The opening round of the 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championship (NZSBK) resulted in some stunning highs and some epic lows for the Yamaha Motor New Zealand teams at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, near Christchurch, over the weekend.
Lap records, NZGP titles and multiple podiums were counterbalanced by DNFs and a crash as the five riders rode their Yamaha race machines right on the knife-edge line of their limits around the 3.4-kilometre circuit.
The stand-out performance of the weekend was executed by the Yamaha Racing Development Team’s (YRDT) youngster Cormac Buchanan. His mum Kate best summed up her teenage son’s achievements in a poignant social media post.
“‘I’ve discovered I am in complete awe of my own child. And it feels incredible.”
It was an absolute humdinger for the Invercargill rider and he literally could not have achieved anything more. His tally included six wins from six races in the Supersport 150 and Supersport 300 classes; two pole positions; two lap records and two NZGP titles.
Debuting in the NZSBK SuperSport 300 ranks, Buchanan - the youngest competitor in the field at just 14 - was fizzing to claim the race wins’ trifecta, including the coveted NZGP title.
“It’s definitely a debut I’m going to remember for a very, very long time - it really couldn’t have gone any better,” Buchanan says.
“The races were physically and mentally demanding and really challenged me, which is exactly why I wanted to make the step up this year. To win all three was a dream result,” he adds.
Buchanan and his YRDT team-mate Timaru’s Harry Parker were locked in battle throughout the weekend, exchanging race leads and lap records.
“Every race was an epic tussle with Harry - I think we are really pushing each other which is hugely beneficial to our racing. It also says a lot about the environment in our Yamaha Racing Development Team, which is fuelling our success.
“Round two at Levels is shaping up to be another cracker of a showdown. It’s the kind of intensity I need as I prepare to head to the Red Bull Rookies Cup in Europe at the end of the national season,” Buchanan concludes.
His defence of the SuperSport 150 championship also got off to a faultless start. He dominated all three races and secured his second NZGP title and a lap record in the process.
Up in the top-level Superbike class the two Yamaha Racing Team (YRT) riders Alastair
Hoogenboezem and Jake Lewis had contrasting fortunes on their 1000cc Yamaha YZF-R1s.
The Canterbury-based duo were racing on their home track, which favoured Lewis but not defending Superbike champion Hoogenboezem.
Yamaha Motor New Zealand Motorsport Manager Josh Coppins summarises their results as “a real mixed bag with some positives but a lot of negatives as well.”
“Al’s weekend started well on Saturday when he broke the lap record in qualifying and got pole position. Then it went downhill in the first race, after a red flag incident meant he had to do five extra laps on the restart without refuelling. The team made an error in their fuel calculations resulting in Al running out of fuel on the final lap, leaving him with DNF.”
He was challenging for the lead after the restart, so it was extremely disappointing from the team. No mistake by Al - just a miscalculation from the crew, which is unacceptable really. There were some very disappointed lads in the team after that,” Coppins says.
Sunday morning’s race two saw Hoogenboezem bounce back for the win. Then he broke the lap record in race three before crashing out to record his second DNF in two days.
The Christchurch rider says “it was a weekend of what could have been” as he sits well down the points table in sixth.
“On one hand, two DNFs at the start of my defending season is far from what I needed. It has put me in a hard position to catch back up in points but I’m still confident, as I comfortably won race two, broke the lap record and even went faster in qualifying to secure pole position.”
“So, I have no doubt we can do it but we just don't have any room for error with nine races to go. Thankfully, I have no injuries and the bike is already rebuilt and set up for Levels this coming weekend.”
“Thanks to the team and sponsors for giving me the best package out there and to everyone who came to support me at my home round,” Hoogenboezem wraps up.
For Rangiora’s Lewis, each of his three races saw him improve a position and notch up an impressive 4-3-2 results’ set.
“Jake had a really strong season-opener. Because of an injury he didn’t make the Suzuki Series last month so he didn't have as much lead-in riding time as the others but it didn’t matter. We expected him to do well on his home track and he went out and exceeded expectations!” Coppins says.
After a rain-affected, shortened practise on Friday, Lewis qualified P3 and when the hot Saturday afternoon race one rolled around, he had his work cut out for him in the ultra-competitive class.
