December 27th, 2022

by Andy McGechan

Whakatane's Mitch Rees (Honda No.1) and Whanganui's Richie Dibben (Suzuki No.91)

DECEMBER 27, 2022: The traditional Boxing Day spectacular on Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit delivered all that was expected and more this year.

With mostly full fields of New Zealand’s motorcycling elite and appreciative fans in their thousands to cheer them on, the traditional post-Christmas Boxing delivered a total entertainment package, the scorching sun ensuring the atmosphere was as red hot off the track as it was on it.

In addition to wrapping up the 2022 Suzuki International Series, the Whanganui spectacular also included the famous Robert Holden Memorial feature race, the winner receiving a trophy that is perhaps among the most coveted of prizes in the road-racing world.

Monday’s action also included races for the New Zealand TT titles and, for the first time, the supermoto (modified dirt bike) class was recognised as a national championship category, adding further significance to the jam-packed Boxing Day programme.

With no action possible on the twisty street circuit last December because of restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it meant the Boxing Day racing this time around was always going to attract a large number of race-hungry riders.

The intense action they produced throughout the day certainly gave the large crowd plenty to cheer about, with tight battles, insane slip-streaming, demon late braking manoeuvres and, of course, a few of the inevitable track run-offs, slide-offs and crashes.

“It just goes to show that the people had been missing a great entertainment package like this,” enthused Suzuki International series promoter and organiser Allan ‘Flea’ Willacy.

“This event has been going for so many years and I’m so proud that everybody came to the party to put this event on after the setbacks we’ve had. Everybody played their part … the teams, the track builders, the crash crews … and I personally believe they’re the best in New Zealand, ensuring everything ran smoothly today.”

The racing 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.

To cut a long story short, Whakatane’s national superbike champion Mitch Rees carried on the unbeaten run he started at the series’ opener at Manfeild two weeks earlier, winning both Formula One/Superbikes races and also clinching the Robert Holden Memorial trophy. He also won the series in this class when the competition last ran in December 2020, although it was his younger brother Damon Rees who secured the Robert Holden Memorial trophy on that occasion.

Another main point of interest was witnessing local hero Richie Dibben deliver a master class in the supermoto races.

Just as he had done at Manfeild, Whanganui’s Dibben qualified fastest and won every supermoto race on Boxing Day, becoming New Zealand’s inaugural national supermoto champion.

Runner-up to Dibben in the supermoto class was Ashburton’s Andrew Rudd, who finished second to Dibben in every race throughout the series.

Dibben was also outstanding in the F1/Superbikes class at Whanganui, twice finishing runner-up to Rees and ending up second overall for the series in this premier class.

The various class winners in the 2022 Suzuki International Series, which wrapped up at Whanganui on Boxing Day, were Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (F1 Superbikes class; also the TT title winner and winner of the Robert Holden Memorial race); Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (F2 Supersport 600; also the TT title winner); Taupo’s Karl Hooper (F3 Pro Twins; also the TT title winner); Wanaka’s Jesse Stroud (Supersport 300); Whanganui’s Dwayne Bishop (Formula Sport/Bears, senior; also the TT title winner); Whanganui’s Jeff Croot (Formula Sport/Bears, junior; also the TT title winner); Silverdale’s Tyler King (Supersport 150); Upper Hutt’s Kieran Mair (Gixxer 150); Hastings rider Gian Louie (Pre-89 post classics, senior); Lower Hutt’s Dean Bentley (Pre-89 post classics, junior); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto; also the NZ championships title); Auckland’s Adam Unsworth and Bryce Rose (F1 sidecars; also TT title winners); Whanganui’s Bryan Stent and Dan Franzen (F2 sidecars; also the TT title winners); Carterton’s Mark Smith and Dean Corrigan (Classic sidecars).


CAPTION: Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (Honda No.1) and Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Suzuki No.91) leading the way at the start of this Formula One/Superbike class race around Whanganui’s Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day. Photo by Andy McGechan,


Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan,