Despite Suzuki NZ reducing its official support in the road racing field the popular GIXXER Cup is set to race on, writes Andy McGechan.
The legacy continues on for Suzuki New Zealand, its fledgling GIXXER cup competition again serving as motivation and an inspiration for many aspiring young Kiwi racers.
The GIXXER cup class – with riders on a level playing field by all racing on identical Suzuki GSX150F bikes – has been an integral part of the popular Suzuki International Series programme from the moment that it was first introduced in December 2017.
And the GIXXER cup – and with the tagline "Growing Future Champions" – has proven itself a stimulating spectacle for each of these past three years, the race action always incredibly close and typically ending with a frenzied 10 or 12-bike jostle past the chequered flag.
The racing has often been so tight that the riders would clip handlebars, nudge elbows or lean into and rub one another's paintwork in almost every corner ... and even down the fast straights.
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for competitors and spectators alike.
For this season's three-round Suzuki International Series, which again wrapped up on the famous Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui on Boxing Day, the organisers had removed the 14-21 years' age restriction, allowing senior racers the opportunity to compete in this low-cost, ultra-competitive class.
Several of New Zealand's leading 1000cc superbike riders joined the 150cc action and they also agreed to act as coaches and mentors to the younger riders, many of whom were first-time motorcycle road-racers.
And, rather than sour a winning recipe, this initiative actually spiced things up and the experienced "superstars" didn't have everything go their way either, with current national superbike champion Daniel Mettam, from Glen Eden, and Hamilton's nine-time former national superbike champion Andrew Stroud having to settle for third and fourth overall respectively in their first taste of GIXXER Cup racing.
The GIXXER cup trophy was won for as second consecutive time this season by Hamilton's Jesse Stroud, the 17-year-old son of Andrew, with Whanganui's Caleb Gilmore finishing runner-up.
New Zealand's 2014 superbike champion Dennis Charlett, from Christchurch, rounded out the top five behind Mettam and Andrew Stroud.
"With 22 bikes on the starting grid and 25 entrants over the three rounds, the GIXXER Cup riders put on an excellent display of close racing and kept the spectator crowds fully entertained," said Suzuki New Zealand spokesman Peter Goldfinch.
"Lap records at each track were broken this year, in some cases by as many as eight riders. The series and the competitors are certainly getting faster and more competitive each year."
Looking back through the entry lists from day one of the GIXXER Cup in 2017 can be spotted at least 12 individuals who could trace their road-racing heritage to the GIXXER Cup contest and who have now also gone on race in different bike categories – Timaru's Harry Parker, Taupiri's Zak Fuller, Paeroa's Blake Ross, Levin's Justin Maunder, Paraparaumu's Matt Brough, Dunedin's Olivia Goddard, Wellington's Juan-Peter Siebrits, Pukekohe's Thomas Newton and Whanganui quartet Tarbon Walker, Luca Durning, Caleb Gilmore and Hunter Stoneman-Boyle.
"It’s probably fair to say that these people may not have even considered motorcycle road-racing as a sporting career if it hadn’t been for their introduction to the sport and subsequent learning experiences enjoyed on the GIXXER scene over the past three seasons," said Goldfinch.
"As with the previous years, we have uncovered some fresh new talent, just one of the stand-outs being Nelson's Tyrone Kuipers. Of the previous year's riders who showed up again this season too, Jesse Stroud, Caleb Gilmore, Hamish Simpson, Lucy Dowman, Shane Miller, Luca Durning and Cameron Goldfinch all showed excellent progress. Along with newcomer Tyrone (Kuipers), these are names to watch out for in future.
"With the inclusion of three superbike riders, it was exciting to see how well the young riders competed with them, with several of the GIXXER riders getting the better of each of the superbike riders at times. The decision to bring in the experienced riders paid off, as I think all the young riders learned techniques, tips and line selections from them.
"Hats off to Jesse Stroud and Caleb Gilmore, as these guys showed the talent and consistency to finish the series ahead of all three superbike champions. To come out ahead of current national No.1 superbike rider Daniel Mettam, nine-time national champ Andrew Stroud and multi-class champion Dennis Charlett is a massive achievement and, at this stage of their racing careers, it shows that there's some real talent in those boots.
At Suzuki, we are really proud of what has been achieved with the GIXXER cup so far and we're particularly pleased to have had eight women competing in the series this season too. We're looking forward to next season."
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com