Everyone was a winner in Taupo on Sunday ... well almost.
The 2020 edition of the popular Suzuki International Series kicked off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on Sunday with multiple race winners in many of the various bike classes and it was a win too for bike fans who relished being a part of the first major motorcycle road-race event in New Zealand since the COVID-19 pandemic lock-down.
This three-round competition traditionally signals the start to the new season and always attracts the cream of the motorcycling community, riders keen to show off and test their bikes and their skills ahead of the national championships, set for January and March 2021, and so would also stand as a litmus test for that championship series.
But now that things are underway on the Kiwi road-racing scene, there will be little rest now for the riders, with the Suzuki International Series sure to smoulder during this week but reigniting again for round two next weekend.
Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, on the outskirts of Feilding, follows as host venue for round two next Sunday, December 13, and the Suzuki International Series action wraps up, as it traditionally does, on the public streets of Whanganui, riders tearing around the world-famous Cemetery Circuit, on Boxing Day (Saturday, December 26).
One of the riders to really catch the eye in Taupo on Sunday was Billee Fuller, the teenage girl from Taupiri making only her second foray into road-racing with performances against the boys in the GIXXER Cup class that anybody would be proud of.
The former motocross racer made her road-racing debut in 2019, but competed in only two out of the three Suzuki International Series events and just one of the national road-racing rounds last season.
But this year she's back for a second assault and clearly she's learned from her "first taste" of racing on tarmac 12 months ago.
She took her Suzuki GSX-150F bike to the start line in the first GIXXER Cup race determined to back up her stellar performance as fourth fastest qualifier by also capturing a wad of points in her two races on Sunday afternoon.
But then she made an uncharacteristic error, giving the bike just a little too much throttle as she launched off the start line, her bike suddenly skewing sideways and into another rider. The race was quickly halted before it had really even begun and, after a short while, was re-started with, to everyone's surprise, Fuller bravely lining up for a second crack at it.
In the end, the 17-year-old Fuller managed to finish fourth and fifth in her two GIXXER Cup class races on Sunday and she is currently fourth overall in the popular 16-rider class after round one.
"I was hoping I would be allowed back on the track after my whoopsie, but it was all good," said the year 12 student at Hamilton Girls' High School.
"I was pretty happy with my results, although I went off track and nearly hit the tyre wall at the end of race two and that cost me a position, so it really could have been better for me.
"I don't really have much experience yet, but I'm even impressing myself with how well I've gone. Dirt bike riding in the past helps.
"It's tough for mum and dad watching me. Mum's usually shaking when I come back into the pits after a race," she laughed.
"I'll race all three rounds of the Suzuki International Series this year and all rounds of the nationals too," she said, that separate competition set for January and March next year.
"I had a few close tussles with the boys on the track today, but it was good fun. I think they respect me, or maybe they fear me, because they don't want to get beaten by a girl."
Fuller is racing the same Suzuki GSX-150F that got her elder brother Zak started in the sport two years ago. Zak Fuller is now racing in the Formula Two/600cc class and running with the leaders there.
Former Whanganui rider, but now Christchurch-based, Caleb Gilmore impressed by winning both GIXXER Cup races on Sunday.
First created by Suzuki New Zealand in December 2017 with the aim of providing a starting place and a pathway towards "growing future champions", the GIXXER Cup class was slotted into the Suzuki International Series programme and it proved to be a runaway success.
Now celebrating its fourth season, the GIXXER Cup series has well and truly established itself as the premier competition for road-racing novices.
Many of the young riders who had their first taste of motorcycle road-racing with the inaugural GIXXER Cup contest in 2017 are now out on the track and racing in some of the bigger bike classes – Formula Two and Formula Three, for example – and it probably won't be long before the momentum takes a few of them on through to the elite superbike ranks in years to come.
Class leaders after the first of three rounds of the 2020 Suzuki International Series are Christchurch's Alastair Hoogenboezem (Formula One); Upper Hutt's Rogan Chandler (Formula Two); Nikau Valley's Richard Markham-Barrett and Whagamata's Jarad Horn (first equal in Formula Three); Markham-Barrett (Bears Senior); Te Awamutu's Stephen Bates (Bears Junior); Christchurch's Caleb Gilmore (GIXXER 150 Cup); Pukekohe's Matt Eggleton (Post Classics, pre-89 Senior); Ngaruawahia's Steve Bridge (Post Classics, pre-89 Junior); Tauranga's Barry Smith and Stu Dawe (F1 Sidecars); Albany's Mark Halls and Michelle MacLean (F2 Sidecars); Taumarunui's Jette Josiah (Super Motard); Caleb Gilmore and Timaru's Harry Parker (first equal in Supersport 300).
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com