The final round of the highly contested Suzuki International Series took place on Boxing Day at Whanganui's infamous Cemetery Circuit. Alastair Hoogenboezem, F1 Championship leader, decided not to contest the final round of the series as he turns his focus to the 2021 New Zealand Superbike season instead to defend his Superbike Championship title.
The battle for the series win would be between Honda's Mitch Rees, who has been consistent throughout the previous two rounds, Suzuki's Scott Moir, who was only 5pts behind Mitch in the championship, and Damon Rees, who has looked strong throughout the series despite a crash at the opening round. Damon would be looking to end the season on a high, as this would likely be his last chance to ride in New Zealand before heading back to the UK to race in the British Superstock 1000 Championship.
Qualifying took place in windy conditions. Damon Rees, riding for Team Rees Honda, took pole position, lapping the Cemetery Circuit in 49.071 seconds, which was 0.709 seconds quicker than Whanganui's, Jayden Carrick in second. Taupō’s Scott Moir, qualified in third position. F1 new-comer Richie Dibben rounded out the front row in fourth who was 1.239 seconds off pole position. Last year’s double race winner and championship contender Mitch Rees could only manage eleventh after he suffered an electrical fault on his new Honda CBR1000RR-R, which meant he had to use brother Damon's spare bike for the rest of the day.
Race 1 took place in windy conditions. Whanganui’s Jayden Carrick's nightmare jump-start meant he took the holeshot in front of Richie Dibben in second and Whakatane's Damon Rees in third. Halfway around the opening lap, Damon Rees had passed the Suzuki of Dibben for second and was now looking to catch Carrick.
By the start of lap two, Carrick had a lead of 1.280 seconds over Damon Rees, who had pulled away from third-placed Dibben.
Lap three saw Damon Rees on lap record pace, as he closed the gap to Carrick to less than a second. Halfway around the lap, Damon Rees made his move into Robert Holden Corner and passed Carrick for the lead.
On lap four it was confirmed that Carrick would receive a twenty-second penalty for jumping the start, meaning he would no longer be in podium contention.
Behind Carrick was Dibben who was involved in a five-way battle with Scott Moir, Adam Chambers, Daniel Mettam and Mitch Rees for the final podium spots.
The start of lap five saw Damon Rees comfortably extend his lead over his rivals and set a new lap record of 48.468 seconds.
Going into turn one at the start of lap six, Mettam made his move and passed Moir for third.
By lap seven Mitch Rees had moved up to fourth position, passing his main championship rival Moir into turn one. By the end of the lap, Mitch was looking to pass Mettam for third.
Starting the penultimate lap, Damon Rees had a lead of over seven seconds. Damon Rees would eventually win by 6.501 seconds, after waving to the crowd through the final corners.
Commenting on his dominating race win, Rees says:
"I feel really good, the bike does not do a thing wrong. Just makes it easy for me. All I’ve got to do is twist the throttle and use the brakes."
The battle for second and third went down to the final lap half a lap. Mettam would take second, just 0.084 seconds ahead of new championship leader Mitch Rees third.
Race 2 of the weekend took place in perfect sunny conditions. Damon Rees got the best start from pole position and lead into turn one ahead of Scott Moir and Daniel Mettam. David Hall was fourth but got pushed wide into the bales and dropped back to seventh.
By lap two Damon Rees and Moir were again on lap record pace and had pulled away from the rest of the field. New championship leader Mitch Rees was in fifth.
By mid-race, the leading pair of Damon Rees and Moir, had over a two-second lead over third-placed Mettam.
Starting lap five there was a four-way fight for the final podium spot between Mettam, Chambers, Mitch Rees and Dibben.
Going into turn one at the start of lap six, Mitch Rees passed Chambers for fourth. By the end of the lap, Mitch Rees had caught Mettam for third and looked to pass.
Going into the final lap Damon Rees held a slender lead of 0.302 seconds over Moir in second, which he held to the line and claimed his second race win of the day.
Commenting on his Formula One win:
" I could hear him [Moir] the whole race, I just knew if I just kept pushing to my maximum that whole race, he couldn't quite get close enough to make a move."
"It’s been an amazing year, just to top it off winning here in New Zealand, the Cemetery Circuit, it’s a dream come true."
After a tough three-way battle on the final lap, Mattam claimed the final podium position by 0.034-seconds, again holding off a determined Mitch Rees, who finished in fourth.
The final round of the Suzuki International Series saw Mitch Rees crowned champion, scoring 123pts ahead of Scot Moir in second with 118pts. Damon Rees finished in third position, 112pts after a strong performance at the final round of the series.
Now the riders turn their minds to round one of the New Zealand Superbike Championship which will take place on the 9th-10th January at Mike Pero Motorsport Park in Christchurch.
Words: Michael Wincott