“I got off to a blinding start, jumped up to second or third on the first lap and was really excited to be in a good position. I then made a few mistakes and dropped back to fifth but clawed my way back to fourth by the chequered flag,” he says.
The YRT made a change on Saturday night to give him better feeling on his R1 and it worked a treat.
“I was pretty keen to improve and get to that podium and we did. I jumped to second behind Damon [Rees] and held that for a few laps while I battled with Alastair. Then he came past and we had another three or four-rider group battle. It was backwards and forwards the whole race with a lot of passing and a bit of paint swapping, which made it very exciting!”
“I was really pleased to come away with third in that race. My first podium of the 2021 season and a double podium for the team, with Al taking the win.
Race three upped the ante as the riders vied for the coveted NZGP Superbike title and Lewis launched into a “crazy battle for first seven to eight laps of the race between second to sixth place.”
Hoogenboezem crashed out and his red flag was followed shortly afterward by another incident, causing the race to be called. Lewis was in second for the race and his points haul saw him finish runner-up for round one.
“I kept going one better every race across the weekend. A huge thanks to Yamaha New Zealand and everyone who supports us and our team. For me to come away second in the points overall is a fantastic position to start the season,” Lewis sums up.
Wellington’s Rogan Chandler, who rides a YZF-R6 in the Supersport 600 class, was pleased to walk away unscathed from the Mike Pero Motorsport track, which he believes is the most physically demanding of the four-round NZSBK series.
“I’ve gone to Ruapuna for six to seven years now and every year I’ve crashed. I finally had a weekend where I didn’t crash and I beat my PB lap time there by about a second,” he says.
He was also relieved to get the nerves associated with the first round out of the way and was “super happy to leave with second in the championship.”
“Last year I was in eighth position after the opening round. This year my fitness and bike are both where they need to be for me to claw back the 16 points on Dale [Finch, who leads the 600 class] this weekend in Timaru.
Levels Raceway is Parker’s home track and he will be searching for a way past his team mate Buchanan.
The 20-year-old first rode a road racing bike there three years ago on his 17th birthday and “I haven’t really looked back since,” he says.
After beating his fastest lap time at Ruapuna by 2secs and finishing second in each of his races over the weekend, Parker looks forward to continuing his inter-team rivalry.
“Cormac is riding well. He is pushing me a lot more and my riding has improved from last year,” he says.
Yamaha riders rounded out the overall podiums in the Supersport 150 and 300 classes, leaving Coppins with the opinion that it was “a very strong performance for Yamaha overall.”
“It's a shortened series this year with four rounds not five, meaning there’s only another nine races to go. A lot can happen with 25 points for a win, 20 for second and 18 for third, so you can pull it back a little bit quicker, especially with a point up for grabs with pole position.”
“We are looking forward to redeeming ourselves at Timaru with Al. We’ve got a fair bit of work to do on the bikes and will have them all ready for test day on Friday,” Coppins says.
NZSBK Round One Results:
1st Mitch Rees – 48
2nd Jake Lewis (YZF-R1) – 39
3rd Damon Rees – 37.5
6th Alastair Hoogenboezem (YZF-R1) – 26
1st Dale Finch – 76
2nd Rogan Chandler (YZF-R6) – 60
3rd Avalon Biddle – 48
1st Cormac Buchanan (YZF-R3) – 76
2nd Harry Parker (YZF-R3) – 60
3rd Dave Fellows (YZF-R3) – 42
1st Cormac Buchanan (YZF-R15) – 76
2nd Samuel Guthrie (YZF-R15) – 60
3rd Georgia Elvin (YZF-R15) – 45
2020/21 YRT & YRDT RACE SCHEDULE:
5th & 6th December 2020 – Round One Suzuki Series, Taupo
12th & 13th December 2020 – Round Two Suzuki Series, Manfield
8th - 10th January 2021 – NZSBK Round One – Ruapuna Park, Christchurch
15th - 17th January 2021 – NZSBK Round Two – Levels Raceway, Timaru
5th - 7th March 2021 – NZSBK Round Three – Hampton Downs, Auckland (TBC)12th - 14th March 2021 – NZSBK Round Four – Bruce McLaren Park, Taupo