by Andy McGechan
Although it was scaled back from three rounds to only two because of problems with the track surface at the scheduled opener in Taupo three weeks ago, the racers and fans alike responded by making the most of round two at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon and then at the traditional series finale on the public street circuit at Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Whanganui’s world famous Cemetery Circuit, which actually winds its way past Suzuki New Zealand headquarters at the junction of Heads Road and Taupo Quay, attracted spectators in their thousands on Boxing Day and, under a baking sun, all were thoroughly entertained.
Whanganui’s favourite son, multi-talented racer and local Suzuki bike shop owner Richie Dibben, made the most of playing before a home crowd by putting on a master class in the supermoto battles (riding a lightly-modified Suzuki RMZ450 dirt bike) and he was in superb form too (riding a Suzuki GSX-R1000) in the Formula One/Superbike class.
With his separate bike class races running back-to-back in the day’s jam-packed programme, the pressure on the 33-year-old father-of three was intense, with him having to quickly adjust both physically and mentally to racing the two very different machines.
But he coped brilliantly and he qualified fastest on his supermoto bike and then scored seemingly effortless back-to-back wins in the class.
Dibben didn’t always snatch the lead at the start, but it wasn’t long until he was in front and he quickly pulled away to a clear winning margin. His two wins on Boxing Day, added to the three he scored at the Manfeild event, meant he finished the series unbeaten and easily won the class.
Overall runner-up in the supermoto class was Ashburton’s Andrew Rudd.
This class was, for the first time this year, recognised as a national championship category, which meant Dibben became the New Zealand’s inaugural national supermoto champion.
Dibben was forced to settle for two runner-up finishes in the F1/Superbike class, but that was a remarkable performance in itself, as the racing here was dominated by the reigning Suzuki International Series champion in this class, Whakatane’s Mitch Rees, the rider who is also current national superbike champion.
“It was definitely a good day for me,” said an elated Dibben afterwards.
“No hiccups at all and the bike went really smoothly. I really enjoyed being back on the supermoto bike around Whanganui’s streets.
“I couldn’t quite get the grip right off the start line and it took me a lap or so to adjust with the change-over between the two bikes. I guess that’s part of double-classing.
“The two bikes require different styles of riding – the dirt bike is a more upright position, rather than being down behind a fairing – and they need different braking points too, so all that takes some getting used to.
“The 2018-model Suzuki RM-Z450 certainly goes fast enough and I’ve got it going pretty good, but I’m disappointed I finished a whisker off my old lap record.”
The racing on Whanganui’s unique Cemetery Circuit is always exciting and it’s one of the few places in the world where spectators can stand within an arm’s-length of the action, albeit behind sturdy safety barriers.
There is no other event like this in New Zealand and plans are already underway to make it all happen again next Christmas too.
CAPTION: Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Suzuki RM-Z450), on his way to becoming New Zealand’s first ever national Supermoto Champion. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com