Bond built over a bike

By Andy McGechan

A riding legend is making up for lost family time, writes Andy McGechan

Australian Sophie Lovett (below) with her father, Phil, leads a group of riders at Hampton Downs (above).

Pictures / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Australian Sophie Lovett (below) with her father, Phil, leads a group of riders at Hampton Downs (above). Pictures / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

Phil Lovett is well known on the international dirt bike scene.

The man from Cessnock, New South Wales, made a name for himself by winning the Finke Desert Race three times - in 1981, 1982 and 1985 - as well as featuring among the top 10 for every one of his 22 attempts.

But now the Australian cross-country endurance bike racer is trying an entirely different motorcycling code - and he's sharing the new passion for asphalt and superbikes with his daughter, Sophie.

Australian Sophie Lovett (Kawasaki), in action during New Zealand's popular Suzuki Series last week. Photo / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Australian Sophie Lovett (Kawasaki), in action during New Zealand's popular Suzuki Series last week. Photo / Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

It's a late career move for the 56-year-old to switch from desert to tarmac, but he's savouring it even more than expected because it is also a great opportunity for him to "enjoy a little bonding" with his 23-year-old daughter.

The two racers have come to New Zealand to race on Kawasaki ZX-10R superbikes the popular annual Suzuki Tri Series this season.

The first round was at Hampton Downs 11 days ago, where they suffered mixed results because of issues with their tyres on the damp track, but there was no time to dwell on that with the next round coming up very quickly, the following weekend at Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding.

The third and final round is set for Wanganui's Cemetery Circuit public street race meeting on Boxing Day.

It has been a steep learning curve for the Lovett family.

"We did a little super moto racing together first, a couple of years ago, just for Sophie to get her confidence up," said Phil. "Then we hired a road bike and she really enjoyed that. Now we're racing them."

Sophie is an environmental planner and recently earned an 18-month contract to work in New Zealand, based in Auckland, and that's where the idea was born to race the Suzuki Tri Series. They will also race the four-round New Zealand Superbike Championships, which kick off in the South Island, at Ruapuna on the outskirts of Christchurch next month.

Australian father and daughter Phil and Sophie Lovett (Kawasaki), enjoying their first road-racing experience in New Zealand this season. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
Australian father and daughter Phil and Sophie Lovett (Kawasaki), enjoying their first road-racing experience in New Zealand this season. Photo by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com

"She's a fairly competent road racer and being in the same races as my daughter is not something I really think about. If I saw her lying beside the track, I would obviously be concerned, but I'm usually just too busy concentrating on my own racing.

"It's great being able to share the experience with Sophie. In my younger days I was working seven days a week, and racing a fair bit too, so having a family life was difficult. Being able to bond with her now is great.

"This is an entirely new sport for me and has given me a whole new lease on life. I'm enjoying the racing in New Zealand and we're already talking about coming back next season too."

There are plenty of cases where dirt bike exponents have successfully transferred their skills to tarseal ... Wellington superbike rider Sloan Frost, Feilding superbike hero Craig Shirriffs and Formula Two (600cc) racer Toby Summers, from Manukau, are just some of the high-profile individuals who have made the switch from dirt to tarmac and continued to shine.

Motueka's former Grand Prix motocross star Josh Coppins, now the manager of the official Yamaha motocross team, will contest the Port Nelson Street Races on January 2, a rare competitive outing for the recently retired former motocross champion and rarer still because it will be as a road racer.

Auckland V8 supercar driver Shane van Gisbergen began his racing career on ATV (quad) bikes, and Wanganui's Shane Wye made a name for himself as a top football player and now races a lightly modified dirt bike in the super moto class. Can Wye be a motorcycling star in front of his home crowd on Boxing Day the same way that he did so often when playing football at Wanganui's Wembley Park?

- NZ Herald

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