Suzuki New Zealand's four-time Tri Series Formula One Superbike Champion Andrew Stroud is aiming for his fifth consecutive title in this year's series that starts next weekend at Hampton Downs.
Although the 44 year old has nothing left to prove in a sparkling racing career spanning nearly three decades, Stroud, who has won a total of nine New Zealand Superbike Championship titles, has set himself a tough target this season; he also wants to do the double by clinching his 10th Superbike crown and also win his 5th Tri Series title.
The father-of-nine entered his first proper motorcycle race in May 1986 at an Auckland club day at Pukekohe - and he has been at the top of the sport, or very close to it, for each of the 26 years that have followed.
He enters this season with an enviable record of having won the Tri Series' glamour F1 title every year since that competition was first formed in 2008, although he's taking nothing for granted with a strong array of top superbike talent again lining up for the battle this season.
Christchurch-based National 600cc Supersport Champion Dennis Charlett steps up to race a 1000cc Suzuki Superbike this season and Stroud has already identified him as being a major threat.
Said Stroud: "I saw Dennis race down south recently and I was impressed with how quickly he's found the pace. I didn't expect him to be going so well, so early in the season. Winning is always my aim and nothing has changed at all over the years, but this is going to be a very hard season ahead."
Round two of the Suzuki Tri Series is set for Manfeild, on the outskirts of Feilding, a week later on December 16th, with the final round scheduled for the public streets of Wanganui, on the famous Cemetery Circuit, on Boxing Day.
Following hard in the wheel tracks of the Suzuki-supported Tri Series is the five-round New Zealand Superbike Championship series, starting at Ruapuna, on the outskirts of Christchurch, on January 5-6th. It wraps up at Taupo on March 23-24th.
Stroud carries the No.2 on his bike for the New Zealand Superbike Championships this season after losing his crown to Australian Suzuki star Robbie Bugden last season, but he's determined to snatch it back.
"I know Robbie has been riding a lot in Australia and he'll probably again be my biggest threat in the nationals, but I also know Craig Shirriffs, Sloan Frost and Nick Cole will be fast too."
Fellow Suzuki riders Ray Clee and Karl Morgan, both from Auckland, Taranaki's Hayden Fitzgerald and Christchurch's John Ross will also be strong challengers in the Superbike class.
"I have a 2012-model Suzuki GSX-R1000 and there are just a few subtle changes from the old model. It's an altogether better package; smoother and with more power on tap, but all the bikes are really very good these days and go a similar speed.
"Suzuki is still the brand to beat. I think Suzuki has won nine of the past 10 Superbike Championship titles in New Zealand and Suzuki New Zealand understands what it takes to win and the level of support they give me is second to none. But, in the end, it still comes down to riding talent. I just hope I've got more talent than the rest of them," added Stroud.
NEW ZEALAND RACE CALENDAR:
Round 1: December 8, Hampton Downs.
Round 2: December 16, Manfeild.
Round 3: December 26, Wanganui streets.
2013 NZ Superbike Championships:
Round 1: January 5 & 6, 2013, Christchurch.
Round 2: January 12 & 13, 2013, Timaru.
Round 3: January 19 & 20, 2013, Invercargill.
Round 4: March 16 & 17, 2013, Hampton Downs.
Round 5: March 23 & 24, 2013, Taupo.