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Street Racing, Kiwi style, at Wanganui

By Dave Ayres -

 07 January 2008 15:34

Motorcycle racing has been taking place around the Heads Road Cemetery in Wanganui for over fifty years and has seen its fair share of big names during that time.

A genuine street circuit based around the roads in the middle of town with the obligatory straw bale around lampposts and miles of temporary fencing. The event just keeps on growing and the 2007 races proved no exception, with full circuit TV coverage and a number of international entries.

The signature races that make up Formula Wanganui, honours went to Craig Shirriffs riding a Haldane Suzuki GSXR 1000 and with it showed he intends to be one for the contenders for the New Zealand Production Superbike Championship this season.

Taking five wins from five starts, Shirriffs was pushed hard by long-time rival Andrew Stroud (Suzuki GSX-R750) and visiting American rider Gareth Jones (Yamaha YZF-R1) but always had just that little bit extra when it was needed.

Although not needing to win the feature race to claim the Robert Holden Trophy due to his earlier race successes, Shirriffs showed just how much extra pace he had around the streets of Wanganui by posting the only sub 50 second lap of the day over half a second quicker than his nearest rival.

Andrew Stroud ran strongly early on but slipped back through the pack to eventually cross the line in sixth place. Stroud had gambled on riding a Suzuki GSX-R750 in the first two races calculating that the agility of the 750 would more than make up for the lower power. Having seen how well Shirriffs was going on his GSX-R1000, Stroud decided to park the 750 and use his own 1000cc machine for the Robert Holden Memorial feature but selected a soft, qualifying-spec rear tyre for the 10 lap race which gave good grip early then started sliding around later in the race.

Of the other classes on this year’s programme the one that provided the most thrills was the MX-based Super-Motard category, which saw top New Zealand rider Toby Summers (Yamaha YZF450) go up against one of Australia's best, Josh McFarlane (Aprilia SXV550).

Local rider Jayden Carrick (Honda CRF480) qualified quickest and won the first S1 class race and finished second to McFarlane in the final feature race but Summers won both S2 races and looked like a serious threat in the final feature until a small mistake saw him concede several positions and eventually cross the line in fourth place.

The side car races provide some of the highlights and the only red flag of the day following an incident at the first corner. Quickest in qualifying were the Australian Stacey Sellar and passenger Leighton Minnell (husband of Kellie Minnell) who pushed their Suzuki LCR K6 so hard they opted for the escape road at the end of the start finish straight at one point but delighted the early spectators with a practice start as they rejoined the track.

Auckland's Lawrance brothers, Chris and Richard, won the second race on their DMR Yamaha 600. Wanganui sidecar based duo Tracy Anderson and Kellie Minnell couldn’t convert local knowledge into as high a position as they had hopped but certainly showed that races are not all about the first corner bravery or horsepower by bringing their Yamaha home 8th in the early races and 9th in the sidecar feature race ahead of more powerful machinery and ahead of more than one DNF.

Perhaps the most unwanted honour of the day went to Allan Willacy who out braked harder than the tyres of his Honda RS 125 would allow in race 1 and hence was the first racing incident of the day. Luckily both bike and rider suffered little more than a few scratches and Allan was able to race again later that day and did more than his fair share of giant killing in the highly competitive F3 class for bikes up to 600CC