Days are being counted down as New Zealand's road-racing community braces itself for the start of the high-profile Suzuki International Series.
It is certainly going to be another scorching summer of motorcycling this year with December's annual Suzuki International Series road-race competition again swamped with potent, world-class entries and even the re-vamped GIXXER Cup class boasts 25 riders in its line-up so far.
The 2019 edition of the always-popular three-round series is set to kick off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on December 7-8 and so will begin three consecutive weeks of blistering motorbike action.
Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, follows as host venue a week after the Taupo round, on December 14-15, and the action wraps up, as it traditionally does, on the public streets of Whanganui, the world-famous Cemetery Circuit, on Boxing Day (Thursday, December 26).
Taupo's Scott Moir will be hoping to take his Suzuki GSX-R1000 to a third consecutive outright win in the Formula One (F1) class in this year's Suzuki International Series, but he knows he'll again have his work cut out just staying ahead of fellow Suzuki stars Sloan Frost and Daniel Mettam, not to mention all the other "big names" that will be lining up.
Wellington's Frost is a two-time former national superbike champion and won the Suzuki International Series F1 class in 2015, while Glen Eden's Mettam is this year's national superbike champion.
But Moir, the Suzuki International Series champion in the glamour F1 class in both 2017 and 2018, remains steadfastly confident.
"I'm feeling strong and fast, I'm the fittest I've ever been and I certainly believe I can win," said Moir, a 36-year-old father-of-two.
"It's going to be tough, but I'm up for the fight."
Mettam is similarly bullish about his chances of winning the series.
"I'd love to win the Suzuki International Series. I have the national superbike title, but it would be so nice to have the F1 Suzuki Series crown as well. I won the 600cc (F2) class in the Suzuki Series in 2015, but the F1 title is the main one," said the 23-year-old Mettam.
"The internationals riders who are coming will certainly be fast, but I think we Kiwis may have a slight advantage over them because we know the tracks already.
"I'm feeling really good with my preparations and we are nearly 100 percent with tyres and suspension settings now."
The Suzuki International Series is New Zealand’s richest motorcycle competition and it has again attracted a huge overseas contingent, with top riders arriving from the United Kingdom, France and Australia, including Isle of Man and British Superbike Championship winners among them.
British rider Richard Cooper, Ireland’s Lee Johnston are the main draw-card entrants this year, with many race fans sure to already know of their incredible international exploits.
Cooper is the British Superbike Championships (BSB) Superstock Champion for 2019 and his performance as a newcomer at this year’s North West 200 was a definite highlight of that iconic event.
He will race in New Zealand for the Sloan Frost Motorsport Team.
Johnston is the 2019 Isle of Man TT winner, icing on a cake to his 2019 season that also saw him win the Scarborough Gold Cup and finish runner-up in the Ulster GP.
Frenchman Morgan Govignon will be here too, set to race in the Bears (non-Japanese bikes) class.
And there is also certainly no shortage of Kiwi talent.
Wainuiomata’s Shane Richardson returns from overseas, where he featured at the front this year in the British Superbike Championships, racing in the superstock class. He will race in the F1 class in the Suzuki International Series.
Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem and Whakatane’s Rees brothers – Mitch and Damon – will also be pushing for top honours in the F1 class.
Wellington’s Glen Skachill returns to racing after a number of years away and he will also add spark to the F1 class, while reigning national 600 Supersport champion Avalon Biddle has delighted organisers with news that she will race the Suzuki International Series and make her debut on the public streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day.
Rangiora-based Kiwi international Biddle will race in the F2 (600cc) class.
The Suzuki International Series also offers races for Formula Three, Classics (pre-89), sports bikes, super motard bikes and sidecars, so there's no shortage of on-track action.
The crowd-favourite GIXXER Cup class, reserved for riders on identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, is in the programme again this year with the rider age-limit restriction lifted, meaning individuals such as Frost, Mettam and Christchurch’s Dennis Charlett are expected also to line up and give talented youngsters such as Jesse Stroud (Hamilton) and Caleb Gilmore (Whanganui) something to really think about.
The GIXXER competition, hatched in late 2017 as a nursery ground for motorcycle road-racing – and with the catch-phrase 'Growing Future Champions' – has truly been an outstanding success.
Numerous young riders, many of whom who would perhaps previously not even have considered tackling the sport, have now embraced racing and are showing signs that they indeed could be superbike champions in years to come.
While the sport's purists will perhaps still focus on what's happening in categories such as the 1000cc F1 superbike or 600cc F2 bike classes, for example, there is no denying that some of the closest and most exciting racing witnessed in the Suzuki Series (Suzuki International Series) last season was in the GIXXER Cup.
In addition to all of this, members of the public can save money by purchasing "early bird tickets" through Ticketek on-line and then they'll also go in the draw to win a Suzuki GIXXER150 bike.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com