Like a cricket test in Melbourne or a yacht race from Sydney to Hobart, Whanganui's Cemetery Circuit bike racing is part of the Boxing Day sporting landscape.
By Andy McGechan
THE POLICE in Whanganui will probably be looking the other way today when motorbike riders take over the city once again.
Motorcyclists are expected to hare down Ridgway St, along Wilson St, into Taupo Quay and Heads Rd, before looping around Guyton St and back into Ridgway again, all of it at eye-watering speeds in excess of 200km/h.
There is no doubt that these riders will ignore stop signals, fail to give way and, most probably, swerve across the centre line at every opportunity.
And in one of very few places in the world where this can happen, this Boxing Day Whanganui is being transformed again to host the traditional Suzuki Series finale, a full day of 19 races around the city's famous Cemetery Circuit.
For more than half a century, the barriers have been put up for this world-renowned motorcycle "street fight", with straw bales positioned and spectator fencing laid out along the gutters of Whanganui's streets.
The event was rained out on only one occasion, in 2012, as torrents of water washed away some of the huge trackside barriers, but there is no rain in the forecast this time around.
In fact, it's likely to be a scorcher, both in terms of the sun beating down and of riders trying to beat each other to the chequered flag.
Bay of Plenty's Scott Moir (Suzuki GSX-R1000A) dominated the opening round of the Suzuki Series on his home track at Taupo on December 10 and the 33-year-old Suzuki star managed to maintain his F1 class lead after he bravely fought to achieve a 4-3 score-card at Manfeild a week later.
But round two really belonged to fellow Suzuki team rider Daniel Mettam.
He finished 1-2 in the two F1 outings at Manfeild, denied the double when another Suzuki team-mate, Wellington's Sloan "Choppa" Frost, won the final F1 race of the weekend.
It is likely to be these three men, along with Whakatane's Mitch Rees, New Plymouth's Hayden Fitzgerald and Lower Hutt pair Glen Skachill and Jay Lawrence who will battle for F1 honours and the coveted Robert Holden Memorial trophy.
Rees' father, Tony, won the Robert Holden feature race last year and the two years before that as well, but, sadly, he crashed out at Manfeild and a broken finger means he will not be lining up to race today.
Of the leading F1 class contenders listed above, only Frost has previously won the Suzuki Series outright (which he did in 2015) and, although he's currently fourth overall in the standings, he's only 16 points behind Moir.
With 10 points the difference between winning a race or finishing down in sixth, and two F1 races, any slip-up by Moir could be costly.
Mettam and Mitch Rees are currently in equal second position, the two men just seven points behind Moir, so they also have a good chance of finishing the series on top.
Meanwhile, the crowds at Whanganui today are sure to get right behind local hero Richie Dibben.
The Kiwi international is unbeaten so far in the super moto class.
Interest is also strong in the newly created GIXXER Cup class — reserved for riders aged between 14 and 21 and all on identical Suzuki GSX150F bikes — where Whanganui teenager Tarbon Walker is tipped to feature at the front.
Racing is expected to be intense in the various other classes too, although each class has its favourites with Wainuiomata's Shane Richardson leading the 600cc Formula Two class; Auckland's Nathanael Diprose dominating the Formula Three class; Skachill heading the Post Classics Pre-89 (senior, over-600cc) class; Lower Hutt's Dean Bentley on top in the Post Classics Pre-89 (junior, under-600cc) class; Whanganui's Dwayne Bishop the man to watch in the senior Bears (non-Japanese bikes) class and Hamilton's Zurrin Wiki leads the junior Bears class.
International talent abounds in the sidecars classes, where Tauranga pair Barry Smith and Tracey Bryan (formerly Whanganui) are dominating the F1 grade and British pair Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes have a firm grip on the F2 grade.