The fledgling GIXXER Cup competition is gathering pace and increasing momentum, with several claims now that it is already achieving more than it did during its inaugural season last year.
The second of three rounds in this year's Suzuki Series was held at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, in Feilding, on Sunday and again it was the "nursery ground" class of GIXXER Cup racers who threatened to steal the spotlight.
Reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21, the GIXXER Cup – with the tagline "Growing Future Champions" – is a production racing class that provides a springboard towards a successful racing future at higher levels.
All riders are on board identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, making it a level playing field and it is considered an ideal "nursery ground" for grooming and developing future road-racing stars.
Riders were launching themselves handlebar-to-handlebar around into every corner at Manfeild on Sunday and late braking or slipstreaming was perhaps the only way to engineer a pass, again making for edge-of-the seat excitement.
Taupiri's Zak Fuller now shares the lead in the GIXXER Cup class after Manfeild, level on points with Hamilton's Jesse Stroud – the young son of Suzuki's nine-time former national superbike champion Andrew Stroud – with the "West Coast Warrior", Greymouth's Clark Fountain, moving up from fourth to third overall.
Fountain was credited with back-to-back wins at Manfeild, while Fuller and Stroud swapped around in second and third both times, but there was really perhaps nothing between the leading 10 riders in this class.
A couple of riders making their GIXXER Cup debuts this season, Rotorua's Curtis Boyd and Whanganui's Luca Durning, were keen to express how they'd been inspired to venture into road-racing for the first time.
"Dad wanted me to race go-karts to start with, but then I tried a Suzuki GSX150F demo bike and it was good fun, so I decided to get into it," said the 16-year-old Boyd, currently running eighth in the GIXXER Cup after two rounds.
"I've only raced the bike on a track a short while, but I'm getting better each time I go out. I'm learning things. I learned you can do a bit of damage to the bike when you crash it," he laughed.
"I had a big crash (at Manfeild) on Saturday, but crashing is not so scary. I didn't hurt myself. I had only ridden at Manfeild once before, on the GIXXER test day.
"I'm already looking ahead to racing maybe a bigger bike next season. I used to race BMX bikes, but this is totally different of course. I'm loving it," said Boyd, who will be attending Whakatane High School in the New Year.
For 14-year-old Durning, it was watching MotoGP on television that was his main inspiration.
"I wanted to be the next MotoGP star. I'd done football, cricket and squash, but this is better. I rode dirt bikes pretty much since I could walk, but this is so different. I'm learning about counter-steering, leaning in the corners," said Durning, who will be a year 10 pupil at Whanganui Collegiate in the New Year.
"I only weigh 45 kilograms and 183kg is the minimum weight for rider plus bike in this competition (otherwise weights are applied to the bike to make it a level contest). With me on the bike, it's 183.5kg, so that's pretty much perfect."
Durning is currently 14th overall in the GIXXER Cup class after two rounds.
The popular three-round Suzuki Series will have its traditional public street race spectacular to wrap it all up on Boxing Day (Wednesday, December 26), the racers sent into battle around Whanganui's world-famous Cemetery Circuit.
The GIXXER Cup competition continues on too after the Suzuki Series winds up, with GIXXER races incorporated into the 2019 New Zealand Superbike Championships, that five-round series set to kick off in Christchurch on January 5-6, making it an eight-round series for the 2018-19 GIXXER Cup.
Meanwhile, in the glamour Formula One superbike class, visiting British rider Peter Hickman set tongues wagging with his inspired unbeaten performance at Manfeild.
Hickman won both of the day’s glamour Formula One superbike races and looked comfortable doing it, rocketing up from 11th overall after the Taupo opener to now be placed third in the series standings, just eight points behind defending Suzuki Series champion Scotty Moir, of Taupo.
Suzuki rider Moir qualified fastest in this class and he then finished the day overall runner-up, his carding of 2-4 results in the two F1 races enough to give him a one-point edge over Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson for the day’s tally, although Richardson still leads the series standings in this class.
Other class leaders after Sunday’s second round of three in the series are Whakatane’s Damon Rees (F2 600cc); Palmerston North’s Jacob Stroud (F3); Paraparaumu's Peter Bogusz (Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior); Auckland’s Scott Findlay (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Ngaruawahia's Steve Bridge (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Seniors); Te Awamutu’s Gary Morgan (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Juniors); Tauranga’s Duncan Hart (Super Motard class); England’s John Holden and Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter (F1 Sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 Sidecars).
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com