It’s always the most eagerly-awaited road-race spectacle of the year and it’s just a few days now before the engines are revved up to start.
With no racing witnessed on the circuit since December 2020, it becomes doubly exciting that official races are again being staged on the public streets of Whanganui this coming Monday.
There is no other event like this in New Zealand and the scene has been set for a ripper final round to the Suzuki International Series on Boxing Day after a thrilling weekend of action at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon in Feilding nearly two weeks ago.
The Manfeild event was originally meant to be the second round of three in the series, but became the series opener by default when round one at Taupo was abandoned due to a deteriorating track surface.
Close action at Manfeild certainly whet the appetite for more and offered up some thrilling possibilities for what might transpire on a totally different battleground, the iconic public street race event at Whanganui.
One of those battles to watch for at Whanganui might be the scrap between the defending national No.1 sidecar rig operated by rider Barry Smith and swinger Stu Dawe and that of current Suzuki International Series leaders in the Formula One sidecars class, Auckland’s Adam Unsworth and Bryce Rose, and the pair currently ranked second, Masterton’s Spike Taylor and Kendal Dunlop.
Team-mates Smith and Dawe will be aiming to overturn their 15-point deficit on the leaders at Whanganui and feel that, even after the “gremlins” they endured at Manfeild, it’s possible they may now be even stronger at Whanganui.
“We had some issues with one of our engines at Manfeild,” said Smith.
“Our spare engine has done a bit of work and so it is little bit down on power. We haven’t been able to get parts to make repairs but, ironically, having a less-powerful engine at Whanganui may actually help.
“Sometimes having less power on a street circuit makes things a little bit easier, to be honest.
“The F1 sidecars can usually be a bit of a handful around Whanganui’s streets,” said the 63-year-old, an international sidecars competitor who is originally from “just outside of Brighton”, in England.
A qualified car, truck and bike mechanic, Smith has lived in New Zealand since 2005, is now based in Tokomaru, and he has also gained his New Zealand residency.
“The F1 sidecars are not really designed to run on street circuits like Whanganui,” said Smith.
“We just try to get around in one piece and stay safe. There’s not much room for error. It’s certainly exciting and feels pretty quick when you’re racing. You can feel a pretty good vibe from the spectators.
“I have raced all around the world, on all the European tracks and I finished second in the European champs in 1989. I did two years of racing the world championships and my best finish for a season there was 18th, so top 20 in the world in 1990.”
Incidentally, Whanganui crews Bryan Stent/Dan Franzen and Tracey Bryan/Jo Mickleson are currently first and second respectively in the Formula Two sidecars rankings after Manfeild and they’re almost certain to be near the pointy end of the action at Whanganui too.
Suzuki rider Richie Dibben will be another individual to watch out for on Boxing Day, the local Whanganui businessman a sure bet in the supermoto (modified dirt bike) class and an outside chance in the superbikes class as well.
Dibben will be hoping to wrap up the Supermoto title on Boxing Day, with this year being the first time that this will be recognised also as a national title class.
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 and the national TT titles will also be decided at the Boxing Day event.
Because of the pandemic, the Suzuki International Series was not run in December 2021, but, with the street fighting at Whanganui the day after Christmas also the jewel in the crown for the series, capacity crowds can probably be expected this time around. This will be particularly so if the forecast hot temperatures turn the race track into a scorcher.
The various class leaders after racing at Manfeild, and possible favourites to win at Whanganui, are Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (F1 Superbikes class); Bulls rider Ashton Hughes (F2 Supersport 600); Taupo’s Karl Hooper (F3 Pro Twins); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 300); Wellington’s Malcolm Bielski (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); Whanganui’s Jeff Croot (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Silverdale’s Tyler King (Supersport 150); Upper Hutt’s Kieran Mair (Gixxer 150); Hastings rider Gian Louie (Pre-89 post classics, senior); Auckland’s Scott Findlay (Pre-89 post classics, junior); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto); Auckland’s Adam Unsworth and Bryce Rose (F1 sidecars); Whanganui’s Bryan Stent and Dan Franzen (F2 sidecars).
Additional action, staged at Whanganui only, includes races for the Pre-82 classic sidecars class.
CAPTION: Sidecar pair Barry Smith (Tokomaru) and Stu Dawe (Auckland) will be hoping the famous Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui can be a happy hunting ground for them on Boxing Day. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com