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Racer of the week – Lewis Dray | COLUMNS | GASSIT GARAGE

I was born on 8 June 1996 and had my first major operation 12 hours later.

I was given a less than 50 per cent chance of survival and remained in hospital for three months. Perhaps this somewhat difficult start in life has helped me with my racing and outlook on life in general.

My dad had raced back in the 90s and took me to my first race meeting when I was seven years old.

We went to a Motorcycle Canterbury Training day at Ruapuna raceway, Christchurch, in 2011, and I got my first try on track with a Suzuki RG50. I soon moved onto an RG150 and started to make progress slowly. My first race was in April 2011 at Ruapuna – this was an endurance event and I was lapped four times! I wondered if I was cut out for this.

Everything changed on 8 December 2012 when I was involved in a racing incident that resulted in the death of a friend. I was devastated and questioned my involvement in the sport.

We decided that I should continue racing but we would do it properly. Together with my dad, I drew up a plan on how we were going to approach my racing. This covered everything from bike maintenance and finances to my general approach and attitude.

I started to win races on the 150 and soon progressed onto a 125GP bike taking fourth place in the New Zealand nationals in 2014/15. I continued to ride in the NZ F4 class affectionately known as Buckets over here. I took out various titles on the F4 including King of Ruapuna, King of Levels and the Methven Mountain Thunder Street Race.

After racing a Ninja 250 on and off for a couple of seasons I decided to give the NZ Championship a real nudge in 2015/16. We bought a 2008 insurance write-off and set about repairing and preparing it. After we’d stripped it down it ended up in a wheelbarrow in the garden for a couple of weeks. That’s how it got to be known as the wheelbarrow bike – not because it handled like one!

We rebuilt the bike meticulously, and the first few rides were very promising. We headed to the New Zealand Superbike Championship Nationals feeling pretty confident.

I managed to take two race wins, including the NZGP at Round 1, and followed that up with similar results in Round 2 at Levels Raceway in Timaru. Rounds 3 and 4 were held in the North Island at Hampton Downs, which was the home track of my closest rival for the title, Jacob Stroud.

Recognise the name? Yes, Jacob is the son of 10-time NZ Superbike Champion and ex-WSBK rider Andrew Stroud.

Again I was able to produce consistent results in the North and took the championship by 56 points in the end after my rivals DNFd a couple of times.

Although I enjoyed the 250 Kawasaki immensely, my dad being a Yamaha man started talking about the Yamaha R3 and reckoned it could be the bike to ride in the new NZ Lightweight Production class, which would also include the Kawasaki Ninja 300 and the KTM 390.

I saved hard from my job as an apprentice auto electrician and sold my van to buy a 5000km R3. I opted for this as it wouldn’t need running in and was already loosened up.

The R3 did not have the benefit of any previous development work or tuning data so we basically started from scratch, initially just changing the bodywork before racing it for the first time in April 2016 at the Endurance race at Ruapuna – the same race that saw me lapped four times in 2011. This time it was me doing the lapping as I took out the race win.

I was very excited for me and the R3. Then one day Dad told me about the R3 cup that was being run in Australia. Yamaha NZ said they may be able to assist me with getting a ride at the Morgan Park ASBK round on the bike that Editor Chris Dobie had debuted at SMP. With the help of YMA, R3 Race Centre and Shondelle Matthews from Motorcycling Australia everything came together and I made my international debut.

The weekend was a huge success with a trio of sixth place finishes. I can’t wait to go back.

I’d like to thank LCD Racing, Mum, Dad and Grandad, McKay and Donaldson Motorcycles, Spray Marks, Paul Sawyer, Race Supplies NZ, Jane and Ashley Errington, Stu Holdaway, Nick King, Steve Davidson, Stephen Le Billon, ABBA stands NZ, Motorcycling Canterbury and its members and officials. screen-shot-2016-10-09-at-8-09-48-pm