The fledgling GIXXER Cup class of motorcycle road-racing picked up at the weekend where it left off in its inaugural season last year, heralding the start of the 2018-19 season with hot race action on the track an unbridled camaraderie off it.
What these 150cc bikes and novice young riders lack in horsepower and experience, they more than make up for in the thrill stakes and so it proved as the three-round 2018 Suzuki Series kicked off at Taupo's Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park on Sunday.
Reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21, the GIXXER Cup – with the tagline "Growing Future Champions" – is a production racing class that provides a springboard towards a successful racing future at higher levels.
All riders are on board identical 150cc Suzuki GSX150F model bikes, making it a level playing field and it is considered an ideal "nursery ground" for grooming and developing future road-racing stars.
It was a runaway success last season and threatens to again steal the spotlight this summer too.
The young riders responded to the GIXXER Cup challenge at Taupo and the racing was extremely tight, not-unexpectedly dominated by several of last season's GIXXER Cup stars, each of them having returned for another dose of the excitement and sharing the track with a dozen or more fresh faces, most of them making their respective road-racing debuts.
Hamilton's Jesse Stroud and Taupiri's Zak Fuller locked handlebars at the front of the pack on Sunday, these two GIXXER Cup heroes from last season battling hard to keep fellow 2017-2018 season returnees Shane Miller (Sanson), Clark Fountain (Greymouth), Justin Maunder (Feilding) and Cameron Goldfinch (Whanganui) at bay.
In the end it was Stroud who won the first of Sunday's two GIXXER Cup races, crossing the line just ahead of Fuller, although this finish order was reversed in race two.
The difference between these two is now just one point, Stroud earning that solitary point for having qualified fastest, while Miller and Fountain are third equal in the standings after round one, just nine points further back.
Two young women have joined the GIXXER Cup for the first time this season, adding to the widespread appeal of the class, Palmerston North's Sarah Humphrey and Whanganui's Lucy Dowman relishing the opportunity to mix it with the boys on Sunday.
The 18-year-old Humphrey, a recent school-leaver who now works at Foodstuffs New Zealand, said she has "always had a passion for motorsport in general and always wanted to ride a motorbike".
"Last year I saw the GIXXER Cup and saw there were no females in it, so thought 'yep, that's for me'. So, on January this year I hopped on a bike for the first time and I haven't looked back.
"I had two small crashes on Saturday and I'm a bit sore now, but the injuries are small and it's nothing that will stop me."
Dowman (17) said she was encouraged to tackle the GIXXER Cup by the Dibben-Swartz Suzuki dealership in Whanganui and she and her brother, Michael Dowman, both decided to give it a go.
"There's always a bit of banter between us around the dinner table. He's faster than me ... at the moment anyway," she smiled.
While the racing was fast and furious on Sunday, there is little time for anyone to catch their breath because more drama and excitement can be expected at round two at Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, on the outskirts of Feilding, this coming weekend too.
The popular three-round summer series will have its traditional public street race spectacular to wrap it all up on Boxing Day, the racers at that event weaving around Whanganui's famous Cemetery Circuit.
The GIXXER Cup competition continues on after the Suzuki Series winds up, with GIXXER races incorporated into the 2019 New Zealand Superbike Championships, that five-round series set to kick off in Christchurch on January 5-6, making it an eight-round series for the 2018-19 GIXXER Cup.
Class leaders in the 2018 Suzuki Series after Sunday’s first of three rounds are Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson (F1 superbike class); Whakatane's Damon Rees (F2 600cc class); Palmerston North’s Jacob Stroud (F3); Hamilton’s Jesse Stroud (GIXXER Cup); Whangarei’s Duncan Coutts (Post Classics, Pre-89, Senior); Auckland’s Scott Findlay (Post Classics, Pre-89, Junior); Auckland’s Brendon Coad (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Seniors); Te Awamutu’s Gary Morgan (Bears, non-Japanese bikes, Seniors); Tauranga’s Duncan Hart (Super Motard class); England’s John Holden and Tauranga’s Robbie Shorter (F1 Sidecars); Tauranga’s Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (F2 Sidecars).
Words and photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com