© Words Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
Motorcycle road-racing in New Zealand has been given a massive boost as the nation’s two premier competitions join forces to create a revamped and revitalised new-look season for 2022-23.
The hugely-popular Suzuki International Series and the New Zealand Superbike Championships are collaborating for the first time to kick-start the 2022-23 season, the people behind the two annual series working in conjunction to ensure an explosive resumption to high-calibre road bike racing in this country.
It is a tremendously pleasing and positive way for the bike community to recover after two years of being stifled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first two of three rounds for the 2022 Suzuki International Series – scheduled as usual for Taupo and then Manfeild, on December 3-4 and December 10-11 respectively – will now also be recognised as rounds one and two of what is planned to be a new six-round National Superbike Championship Series.
The third and final round of the Suzuki International Series is, as usual, set for the public streets of Whanganui, the world famous Cemetery Circuit, to run on Boxing Day.
This street fight won’t be part of the nationals, but remains the jewel in the crown for the three-round Suzuki International Series.
In the New Year, the racers will revert back to standard track racing mode and resume their bids for national championship honours on purpose-built race circuits.
The latter four rounds of the national series will be run early in 2023, with only the Hampton Downs-promoted Star Insure MotoFest confirmed for the first weekend of March, as always. Like the Suzuki International Series, MotoFest has become a marquee racing event, and has been headlined by the superbike nationals for the past five years and that won’t change going forward.
The remaining three national series venues are still to be confirmed. They are likely to include South Island tracks such as Ruapuna, in Christchurch; Teretonga, in Invercargill; Levels, near Timaru, and a potential finale back in the North Island, in Taupo in March.
Suzuki International Series promoter and organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy said he was thrilled when Motorcycling New Zealand approached him with the idea to unite the two series.
“It is great that we are combining forces to help motorcycle racing in the current climate. The sport deserves this … riders, fans, sponsors and other stakeholders too,” Willacy said.
“Nothing changes as far as the Suzuki International Series is concerned. The classes and format will remain the same. It is just that points collected at the first two rounds (at Taupo and Manfeild) will go towards the tally for anyone going on with the nationals.
“By combining these two series, riders will benefit financially and, from a logistical standpoint, it will boost competitor numbers at all the events.
“We already have many internationals indicating that they want to come back out to New Zealand to race, so that should also add extra spice and dynamics to the racing.
“Everyone, including the cream of Kiwi talent, many of whom are world class riders in their own right, will be fiercely keen to get back to some action. Our sponsors have stood by us and we are hugely grateful for that too.”
Motorcycling New Zealand road-race commissioner Andy Skelton was similarly upbeat.
“This is a great opportunity in these challenging times for us to work together for the betterment of the sport as a whole,” he said.
“Bringing all of this together is a huge financial challenge, so we have to slice and dice things a little differently. Over the past few months we have been in productive dialogue with Suzuki New Zealand, the Suzuki International Series organisers and others. We all agree it just makes so much sense.”
Whanganui’s Simon Meade, Suzuki New Zealand’s general manager of motorcycle and marine, said he was “super happy” with the arrangement.
“It’s great to see the competition has even more strength and significance,” he said.
“Suzuki has always tried to provide opportunities through event support for bike riders to compete and to have the two series combine like this is an awesome way to kick off a new season. It’s very special.”
Organisers are keen to point out that the street racing event on Boxing Day remains a keystone in the Suzuki International Series.
It is an iconic event that typically attracts many thousands of race fans to the curb-lined public streets of Whanganui, and this latest announcement does not detract from that, but perhaps serves to make the Cemetery Circuit affair even more of a stand-out.
The Whanganui event is highly-regarded internationally and has been a must-do for some of the world’s most famous “street fighters” in the past, men such as British and Isle of Man legends Michael Dunlop, Guy Martin, Peter Hickman and Richard Cooper, among others.
It is anticipated that international stars heading to New Zealand for a “working holiday” over the Christmas period may even stay on and continue racing at the national championship rounds.
The Cemetery Circuit event also includes the famous Robert Holden Memorial feature race, a trophy that is perhaps among the most coveted of prizes in the road-racing world.
The pandemic caused all sorts of disruptions to major sporting events world-wide and New Zealand was not immune to these, the annual New Zealand Superbike Championships series being cut short in 2020, similarly reduced in size to just three rounds in 2021 and unable to be raced at all in 2022.
With this latest collaboration, the road-racing community in New Zealand is showing incredible strength and resolve to get back to a “new normal” as regards to top-level motorcycle racing in this country.
The combined series would 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 supporting sponsors.