Monday, January 31

STROUD ON WAY TO RETAINING CROWN

Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

The Suzuki men are at it again, scrapping at the front of the field for national superbike glory.

Defending champion Andrew Stroud and three-time former champion Robbie Bugden were difficult to separate as the New Zealand Superbike Championships kicked off at Levels Raceway, near Timaru, at the weekend.

Kiwi hero Stroud and Australian Bugden, who have between them dominated the class for at least the past five years, raced handlebar-to-handlebar on the twisty South Canterbury track on Sunday, joined at times by a second Australian rider, Dan Stauffer, as the tone was set for another thrilling summer of superbike race action.

Stroud (Documentary Channel Pirelli Suzuki GSX-R 1000) won both the superbike class races, but that only tells half the story with action on the track much closer than that, less than a second the difference in the lap times of the leading riders.

The double win gives Hamilton’s Stroud a solid 14-point early lead over the two Australian riders, Bugden and Stauffer sharing second and third place finishes at Levels.

Bugden may be injured and practically written-off by his rivals, but the Christchurch-based Triple R team rider showed he was not ready to lie down just yet.

The three-time former New Zealand Superbike Champion from Brisbane had his leg broken at Wanganui’s famous Cemetery Circuit on Boxing Day but, regardless of that, the popular Brisbane rider still lifted himself from the sick bed to be on the starting line on Sunday.

Bugden (Mack Truck Suzuki Superbike), and his Christchurch team-mate James Smith (Elf Oils Suzuki Superbike), travelled to Timaru at the weekend to both race in the prestigious superbike class and each of the riders emerged with their credentials enhanced.

Despite his build-up being hampered by injury, Bugden qualified his Suzuki GSX-R 1000 on pole position and then ran at the sharp end of the field all weekend.

“It wasn’t a bad result,” said Bugden, in classic understatement.

“I certainly had the speed. I’ll only get stronger and faster from here as my recovery (from injury) continues.”

Meanwhile, team-mate Smith twice finished fourth on Sunday and he had to settle for fourth overall after this opening round.

Round two of the series is set for Teretonga Park, Invercargill, on February 5-6, with round three at Ruapuna Raceway, Christchurch, on February 12-13. The series then heads north for round four at Hampton Downs, near Meremere, on March 26-27, with the fifth and final round at Manfeild, near Palmerston North, on April 2-3.