What a difference a year makes – from a zero result to maximum points in just 12 months signifying a remarkable turnaround for Suzuki hero Richie Dibben.
The 30-year-old Whanganui bike shop owner was simply untouchable at the opening round of this season's New Zealand Superbike Championships in Canterbury at the weekend, starting his national title campaign in the best way possible.
The five-round annual series kicked off at Mike Pero Motorsport Park (Ruapuna) in Christchurch and, right from the first moment that Dibben rolled his Suzuki GSX-R600 out onto the track on Saturday morning, he was in total command.
Dibben was sensational in every outing in the Supersport 600 class, the virtual newcomer to the competition qualifying fastest and then winning all three 600cc races over the weekend.
The third race win, which also gave him the GP title win for 2020, was perhaps the highlight as he won the gruelling 15-lapper by a solid 3.9 seconds over fellow Suzuki rider David Hall, from Te Awamutu, with Manukau's Toby Summers third in that prestigious race.
That final race result also gave a Hall a share of second overall for the weekend, putting him level on points with Palmerston North-based former Greymouth rider Ashton Hughes, the two men 29 points behind Dibben as the riders now head to Timaru for round two of the series next weekend.
Dibben made his debut in the class last year but he suffered several set-backs that effectively derailed any attempt by him to shine. But that has certainly not been the case so far this season and his disastrous 2019 campaign has been banished to the memory banks.
"I scored no points in the two South Island rounds of the series in this class last season," Dibben confirmed.
"Round one last year at Ruapuna was cut short after oil was spilled on the track and the meeting abandoned, then I crashed and suffered concussion at round two (at Timaru).
"But everything has gone perfectly for me so far this season. I planned on just staying consistent and not doing anything silly. David (Hall) is riding well and put me under a bit of pressure, but I rode well enough to maintain the buffer and take the win.
"They were long races, but I felt pretty good. I'm pretty stoked with the weekend.
"I have the wife and kids with me this week, so we will stay down here in the South Island and spend a bit of time away from the bikes. But I'm looking forward to racing again at Levels International Raceway, Timaru, this coming weekend."
Meanwhile, Whangamata's Ben Rosendaal produced a solid start to his title defence in the 650 Pro Twins class, leading an 11-rider Suzuki sweep at the top of the class.
Whangaparoa's Nathan Jane, on another Suzuki SV650, settled for second overall, just two points behind Rosendaal, while Zak Fuller chimed in with results that placed him third overall, just three points further back, after this opening round.
Fuller is a fine example of the value of Suzuki's popular GIXXER Cup competition, the teenager from Taupiri having spent two seasons racing a Suzuki GSX150F in the fledgling class – which has the tagline "Growing Future Champions" – before promoting himself now to the larger 650cc machine, where he has obviously continued to learn and further hone his riding skills.
Other class leaders after the weekend's racing are Whakatane's Damon Rees (Superbikes, provisional only); Whangarei's Jason Hearn (Supersport 300); Christchurch's Dennis Charlett (250 Production, support); Christchurch's Matthew Hoogenboezem (Supersport Lightweight, support); Auckland's Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (Sidecars); Invercargill's Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150) and Nelson's Tyrone Kuipers (GIXXER Cup 150, support).
Other GP title winners for the weekend were: Damon Rees (Superbikes, provisional only); Auckland's Nathanael Diprose (Supersport 300); Whangaparoa's Nathan Jane (650 Pro Twins); Auckland's Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (Sidecars) and Invercargill's Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 150).
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.
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