PHOTO CAPTION: Napier’s SJ Cavell (Suzuki SV650) gets doused in water by his pit crew moments after he crossed the finish line for the final time and wrapped up the Pro Twins 650cc class at Taupo on Sunday, the 35-year-old celebrating his first national title win. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

The old and the new, the novices and the veterans, amazing debuts and first-time title winners, the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championships had it all.

Reduced from four rounds to three, just as it was last season when the virus first reared its ugly head, the third and final showdown for the 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championships (NZSBK) series at Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park at the weekend was a thriller from start to finish and an apt way to wrap up the various battles for this season’s silverware.

Whakatane brothers Damon and Mitch Rees were respectively first and second in the premier Superbike class standings after January’s two South Island rounds, the two sibling rivals first and second respectively and separated by just 16.5 points.

And after the first two of three superbike races at Taupo and with just one more clash to come, they were still the top dogs but they’d swapped positions and it was now elder brother Mitch in charge, 10.5 points ahead of Damon.

In the end, Mitch Rees’ 1-1-2 results over the weekend were enough to earn him the coveted title, the 28-year-old eventually winning it by 14.5 points from Damon Rees, who suffered brake problems in race two at Taupo, when he was forced to nurse his bike to an unaccustomed eighth placing, but his 3-8-3 score-card for the weekend was still enough to see him seal the runner-up spot overall.

Christchurch’s Alastair Hoogenboezem came on strong at Taupo and climbed from fourth to third in the standings, his 2-2-1 score-card at Taupo earning him the final podium position.

“It was a fantastic weekend,” said Mitch Rees afterwards. “Got pole and won the first two races. I knew what the mathematics were, although I obviously would have liked to win every race. To be fair, I was a bit lucky too because Damo had a really bad weekend.

There were other first-time title winners too – Christchurch’s Dale Finch arrived at Taupo with a massive 32-point lead over Upper Hutt’s Rogan Chandler in the Supersport 600 class, but he still had to weather spirited assaults from Chandler, Taupiri’s 600cc class debutante Zak Fuller and Rangiora’s former 600cc champion Avalon Biddle before he could eventually claim the Supersport 600 title.

“This is my first title on a road-race bike. I’ve won national speedway titles in the past,” said the 30-year-old Finch. “I’ve been racing road bikes for about three years now. I felt I could go faster than what I was riding, but I had to hold back a bit and just bring it home.

“I could see all the chaos happening on the track ahead of me and glad I wasn’t caught up in that,” he said, referring to the weekend’s final 600cc race which was stopped twice following crashes.

It was a similar story of first-time glory for Napier’s SJ Cavell, who rode sensibly to rise from second overall at the start of the weekend and clinch the outright win in the closely-contested Pro Twins 650cc class ahead of Whangamata’s Jarad Horn and Taupo’s Karl Hooper.

“I’ve been riding bikes six years and this was my third national championships campaign,” said the 35-year-old Cavell.

“I started well last year but crash after crash meant my season unravelled. This season was all about just coming back and my goal was to be in the fight coming into the last round and I was.

“I’m really happy to get a race win under my belt early today. I had done the calculations before the last race and it was a case of weighing up risk versus reward and I didn’t want to push when I didn’t have to. I caught up to (Te Kauwhata’s) Chris Defiori and (Whangamata’s) Ben Rosendaal in the last race, but realised the risk of trying to pass wasn’t worth me potentially not winning the title.

He says he won’t be back to defend his title because he’ll instead be racing in the Supersport 600 class in 2022.

Meanwhile, Invercargill 14-year-old Cormac Buchanan successfully defended his Supersport 150 title and, for the first time, he won the Supersport 300 class crown as well.

In all, Buchanan qualified fastest in both classes at every round and also won all but one race in the series, 16 wins from 17 starts.

In the sidecars class, Tauranga duo Barry Smith and Stu Dawe qualified fastest in this class at all three rounds and were unbeaten in the series to easily wrap up the title with a race to spare.

They comfortably won ahead of Auckland pair Adam Unsworth and Bryce Rose and Taupo’s defending champions Andy Scrivener and Tina McKeown.

“The series this year has produced some fantastic racing,” said Motorcycling New Zealand road-racing commissioner Grant Ramage.

“Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, we were down to just three rounds this year, and we can’t control that, but we are already planning a six-round series for next year.

“What we may have lacked in quantity this year, we certainly made up for in quality. Lap times have been really fast and there’s a lot of talent coming through in the smaller bike classes. These are riders who will end up on the podium in the superbike class in the coming years.”

Class champions this season are Whakatane’s Mitch Rees (Superbikes); Christchurch’s Dale Finch (Supersport 600); Napier’s SJ Cavell (650 Pro Twins); Invercargill’s Cormac Buchanan (Supersport 300 and Supersport 150); Tauranga duo Barry Smith and Stu Dawe (Sidecars).

The 2021 New Zealand Superbike Championships were supported by Sky Sport Next, Aon Insurance, Pirelli, Trust Aoraki, Redpath, CTAS, MX Timing, BikesportNZ.com and commentators Neil and Brad Ritchie.

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com