Rivals battle for Superbike crown
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A handful of points separated the leaders at the Superbike Championships
The margins between success and failure don't get any slimmer than this.
After four rounds of racing in this season's New Zealand Superbike Championships, it was just half a point that made all the difference in determining where the premier trophy would end up.
And it was almost as tight in the battle for 600cc honours, too.
Arriving at Waikato's Hampton Downs circuit with huge points buffers, it had looked almost a formality that Whakatane's Tony Rees and Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson would go on to wrap up title wins in their respective superbike and 600cc supersport classes at the weekend's fourth and final round of the 2017 series. However, in the end, it was their main rivals who would rise up to snatch the title wins away.
The difference between success and failure in this sport is always tight, but few could have predicted that last year's champion, Wellingtonian Sloan Frost, would overcome a 32.5-point deficit at the start of the weekend to win the superbike crown for a second consecutive year, or that Rees' 21-year-old son Damon Rees would see his 20.5-point deficit wiped out so that he would snatch his first national 600cc crown.
Frost had seemingly been out of the championship chase, but he's no quitter and set about his weekend's work by finishing runner-up to Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem in the event's first superbike race on Saturday, while Tony Rees struggled with disintegrating tyres and settled for fourth.
Frost then won the first of two superbike races on Sunday, while Rees again managed fourth, and this tightened the title chase to just 13.5 points with only the final race of the series still to come.
Fourth or better in that race would still have been enough for Rees to prevail but, when the last race was staged in two parts after other riders crashed and forced stoppages, Frost was able to produce two wins and Rees crossed the line in fifth both times. The title therefore went to Frost by the incredibly slim margin of just half a point.
"I only had an outside chance of winning the title and all I could do was go and try to win races and then see how it all stacked up after that," said Frost.
"I'm naturally thrilled to make it two superbike titles in a row now. I'll be back to defend it again next year," he said.
A crash also featured in the final 600 race of the weekend, Richardson running off the track and into a tyre wall while leading, gifting the race win (and the NZ TT title) to visiting Australian Alex Phillis and, more significantly, also gifting the class title to the eventual runner-up in that race, Damon Rees.
Whakatane superbike legend Tony Rees congratulates his youngest son, Damon, after he clinches the national 600cc title. Picture / Andy McGechan, bikesportNZ.com
Invercargill's Jeremy Holmes (1000cc superstock class) and Christchurch's Dennis Charlett (Pro Twins) had celebrated wrapping up their respective class titles at the previous round in Taupo, while Taumarunui's Leigh Tidman (superlites class), Christchurch's Andy McLaughlin (lightweight production class) and Opunake's Campbell Grayling (250cc production) were virtually untroubled in claiming their respective titles at Hampton Downs on Sunday.
In the sidecars class, team-mates Spike Taylor (Masterton) and Robbie Shorter (Tauranga) fought off a last-ditch effort by Tauranga pair Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan - who won all three races at Hampton Downs - to clinch the title by just five points.
Christchurch's Matthew Hoogenboezem won Saturday's sole 125GP race and wrapped up that title a day early, before following on to win both 125GP races the next day, too.
The 22-year-old Hoogenboezem is no stranger to winning national titles. He won the 150 streetstock title in 2011 and was national 125GP champion in 2014.
The New Zealand TT titles were also decided at Hampton Downs at the weekend, with the final race for each class determining this.