Pressure goes on for Superbike Champs Title Hopefuls
Imagine there are only two laps to go, the chasing pack is hot on your tail as you're heading onto the fast back straight and the chequered flag is not so far away...that's the position the riders may feel they are in at Hampton Downs this weekend.
The popular Hampton Downs race track, between Huntly and Mercer, hosts the fifth round of six in this season's New Zealand Superbike Championships this coming Saturday and Sunday.
And so the pressure goes on for New Zealand's motorcycle road-racing elite, with now just a handful of races left as riders jostle for valuable points in their bid to claim national championship glory.
The event has huge added significance too because it shares the programme with the fourth edition of the Star Insure MotoFest motorcycling festival, a massive extravaganza of everything related to bikes of all eras, all styles and all brands.
The AON Insurance and Pirelli-sponsored national superbikes series has already thrown up a few shocks and surprises at the earlier rounds and so no individuals should be feeling that they can rest on their laurels just yet.
Let's recap some of what's happened so far...
There were a couple of non-finishers recorded in the glamour 1000ccc Superbikes class at round four of the series on Invercargill's Teretonga Park Raceway in January, with Taupo's Scott Moir and Taupiri's Zak Fuller dropping off the radar at different stages during that weekend.
Whakatane's defending national champion in the 1000cc superbike class, Mitch Rees, found himself in a torrid battle with Christchurch's former superbike champion Alastair Hoogenboezem, but a 1-2-1 score-line for the event was sufficient for Rees to not only win the weekend, but also extend his series lead to a massive 51 points over Hoogenboezem.
In the Supersport 600 class, Bull's rider Ashton Hughes, crashed out of his first race of the weekend at Teretonga and he was unable to continue racing.
Rangiora's Jake Lewis leapt forward to take maximum advantage.
Lewis had finished runner-up to Southland hero Cormac Buchanan in the first two 600cc races at Teretonga, but, when Buchanan suddenly pulled into the pits with mechanical woes in race three, there was nothing to stop Lewis going on to claim the race win and also, with that, the series lead too.
Lewis currently tops the class by two points from Upper Hutt's Rogan Chandler, with Buchanan third in the rankings, 19 points back from Chandler. Hughes has slipped to fourth, just half a point behind Buchanan.
While Buchanan's mechanical glitch temporarily derailed his charge towards the top of the 600cc class, the Invercargill 16-year-old was soon back on the track to win his next Supersport 300 class race and extend his unbeaten run in that category, on the way to him almost certainly defending his 300cc crown.
It was a battle of attrition in the 600cc class, with not only Hughes and Buchanan suffering setbacks, but Napier's SJ Cavell, Taupo's Karl Hooper and Tirau's Dillon Telford suffering mishaps too.
With a more than a month available to tweak or repair broken bikes, shake off bruises or just to work on fitness, strength and riding techniques, it's certain the racing will be truly fierce when action resumes at Hampton Downs this weekend.
Class leaders heading to Hampton Downs this weekend are Rees (F1 Superbikes class, Honda);Jake Lewis (F2 Supersport 600, Yamaha); Waiuku's Bob Irving (Pro Twins, pre-2020 bikes, CFMoto); Nelson's Jonny Lewis (Pro Twins, post-2020 bikes, Aprilia); Buchanan (Supersport 300, Yamaha) and Christchurch's Hunter Charlett (Supersport 150, Yamaha).
"It is going to be an intense weekend for competitors and fans alike," said Motorcycling New Zealand road-racing commissioner Andy Skelton.
The sixth and final round is set for a second visit to the Taupo International Motorsport Park and Events Centre on March 11-12.
"Bike fans really should make the effort to get to Hampton Downs this weekend and Taupo too, because the racing is truly world class and seeing is believing," Skelton said.
Meanwhile, Kiwi international Simon Crafar makes a return to New Zealand as a special guest for MotoFest this weekend.
Crafar will be one of the main draw-cards for the event. A small-town Kiwi boy who spread his wings, tasted motorcycle road-racing glory at the ultimate level and went on to craft a career as a coach and now commentator in the MotoGP world championship, specialising in the technical side and interviewing the likes of Francesco Bagnaia, Marc Marquez, Fabio Quartararo and Joan Mir.
It was a much younger Crafar who raced to 500cc Grand Prix victory at Donington Park in 1998, managed third at Assen, in Holland, and second at Phillip Island, in Australia.
Crafar finished seventh in the 1998 world championships, behind motorcycling legends Mick Doohan, Max Biaggi, Alex Criville, Carlos Checa, Alex Barros and Norick Abe.
In addition to meeting and greeting fans at MotoFest, Crafar plans to enjoy riding in the "Legends Track Sessions" on several of the beautiful racing motorcycles from his and earlier eras.
MotoFest will also be a time to "Smoke 'em Out" as it embarks on "A Celebration of Two-Strokes in New Zealand" and a special "Show and Shine" area will be set aside in the infield at Hampton Downs.
The Legends Garage and manufacturer and trade displays will also have fans spoiled for choice.
This fourth annual MotoFest extravaganza promises excellence on all fronts, with well-respected identities from all segments of the motorcycle sporting community, coming together for a spectacular two days of action.
MotoFest again has the support of Kawasaki, Bridgestone, Motul, Shoei and MTF Finance, while this season's national championship competition would also not be possible without support from the following groups: Victoria MCC, Hampton Downs, Auckland MCC, MCI, Hamilton MCC, Southland Motorcycle Club, South Canterbury Motorcycle Club, Cemetery Circuit, MNZ and all the other supporting sponsors.
Caption: Expect the racing to be just as close as this at the fifth round of six in this season's New Zealand Superbike Championships at Hampton Downs this coming weekend.
Photo Credit: Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com