December 27th, 2023

By Andy McGechan

Just like any good sports story, this season’s Suzuki International Series simply oozed drama, tension and fast-paced action from start to finish.

But all the questions were answered when the three-round competition concluded, as it always does, with the frenetic ‘street fight’ around Whanganui’s world-famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day.

It’s not fair to single out any one category as any more exciting than the others, with every twist and turn in all the various bike classes delivering so much, and surely every one of the more than 160 competing riders had a story worth telling.

To cut a long story short, Whakatane’s Mitch Rees made it back-to-back series wins in the premier Formula One/Superbikes class, as well as repeating his Robert Holden Memorial feature race win at Whanganui, while other back-to-back title winners were Taupo’s Karl Hooper (F3/Pro Twins class); Whanganui’s Jeff Croot (Formula Sport, Junior); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (Supersport 300); Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Panmure’s Adam Unsworth and Whanganui’s Bryce Rose (F1 Sidecars) and Carterton’s Mark Smith (teamed with Dean Corrigan last season but riding with Isaac Taylor this year (in the Classic Sidecars class, run at Whanganui only).

Perhaps the closest battles were in the Supermoto class (for highly-modified dirt bikes), where Whanganui’s Richie Dibben found himself in the fight of his life with visiting British star Davey Todd.

These two international riders were never more than a bike length apart throughout the Supermoto class racing and, if it weren’t for Todd slipping off his bike at round two a Manfeild, costing him vital points, then this class would surely have gone down to the last corner on the final lap of the final race.

As it was, the pair traded wins at Whanganui, separated only by the additional point Dibben earned for qualifying fastest, so it really could have been an outcome decided by a solitary point.

Dibben won the inaugural national Supermoto crown last season and was naturally delighted to hold onto that title this year, although Todd has already indicated he’d love to return next season and take the fight to his friend and rival once more.

“It was good to get the job done,” said the 34-year-old Dibben.

“Davey won the first race (at Whanganui) when I had a little gremlin pop up on the bike while I was leading and I had to work a lot harder in race two because Davey (Todd) had begun to learn the track better and better. He got a blinder of a start, but I got past him in the end.

“Davey had only turned up at Whanganui the day before, so he’s obviously a fast learner,” he smiled.

The 28-year-old Todd, from North Yorkshire, near Middlesborough, said he “thoroughly enjoyed” his first visit to New Zealand and is determined that his Suzuki International Series debut this year will not be his last.

“The highlight for me has been these Supermoto races. I have had a lot of fun,” said Todd.

“I wanted to put up a fight and be able to put on a show and I think I did that in the Supermoto class.

“I can’t wait to come back and do this all over again. The hospitality from everyone here has been amazing. I’ve loved my time in New Zealand and I’ll be back.”

Series promoter and organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy said he was delighted with the spectacle produced by the riders.

“It was top-grade motorcycle racing from start to finish. We had various conditions for the riders to deal with, hot and dry, then wet and slippery,” he said.

“We had purpose-built race tracks and then the especially challenging street racing environment for them to deal with, and every rider rose to the occasion.

“Rider entry numbers were good and the racing was well supported by spectators as well. The popularity of the Suzuki International Series is second-to-none.

“Speaking of which, we can’t thank Suzuki New Zealand enough for the help and financial support they offer to our sport in New Zealand. We have a fantastic series and many young racing careers have been nurtured and have bloomed from this.”

Class winners in the 2023 Suzuki International Series:

Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (F1/Superbike class & Robert Holden Memorial feature race winner & TT title winner); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (F2/Supersport 600 class); Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson (F2/Supersport 600 class TT title winner); Taupo’s Karl Hooper (F3/Pro Twins); Morrinsville’s Nick Kampenhout (F3/Pro Twins TT title winner); Feilding’s John Oliver (Formula Sport, Senior); Whanganui’s Jeff Croot (Formula Sport, Junior); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (Supersport 300); Hamilton’s Joseph Stroud (GIXXER 150); Upper Hutt’s Keiran Mair (Supersport 150); Taupo’s Karl Hooper (Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior); Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Invercargill’s Jon Rawcliffe (Post Classics, Pre-95, Senior); Christchurch’s Jordan Leslie (Post Classics, Pre-95, Junior); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto & TT title winner); Panmure’s Adam Unsworth and Whanganui’s Bryce Rose (F1 Sidecars); Whanganui’s Peter and Lucy Dowman (F2 Sidecars); Carterton’s Mark Smith and Isaac Taylor (Classic Sidecars, races run at Whanganui only).


CAPTION: Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (right, Suzuki RM-Z450), national champion again in the Supermoto class after brilliant display on Whanganui’s Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day. Here he is congratulated by visiting international rider Davey Todd (Suzuki RM-Z450), Dibben’s main rival all series. Photo by Andy McGechan,


Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,