It could again be mate versus mate when the Suzuki International Series kicks off in six weeks' time.
Suzuki threesome Daniel Mettam, Sloan Frost and Scott Moir have between them dominated the New Zealand superbike scene over the past couple of seasons and many predict this terrific trio will again be at the pointy end of the field at the three-round Suzuki International Series in December and the five-round New Zealand Superbike Championships that begin early in 2020.
Of course there are others too who could fancy their chances too – men such as Whakatane's 2017 champion Tony Rees, with his equally-talented sons Mitch and Damon lining up alongside him, Kiwi international Shane Richardson, from Wainuiomata, back home for a domestic campaign, Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem and Wellington’s Glen Skachill, who returns to racing after a number of years away from the sport.
But there really is no looking too far past defending 2019 national superbike champion Mettam, two-time former superbike champion Frost or two-time and defending Suzuki International Series champion Moir.
The Suzuki International Series kicks off at kick off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on December 7-8, with Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, following as host venue a week later. The action wraps up with the traditional public street racing event on Whanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day.
For this popular series, the title contenders will be additionally challenged by visiting internationals Richard Cooper (United Kingdom, Suzuki) and Ireland’s Lee Johnston (BMW).
Cooper, in particular, could be a threat to the locals.
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.
But Moir, the Suzuki International Series champion in the Formula One class in 2017 and 2018, holds no fears of a foreign invasion.
"I certainly think I can win," said Moir, a 36-year-old father-of-two.
"Surely the competition couldn't get much harder than it was for me racing against (UK rider) Peter Hickman last year. I've raced before against Lee Johnston, and I beat him on that occasion, but I don't know about Richard Cooper, except I know he'll be fast.
"I know these New Zealand tracks well, though, so that gives me an advantage.
"I'm teaming up with Daniel (Mettam) this weekend to contest a three-hour race at Taupo. It will be a good training exercise for both of us and I will be keeping a sneaky eye on his lap times to gauge how fast he might be for the upcoming Suzuki International Series.
"I'll do a few more rides after this weekend too, just to blow the cobwebs away."
The Suzuki International Series in December also offers races for Formula Two (600cc), Formula Three, Classics (pre-89), sports bikes, super motard bikes and sidecars, so there's no shortage of on-track action.
The always-popular GIXXER Cup class, reserved for riders on identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, returns to the Suzuki International Series programme again this year with the rider age-limit restriction lifted, meaning individuals such as Mettam, Frost and Moir 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 2020 NZSBK series features 10 separate bike classes, from superbikes to sidecars, and it opens at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Ruapuna, just outside Christchurch, on the weekend of January 11-12.
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com