Former New Zealand superbike champion Brian Bernard is convinced his latest protege will rapidly make his presence felt by the end of the five round 2019 New Zealand Superbike Championships that kick off at Mike Pero Motorsport Park, at Ruapuna in Christchurch this weekend.
Bernard was the last Whanganui rider to win a national superbike championship and now mentors supermoto ace Richie Dibben as he feels his way through Formula 2 territory on his GSXR600 Suzuki.
The double Suzuki Series supermoto champion Dibben is the rising star of the Barracks Bar/Totalspan Steel Buildings race team formed specifically to foster new young talent by Whanganui businessman Mick Paul, Bernard and numerous other Whanganui supporters.
Dibben was ruled out of the first two rounds of the Suzuki Series after crashing his 600cc machine in practice in Taupo and injuring his hand. He bounced back, still nursing the injury, to finish fifth and sixth on debut in F2 on the Cemetery Circuit in Whanganui on Boxing Day. He also won both supermoto races in stylish fashion.
Bernard, who rates Dibben as the most naturally talented rider of the many he mentored over the years, is also a major player in setting up the bike for the national series ahead.
Bernard and the Barracks Bar/Totalspan Steel Buildings race team crew were on hand at Ruapuna during practice on Friday to fine tune Dibbens' machine for qualifying on Saturday and racing Sundy.
"The bike is pinging along nicely and Richie is feeling more comfortable each time he rides it," Bernard said.
"The first practice round was a bit of a non-event because his new gloves were too tight and hurting his injured hand, but once we rectified that things have gone really smoothly. What Richie did on debut on Boxing Day was outstanding given his injury was barely a few weeks old.
"I can tell he is improving with each outing. He was feeling that comfortable and going that well this morning that he realised the suspension needed tweaking — you only realise these things as a rider when you get comfortable and go quicker.
"This is just a development season. I know Richie will want it all to happen soon, but we've set our sights in developing his skills and I'm predicting he will be close to out-riding his machine by the end of the series," Bernard said.
2019 NZ Superbike Championships calendar:
Round 1 — January 5-6, Mike Pero Motorsport Park, Christchurch;
Round 2 — January 12-13, Levels International Raceway, Timaru;
Round 3 — March 2-3, Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, North Waikato, Mike Pero MotoFest;
Round 4 — March 30-31, Circuit Chris Amon, Manfeild;
Round 5 — April 5-7, Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park, Taupo.