By Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com
It is a risky business, but if superbike racing was meant to be easy, then everyone would probably be doing it.
So it is an elite class of athlete who takes on the challenge of piloting a 160-horsepower machine at speeds of around 200kmph, and it was the cream of Kiwi talent who accepted that mission at the opening round of the New Zealand Superbike Championships in Christchurch at the weekend.
The racing at Christchurch was incredibly fierce, although most observers are expecting even more intensity at the second round of four in the series at Teretonga, on the outskirts of Invercargill, this coming weekend.
Just 19 points separate the top three riders in the glamour superbike class after the two days of racing at Christchurch, with defending champion Sloan Frost, of Wellington, leading the way by 10 points from Whakatane's multi-time former champion Tony Rees, while Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem is just nine points further back.
The difference between a race win and a runner-up finish is five points, so those margins could rapidly evaporate in the heat of racing this Saturday and Sunday.
Sharing the track with the Superbike riders, Invercargill's Jeremy Holmes is the runaway leader in the battle-within-a-battle for 1000cc Superstock class honours, although his nearest challenger, Te Kauwhata's Chris Defiori, may have something to say about that this weekend.
It is tight at the top in the 600cc supersport class too, with Rees' 21-year-old son Damon Rees in a fierce battle with Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson, who is just six points behind him, and Rangiora's Jake Lewis, Christchurch's James Hoogenboezem, Australian visitor Alex Phillis and Christchurch's Cameron Hudson also within striking distance.
Dual-class ironman Defiori is just nine points adrift of Taumarunui's Leigh Tidman in the Superlites class and that should be another exciting clash to observe at Teretonga, while Christchurch's Andy McLaughlin enjoys a similar advantage over Ashburton's Sam Goulter in the Lightweight Production class.
Christchurch's Dennis Charlett leads the Pro Twins class by 24 points from Aucklander Josh Augustine and Opunake's Campbell Grayling is 23 points ahead of Timaru's James Squire in the 250cc production class.
The 125cc GP class sees Matthew Hoogenboezem leading by just 14 points from fellow Christchurch rider Chris Wallinger, while Nelson's Jonny Lewis and Dunedin's Derek Partridge lead the Formula One and Formula Two Bears (non-Japanese bikes) classes respectively.
Sidecar honours belong to Masterton's Spike Taylor and Tauranga's Robbie Shorter, who scored a hat-trick of wins in Christchurch, and they'll be hard to overtake this weekend.
The championship standings are sure to be given a massive shake-up at Teretonga and what happens on this 2.62-kilometre circuit is going to be significant - the series will have hit the halfway stage at the time the engines are shut off late on Sunday afternoon.
After the Teretonga round this weekend, the riders head north for round three at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo, on February 25-26, and then the finale at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, on March 4-5.
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