Suzuki Series popularity hits red line
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It is going to be another scorching summer of motorcycling. Entries are flooding in for the popular Suzuki Series road-race competition and it's going to be tough to fit them all in.
Wanganui's Allan “Flea” Willacy is overjoyed with the huge overseas interest being shown, and he believes the 2017 edition of the series, set to kick off in Taupo on December 10, could be the biggest yet.
Each year Willacy closes down the public streets of Wanganui for a drama-filled 24 hours as he and his workers run the renowned Cemetery Circuit event, one of the few motorcycle street race meetings in the world.
The Cemetery Circuit event on December 26 will again be the third and final round of the popular annual Suzuki Series, which kicks off at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park near Taupo on December 10, then takes riders to Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, for round two on December 17, before its traditional Boxing Day finale on Wanganui's streets.
The Boxing Day event always draws crowds in their thousands and is invariably a spectacle worthy of the attention.
Last year's Suzuki Series winner was Whakatane's Tony Rees, although he will again face a stern challenge from arch-rival Sloan Frost, of Wellington, and others such as Taupo's Scotty Moir and Glen Eden's Daniel Mettam. Several of the leading riders used the third annual Motul Six-Hour race at Hampton Downs, just over a week ago, to get up to race speed and fine tune their new bikes.
Frost, Moir and Mettam teamed up to give Suzuki the victory at that endurance event. Manukau's Toby Summers, Orewa's Avalon Biddle and Christchurch rider Alastair Hoogenboezem the trio finished runners-up.
Rees, his eldest son Mitch Rees and Invercargill's Jeremy Holmes finished third overall in the six-hour marathon, although perhaps not too much should be read into those results.
Frost won the 2015 Suzuki Series ahead of Rees, and Liechtenstein rider Horst Saiger, the early leader in the series, slipped down to third overall.
The year before that, in December 2014, it was a classic down-to-the-wire battle in the Suzuki Series between Saiger and Moir.
In the end, Saiger won by just three points from the hard-charging Moir.
Wellington's Sloan Frost is likely to be a Suzuki Series frontrunner again this season. Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
This year, it's again anybody's guess as to who will dominate the series or, perhaps even more importantly, who will win the Boxing Day finale and its signature Robert Holden feature race. In addition to former series winners Rees, Frost and Saiger, former series runners-up Moir and Mettam, along with Toby Summers and New Plymouth's Hayden Fitzgerald, are also sure to be contenders, not to mention all the other nationally-ranked Kiwis, while British world champion sidecar pairing Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes, will again add international sparkle to the sidecar class.
Also in the starting line-up will be Irish former Isle of Man race winner Lee Johnston and Conor Cummins, an Isle of Man native and former winner on his home turf and at the British Superbike Championships.
“The series' growing popularity has created a bit of a headache for me again this year,” said Willacy. “The sidecar class numbers have gone ballistic, with three teams entered from Australia and seven from Europe.
“It's a tough position to be in, with this year's entry list the largest we've had in the nine years since the competition began [in 2008].
“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 Suzuki GIXXER150 bike, decked out in MotoGP colours.