The GIXXER Cup competition is again threatening to steal the show as a couple of rule tweaks have given the 2019 edition a little extra spice.
This year's three-round Suzuki International Series got underway at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park at the weekend with a race programme that once more catered for all types of bikes and riders of all ages and abilities, the GIXXER Cup class a prime example of that.
Already incredibly popular, the GIXXER Cup is this season enjoying even greater attention from riders and fans alike, thanks to the easing of the age restriction and from the competition welcoming some of New Zealand's greatest current and former champions to also line up and race on the nimble GSX150F bikes.
Hamilton's Jesse Stroud was last season's GIXXER Cup champion and this year he is excited to welcome his dad, Suzuki's record nine-time former superbike champion Andrew Stroud, to race alongside him.
A true racer always aims to win, of course, but Andrew is nowadays more focussed on "giving something back to the sport and helping the young ones".
The 51-year-old Andrew Stroud has nothing to prove and if he can pass on some of his skills and tactics to his son, and some of the other young GIXXER Cup riders too, then the sport can only benefit.
Similarly, Christchurch's fellow multi-time former champion Dennis Charlett, and Glen Eden's reigning national superbike champion Daniel Mettam have chosen to line up in the GIXXER Cup class this year.
Senior riders Stroud, Charlett and Mettam are devoting themselves to schooling the youngsters, tucking in behind them on the race track to assess their techniques and then sitting down with them afterwards to share some analysis and feedback.
Charlett laughed as he added that he should not be considered a GIXXER Cup title contender because "I'm allowing my bike to be cannibalised for parts so that some of the youngsters can keep their campaigns on track".
Jesse Stroud leads the GIXXER Cup after the weekend's series opener at Taupo – he qualified fastest and then won both races – with visiting Australian star Lachlan Epis second in the points, Andrew Stroud third, while Charlett and Whanganui's Luca Durning round out the top five positions thus far.
However, according to Suzuki New Zealand spokesman Peter Goldfinch, regardless of their race results, every one of the 22 riders in the class are "absolutely having a blast".
"What we have done is identify four superbike riders and they each have teams of young guys working under their guidance, so we have got a new team trophy to give out this year, as well as recognising individual honours in the class.
"The idea is that the older guys mentor and train the younger guys and girls and show them lines and techniques. And, funnily enough, a few times we've seen the younger guys teach the older guys a few things too.
"This is the third year that we've had the GIXXER Cup and it's a great family atmosphere. When someone has a problem, the riders and parents all jump in to help one another."
Originally created in 2017 with the aim of providing a starting place and a pathway towards "growing future champions", The GIXXER Cup has proven to be a runaway success.
Many of the young riders who had their first taste of motorcycle road-racing with the inaugural GIXXER Cup contest in 2017 can now be seen listed among the entries in some of the bigger bike classes – Formula Two and Formula Three, for example – and it probably won't be long before the momentum takes a few of them on through to the elite superbike ranks in years to come.
The Suzuki International Series continues with round two at Manfeild this coming weekend (December 14-15) and wraps up, as it traditionally does, with the public street circuit racing on Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com