Whanganui motorcycle hero Richie Dibben is rocketing ahead in the chase for the Supersport 600 class title in this year's New Zealand Superbike Championships series.
The 30-year-old bike shop owner is no stranger to winning motorcycle races, having made a name for himself at home and internationally as a super moto champion, but this year he's dipped his toes into unfamiliar waters, making his debut on the superbike scene and racing a Suzuki GSX-R600 model bike in the talent-laden Supersport 600 class.
He kicked off his 2020 campaign by dominating the class at both the South Island rounds of the series in January, winning five out of six races at those back-to-back events, and he built up an impressive 54-point lead over his nearest rival.
The competition then took a seven week break, giving him time to catch his breath and to look back over what he had achieved as a road-race "rookie".
The championship racing resumed with the third round of five at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park at the weekend and it seemed to be business as usual, with Dibben setting the fastest time in qualifying on the North Waikato circuit.
However, he met his match during racing proper, with Upper Hutt's Rogan Chandler on fire at the weekend, winning all three races and forcing Dibben to accept three runner-up finishes on the undulating Waikato track.
With Chandler failing to feature prominently at the earlier two rounds, he is not yet really too much of a threat to Dibben, who now enjoys a massive 60-point advantage at the top of the standings.
So, with points worth more than two race wins up his sleeve, Dibben can perhaps afford to relax over the two rounds (six 600cc class races) that remain – at Manfeild and then Taupo – although that's not really something that's in his nature and he says he will still be pushing hard for race wins at the upcoming events.
"It was a good weekend (at Hampton Downs). Obviously I wanted to be winning the races, but I have still extended my points lead, so I'm happy with that," said Dibben matter-of-factly.
"I am looking forward to the next rounds. I am reasonably familiar with Manfeild and don't usually go too bad there. I love the Taupo track, probably my favourite, because it seems to suit my style.
"I have picked up this branch of the sport remarkably well. It helped going over to Australia and racing a couple of rounds of their 600cc nationals last year. I went over there to see if I could pick up the speed a bit and see if I could be on the pace in this style of racing.
"That experience has certainly paid dividends for me back here in New Zealand," said Dibben, well on course to clinch the national 600cc title at his first attempt.
"Regardless of how in pans out, I have already decided that I will be in the (1000cc) superbike class in next season's nationals.
"It should be a good challenge. I have never even ridden a superbike before," he laughed.
So is it optimistic and ambitious to jump up to a 1000cc Suzuki?
"Yes, but it's the same as for me racing the 600 this year. I never really knew whether I would feel comfortable with it to start with. It will just be a time thing to get used to another bike and try to go fast," said the amiable father-of-two.
Meanwhile, in the 1000cc Superbike class, Taupo's Scott Moir took his Suzuki GSX-R1000 to win the weekend overall, his 1-1-2 score-card boosting him up the rankings from fifth at the start of the weekend to now be second overall, just three points behind series leader Alastair Hoogenboezem, of Christchurch.
Round four is set for Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding is in three weeks' time, on March 28-29, with the fifth and final round scheduled for Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park near Taupo on April 4-5.
Dibben is supported by Barracks Sports Bar, Totalspan, Bernard Racing, Garmac Engineering, David Jones Motors, Roger Crowley Solicitors, Mike Paul Building Inspectors, BikesportNZ.com and Steel It.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com