There's no reason to suggest that the Yamaha rider won't be among the pace-setters at this year's four-round New Zealand Superbike Championships, especially after his warm-up rides at the recent Motul Six-Hour at Hampton Downs and the just-completed three-round pre-nationals Suzuki Series.
The 34-year-old Fitzgerald teamed with fellow Yamaha stars Rogan Chandler, of Upper Hutt, and Hastings' Jamie Maindonald to finish fifth overall, ahead of 25 other teams, at the third annual Motul Six-Hour in November. Fitzgerald then finished fourth overall in the Formula One/Superbike class at the Suzuki Series, which wrapped up with the Cemetery Circuit races in Whanganui on Boxing Day. He finished third in each of the two F1 races on Boxing Day. "This new Yamaha YZFR1 is a great bike and is very stable," said father-of-one Fitzgerald, a kitchen joiner by trade. "The front end of the bike feels very strong. I've been following other riders and I see them skittering all over the place as they head into corners at high speed. There's nothing like that happening with me and I can put the bike anywhere I want to in corners. It's very confidence-inspiring. "I like the Christchurch track and I actually qualified on pole the last time I raced there, in 2014 I think. I took a couple of years off racing for personal, family reasons, but I remember the place well and I like it," he said. Fitzgerald rode the same bike in the Superstock class at last year's nationals, finishing runner-up in the class despite contesting only half the series, on that occasion skipping both the South Island rounds. "The bike is a year old, still stock standard and the engine has never even been opened up. That's a real testimony to the reliability of it." After this weekend's nationals series opener in Christchurch, the riders head to Timaru's Levels International Raceway the following weekend, on January 13-14, before crossing Cook Strait and arriving at Hampton Downs Motorsport Park near Meremere for round three on March 3-4.
The series wraps up at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo on March 17-18. Fitzgerald also has a liking for the Timaru track, although, he says, "there is one part of Levels I need to work on". "I think the characteristics of the bike will suit Levels though. I can position the bike wherever I want to mid-corner and that's what you need to set up for the exit. "I'm really starting to gel with this bike and I'm feeling confident for the season ahead."
Words and photo by Andy McGechan