DAMON Rees controlled the action as the New Zealand Superbike series rolled into Levels International Raceway at Timaru last weekend.
But heading into round two, brother Mitch Rees had the championship lead as the most consistent rider throughout the opening round, with Jake Lewis not far behind in second.
Meanwhile, Lewis’ team-mate Alastair Hoogenboezem had a point to prove after his two DNF’s at the opening round, while Damon headed to Timaru looking to claw back valuable points after a DNF last time out.
After qualifying on pole, Damon was quickest off the line in race one as Lewis and Hoogenboezem tucked in behind, but by the end of lap one the front-runner already had a 0.319sec gap.
But the battle for third position was heating up as Mitch looked to pass Hoogenboezem going into the hairpin but was unsuccessful, as Damon stretched a nearly one-second gap out front.
At the start of lap four, Lewis in second was being pressured by Hoogenboezem in third and by turn four the reigning champ took over in second.
Hoogenboezem set about cutting the gap to leader Damon just as the fight for third was boiling over with Lewis, Mitch and Scott Moir separated by just half a second.
Mitch stuck a pass on Lewis for third at the hairpin on the penultimate lap, but Lewis took his place back moments later to secure the rostrum spot.
And despite a chase, Hoogenboezem had to settle for second as Damon took victory by 0.400sec.
With mixed conditions setting in for Sunday’s 15-lap opener, it looked to be a tyre gamble as most riders went for full wets with only Damon pairing a wet front with an intermediate rear.
Mitch got the best start and led into the first corner in front of Lewis and Daniel Mettam, while Damon was off to terrible start as he dropped back to seventh.
By the end of lap three, Mitch had a handy 4.167sec lead over Mettam while Lewis and Hoogenboezem slotted into third and fourth ahead of Moir.
Going into turn two at the start of lap five, Damon passed Moir for fifth just as Mettam crashed out of second on lap five, leaving a three-way fight for podium honours between Lewis, Hoogenboezem and Damon.
Damon had passed both Lewis and Hoogenboezem by the end of the back straight on lap six as it quickly became a Team Rees Honda one-two and a Blu Cru Yamaha three-four.
By the end of lap seven, Mitch led his brother by more than 11sec, but Damon was making inroads quickly and with two laps remaining, the gap was down to just 1.544sec as the latter finally made his move with just over a lap to go, cruising to a 1.491sec victory.
Lewis emerged victorious from the battle for third, albeit some 30sec down on the the race leaders.
Commenting on his tyre choice, Damon said: “I made the last decision, Mitch went wets in the rear, I went with a wet front and an intermediate rear, I think it really paid off.”
“Mitch made a mistake, all of a sudden he was only a couple of seconds up the road, the rear tyre of mine just kept getting better and better, when everyone else’s was getting worse, so I think the strategy really paid off.”
Under clear skies for race three, Whakatane’s Damon Rees got the best start and led into turn one ahead of Canterbury’s Hoogenboezem.
But by the end of lap two, Hoogenboezem had passed Damon going into turn four before Damon hit back a lap later to move back into the lead as he continued to eke away from a battle for second.
At the start of lap 11, Hoogenboezem pulled away from Mitch in third. Hoogenboezem had now closed to within 0.298sec of leader Damon.
With the front-running pair holding a two-second cushion over the rest of the field, Hoogenboezem made his move half-way through the final lap before running wide, allowing Damon to retake the lead and nick yet another win by 0.127sec, leaving Hoogenboezem to second and Mitch to third.
“That was an awesome race,” Damon admitted afterwards. “I had so much fun battling with Al, there were a couple of close calls, but there was so much respect given between us two.
“It’s been a perfect weekend, obviously pole and three race wins, I’ve not done that before on a superbike so I’m absolutely wrapped and I’m looking forward to getting stuck in on the North Island.”
With his clean sweep, Damon takes the championship lead with 113.5 points ahead of team-mate Mitch with 97, as Yamaha’s Lewis sits third with 82.
Round Three of the New Zealand Superbike Championship takes riders to Hampton Downs Motorsport Park on March 6 and 7.
*Words by Michael Wincott
*Images by ASP