Suzuki Series: Gixxer Cup success as top rider inclusion didn't stop youngsters making podium
The decision to allow top riders to compete in Suzuki's fledging Gixxer Cup competition has only grown and improved the development series, which was designed to serve as motivation and inspiration for aspiring young Kiwi racers.
Many Whanganui riders have been foremost among those to shine.
The Gixxer Cup class – with riders on a level playing field by all racing on identical Suzuki GSX150F bikes – has become an integral part of the popular Suzuki International Series programme from the moment the division was first introduced in December 2017.
For the 2019 series, which wrapped at the famous Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui on Boxing Day, the organisers had removed the previous 14-21 years age restriction, allowing senior racers the opportunity to compete in the low-cost, ultra-competitive class.
Several of New Zealand's leading 1000cc superbike riders joined the 150cc division and also agreed to act as coaches and mentors to the younger riders, many of whom were first time motorcycle road racers.
And, rather than sour a winning recipe, this initiative actually spiced things up as the experienced "superstars" didn't have everything go their way either.
Instead of adult domination of the series, current national superbike champion Daniel Mettam, from Glen Eden, and Hamilton's nine-time former national superbike champion Andrew Stroud had to settle for third and fourth overall respectively.
The Gixxer Cup trophy was won for a second consecutive season by Hamilton's Jesse Stroud, the 17-year-old son of Andrew, with Whanganui's Caleb Gilmore finishing runner-up.
New Zealand's 2014 superbike champion Dennis Charlett, from Christchurch, rounded out the top five behind Mettam and Andrew Stroud.
"With 22 bikes on the starting grid and 25 entrants over the three rounds, the Gixxer Cup riders put on an excellent display of close racing and kept the spectator crowds fully entertained," said Suzuki NZ spokesman Peter Goldfinch.
"Lap records at each track were broken this year, in some cases by as many as eight riders.
"The series and the competitors are certainly getting faster and more competitive each year."
Race action typically ended with a frenzied 10-12 bike jostle going past the chequered flag.
The racing has often been so tight that riders would clip handlebars, nudge elbows or lean into and rub one another's paintwork in almost every corner, and even down the fast straights.
It was edge-of-the-seat stuff for competitors and spectators alike.
The longer term positive effects are also beginning to be seen, as from the entry lists to the original Gixxer Cup races in 2017, it is now possible to spot at least a dozen rookie riders who later went on to compete in different bike categories.
Among them are the Whanganui quartet of Gilmore, Tarbon Walker, Luca Durning and Hunter Stoneman-Boyle.
"It's probably fair to say that these people may not have even considered motorcycle road-racing as a sporting career if it hadn't been for their introduction to the sport and subsequent learning experiences enjoyed on the Gixxer scene over the past three seasons," said Goldfinch.
"As with the previous years, we have uncovered some fresh new talent, just one of the stand-outs being Nelson's Tyrone Kuipers.
"Of the previous year's riders who showed up again this season too, Jesse Stroud, Caleb Gilmore, Hamish Simpson, Lucy Dowman, Shane Miller, Luca Durning and Cameron Goldfinch all showed excellent progress.
"The decision to bring in the experienced riders paid off, as I think all the young riders learned techniques, tips and line selections from them.
"Hats off to Jesse Stroud and Caleb Gilmore, as these guys showed the talent and consistency to finish the series ahead of all three superbike champions.
"It shows that there's some real talent in those boots.
"At Suzuki, we are really proud of what has been achieved with the Gixxer Cup so far and we're particularly pleased to have had eight women competing in the series this season too."
Andy McGechan / Motorsport
Whanganui Chronicle 22/1/20