Suzuki race series goes down to the wire
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The margins between success and failure in superbike racing are tiny. This can mean the excitement levels are intense, but that's just the way Suzuki Series organiser Allan "Flea" Willacy likes it.
After cut-and-thrust racing at the first two rounds of the series at Taupo and Manfeild these past few weeks, the popular pre-nationals competition will go down to the wire at the final round on the closed-off public streets of Wanganui on Boxing Day.
The packed programme of racing promises handlebar-tangling action in the extreme, the tight confines of the twisting street circuit, with all its inherent man-traps - things such as concrete curbs, lamp posts, fencing, road grit, hay bales and slippery white-painted lines -- and there is no margin for error.
Combine that with a flock of talented riders, each attempting to corral their rivals while at the same time trying to tame their own 160-plus horsepower machines, and the tension and adrenalin rises to alarming levels.
Lap times on Wanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit are around the 50-second mark, so even the "lesser" riders soon get caught up in the fighting between the leaders.
"The status and popularity of this series is growing all the time and the riders are lifting their game to match it. It has been fantastic to see such close racing," said Willacy. "It's some of the best racing I've seen and we have guys lapping within a 100th of a second of one another. To call it close racing is an understatement."
There will, of course, be many battles-within-battles at Wanganui, but, if we can boil it all down to one that should capture the most interest, it will perhaps be the much-anticipated showdown between 2016 Suzuki Series leader and defending champion Sloan Frost, six-time former Cemetery Circuit champion Tony Rees (currently second to Frost in the formula one/superbike class points) and 2014 Suzuki Series winner Horst Saiger (third in the F1 points).
Sloan Frost. Picture / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
These three will arrive at the Cemetery Circuit on Monday separated by just eight points and with everything to fight for in what is expected to be another brutal street fight.
If, purely as an exercise, race fans consider that Wellington's Frost, Whakatane's Rees and Liechtenstein visitor Saiger might achieve the same results they did at Wanganui last season, then Rees (who finished 1-1 in 2015) would again win the day and also clinch the Suzuki Series outright for the first time, snatching it away from Frost (who scored 2-3 finishes last year) by just one point.
So the mission is clear for national superbike champion Frost. He must finish ahead of Rees in at least one race at Wanganui and, at the same time, also keep the hard-charging Saiger in check.
And that's easier said than done because Saiger won both F1 races at Manfeild just over a week ago and so momentum perhaps favours him.
In addition to these three riders, expect to see 2016 Isle of Man champion Michael Dunlop, from Northern Ireland, Glen Eden's rising star Daniel Mettam, New Plymouth's "comeback kid" Hayden Fitzgerald, Taupo's Scotty Moir, Manukau's Toby Summers and visiting British rider James Flitcroft, among others, to also be vying for a podium finish.
The racing is likely to be tight in the various other classes too and those trophies will be decided at Wanganui on Boxing Day as well.
The class leaders after two of three rounds are:
Wellington's Sloan Frost (F1/superbike)
Whakatane's Damon Rees (F2/600 supersport)
Pukerua Bay's Glen Skachill (F3/sport bikes)
Tauranga's Duncan Hart (super motard)
Tauranga's Colin MacGregor (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, seniors)
Bulls' Ashton Hughes (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, juniors)
Pukerua Bay's Glen Skachill (Post Classic, Pre-89, senior)
Auckland's Scott Findlay (Post Classic, Pre-89, junior)