Full steam ahead for Fitzgerald in 2018
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Taranaki's Hayden Fitzgerald hopes his abbreviated national superbike campaign this year means he can steal a march on his rivals next season.
He may have contested only half of the races in this season's recently completed New Zealand Superbike Championships, but Fitzgerald will still count his truncated campaign as a major success.
Just a few weeks before the four-round 2017 series kicked off in January, the New Plymouth man signed up to race the new 1000cc Yamaha R1 in the superbike class and also race a 600cc Yamaha R6 in the 600cc supersport class.
With only a limited budget -- and with that the expense of tyres, race fuel, travel and accommodation to be calculated -- the 32-year-old father-of-one decided he'd use the 2017 series merely to build up and prepare for a more comprehensive nationals campaign next season, when new rules will restrict what's allowed in terms of modifications to the bikes.
An initiative by the sport's governing body, Motorcycling New Zealand, to help reduce competition costs, next season's "stock" rule should help to boost entry numbers and, at the same time, put all racers on a more level footing on the race track.
And so, with all this in mind, Fitzgerald lined up to race only the two North Island rounds of the 2017 nationals, at Taupo and Hampton Downs.
He had skipped the two South Island rounds, at Ruapuna and Teretonga, and that meant he could never hope to win a title, but he came close , finishing runner-up in the 1000cc superstock class, as well as winning the TT trophy race at the series' final round Hampton Downs in March.
Fitzgerald won five of the six superstock races he entered in the latter half of the series, each time beating across the line the man who eventually won the title, Invercargill's Jeremy Holmes (Honda CBR1000S).
Fitzgerald with bike-tuning wizard Dave Cole. Picture / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Without Fitzgerald to threaten him, Holmes had been virtually unchallenged at the two South Island events.
In the 600cc supersport class, Fitzgerald had a more difficult time of it, but he still ended his diluted campaign with a national ranking of 15th, despite being one of only three riders not to contest the entire series.
"We made some major developments during the series," said Fitzgerald.
"I think we're well on the way to being set up for next season and getting these results in the nationals this year was just a bonus.
"I still was not 100 per cent, with the injury I sustained when I got taken out at a pre-nationals event Manfeild in December, but I was still fit enough to win my races.
"I needed surgery and I was in some discomfort during the nationals but I guess adrenaline takes over when you're racing," he said, laughing.
"I'm thrilled to have won the TT title and also broke the 1000cc Superstock lap record at Hampton Downs too, and that's pretty special because that class won't exist from next year.
"It was hardest doing the 600cc class because it meant I sometimes had back-to-back races, the 600cc races following the superstock races, but I'm still pretty happy with my results on the Yamaha R6 because I was racing a stock bike in that class, too.
"I'll do the whole series next year and I'm really looking forward to that."
Before his recent racing activity, Fitzgerald had been notable for his absence from the national superbike race scene.
It was a pleasant surprise to see him on track again this year after being out of the sport for the past couple of seasons.
"There had simply been so much family stuff happening in my life that racing wasn't really an option for me," he explained.
Fitzgerald's father, Terry, also a former top national-level motorcycle racer, died in 2015 after a short battle with cancer.
"Although I know Dad would have wanted me to keep racing, I just couldn't at that time," he said.
Add to that his wedding to Lisa and the arrival of their son Liam, and you can understand that racing motorbikes was furthest from his mind.
"It was good to take a step away from the sport and then come back, now fresh and reinvigorated," he said.
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