Visiting British superbike champion Richard Cooper has shown once again that he’s a fast bike racer and a fast learner too.
He arrived at Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, for the second of three rounds in this year’s Suzuki International Series at the weekend, again having virtually no knowledge of the tar-sealed terrain he’d have to tame.
Even so, from the first moment he set out on his borrowed Suzuki GSX-R1000 motorcycle, he was circulating at eye-watering speeds and showed he was ready to again challenge the cream of domestic and international superbike racers, just as he had done at the series opener at Taupo a week earlier.
A quick learner, Cooper had wasted no time at reaching top speed at Taupo and it was a similar story at Manfeild – however, instead of settling for finishing behind Whakatane’s Damon Rees and Australian Lachlan Epis, as he had been forced to do at Taupo, it was now Rees and Epis, and all the other superbike heroes too, who were doing the following.
Cooper qualified fastest in the premier Formula One class at Manfeild on Saturday and the scored a hat-trick of wins over the weekend, enough for him to take over the series lead in the glamour F1 class and he now heads to the final round, on the public streets of Whanganui on Boxing Day, with a one-point advantage over Rees, with Christchurch rider Alastair Hoggenboezem third overall after Manfeild, albeit a massive 32 points further back.
"Once I got that first race out of the way (with a win over Rees), I felt I was in control for the rest of the weekend," said the 36-year-old Cooper, from Nottingham.
"The Manfeild track was fortunately quite easy for me to learn and that helped. You have to maximise the exit on the corners which the Suzuki is good at and the work I've been doing with the Ohlins (suspension) guy over the past few days has paid dividends because we've had a bike that can do race distance and can also do a single fast lap if needed to.
"We have not set the world on fire, but we've done what we have needed to do, if that makes sense.
"It's not over yet. We still have to race at Whanganui and I know I'll be up against it. I understand it will be Damon Rees' first time on a superbike at Whanganui, just as it will be for me, but I think he is on top of his form at the minute and you find, as a rider, that when you're on top of your form, it doesn't matter where you race, you can turn it on when you need to.
"I think Damon is going to come out all guns blazing at Whanganui and it's going to be tight between us for the championship, but it would be nice for me to win it for the guys at Suzuki who have helped me ... it would be a nice way to cap off my holiday here."
Cooper's credentials are impeccable – he is the 2019 British Superbike Superstock 1000 champion and also finished on the podium at the famous North West 200 event in Ireland earlier this year.
Other class leaders after the second round of three at Manfeild at the weekend are Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler (Formula Two, 600cc); Taumarunui’s Leigh Tidman (Formula Three); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (GIXXER Cup); Whanganui’s Ashley Payne (Formula Sport/Bears, senior); North Shore’s Gui Mendes (Formula Sport/Bears, junior); Napier’s Eddie Kattenberg (Post Classics, Pre 89, senior); Woodville’s Kieren O’Neill (Post Classics, Pre 89, junior); Auckland’s Peter Goodwin and Kendal Dunlop (F1 sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 sidecars); Whanganui’s Richie Dibben (Supermoto).
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com