up with Tauranga's Robbie Shorter while in New Zealand, will obviously add international sparkle to the sidecar class.
For 27-year-old professional Dunlop, this year's Isle of Man champion, it will be his first time in New Zealand and he will be one of the series' main drawcard riders.
"But the series' growing popularity has created a bit of a headache for me this year," said Willacy. "The numbers have gone ballistic. It's a tough position to be in, with this year's entry list the largest we've had in the eight years since the competition began. The popularity is global, particularly for the Cemetery Circuit final round, and I guess that means we've been doing something right.
"We make it very easy for people to enter and race and the spectators love being so close to the action too."
Willacy said members of the public could save money by purchasing "early bird tickets" through Ticketek and then they'll also go in the draw to win a UK110 Suzuki scooter, all decked out in Moto GP colours.