It is often considered that defending a title can be tougher than winning it in the first place, but Auckland Suzuki rider Daniel Mettam is quietly confident that he can do just that.
The 23-year-old motorcycle mechanic from Glen Eden won the premier superbike class title for the first time last season and he is taking nothing for granted as the nation's elite road-racers descend on Mike Pero Motorsport Park Ruapuna, on the outskirts of Christchurch, for two days of racing this weekend.
This will be the first of five rounds in the 2020 New Zealand Superbike Championships, back-to-back rounds in the South Island to kick it off in Canterbury this weekend and then at Levels International Raceway, near Timaru, the following weekend, before the riders travel up to race at three separate venues in the North Island.
It could be another close-fought series too, although possibly nothing could have been tighter than it was last season, when Mettam clinched the crown by a narrow one-point margin from fellow Suzuki star Scott Moir, of Taupo.
Mettam will have to face up to Moir again this season, as well as Suzuki's national superbike champion in 2016 and 2018, Wellington rider Sloan Frost, and the man who finished third overall in the class last year, Christchurch local Alastair Hoogenboezem.
The Rees brothers from Whakatane, Mitch and Damon Rees, will also no doubt be strong contenders, both having performed well in the 2019 Suzuki International Series in December.
Although a relative newcomer to the superbike class, Mettam is no stranger to winning major road-race titles.
Mettam took a Suzuki GSX-R600 to win the Supersport 600 title at the nationals in 2016, then immediately stepped up to the 1000cc superbike class and it didn't take him long to make the transition and also taste success on a 1000cc version of the Suzuki GSX-R bike.
He finished fourth overall on debut in the superbike class in 2017 and then claimed third overall the following year, before finally stepping onto the top step of the podium in 2019.
With only a short amount of time spent on his bike before the start of the 2019 Suzuki International Series in December, Mettam struggled and settled for fourth overall in the Formula One/Superbike class when the series wrapped up on the Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui just after Christmas.
"The Suzuki International Series was tough for me, but we will all be back on stock standard bikes now for the nationals and that makes it a level playing field," said Mettam.
"I'm looking forward to racing at Ruapuna this weekend and starting the series off strongly.
"I won the corresponding weekend at Ruapuna two years ago and it's a track I like, so I should do well there this weekend.
"Everyone will be a threat for the title ... there are probably six or seven guys who would win a race ... so that should make it good for spectators too."
The Supersport 600 class should also be an edge-of-the-seat affair with Suzuki riders Richie Dibben, from Whanganui, and Te Awamutu's David Hall sure to reignite the fireworks they set off during December's Suzuki International Series, while defending champion Avalon Biddle, from Rangiora, Upper Hutt's Rogan Chandler, Auckland's Toby Summers, Tapanui's Seth Devereux and Palmerston North-based former Greymouth rider Ashton Hughes are sure to threaten too.
In addition to the Superbike and Supersport 600 classes, there will be racing for competitors in the Supersport 300, Ninja 400 Cup, 650 Pro Twin, Sidecars, GIXXER cup 150 and Supersport 150 classes this weekend as well.
After consecutive weekends of racing in the South Island, the series takes a break before resuming at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, on March 7-8.
2020 NZ Superbike Championships calendar:
Round 1 – January 11-12, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch;
Round 2 – January 18-19, Levels International Raceway, Timaru;
Round 3 – March 7-8, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato, Mike Pero MotoFest;
Round 4 – March 28-29, Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild, Feilding;
Round 5 – April 4-5, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com