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Revolving Racer – Robbie Bugden | Columns | Gassit Garage

Normally my sights are set on what challenges and goals lie ahead, not the past. However, now that I’ve announced my retirement after 16 years of top-level Australian and international Superbike racing, I guess it’s time to look back on my achievements and how it all started. I’ve spent time reflecting on the friendships formed, countries travelled and the experience I gained along the way.

There have been some great moments, and some tough times. I’ve been on the start line in the British Superbike Championship, the IDM German Superbike series, the Suzuka 8 Hours, the Asian Road Racing Championship, the China Pan Delta Championship and the GSX-R Cup in France. I also raced seven seasons of New Zealand Superbikes and 15 seasons of Superbike championships here in Australia.

If I had to pick one of the most pivotal and memorable moments in my career, I’d go back to 2006, my first season with a factory team, Team Suzuki in ASBK. I had to make the transition from a family-run operation, and it wasn’t easy. We had mixed results early on, but finished the season strongly to take third.

My 2007 ASBK contract negotiations were still wide open with plenty of uncertainty about where I was going, or if I’d have a ride at all. Then I received a call from Kiwi legend Andrew Stroud. After a few short phone conversations we came to an agreement to compete in the 2007 NZSBK Championship. It started on 3 January, so that put an end to any Christmas/New Year downtime. It was a time to train and focus on doing what no Australian had done before – beat Andrew Stroud in his own backyard. The challenge was accepted!

We spent the first three weeks on the South Island doing back-to-back race meetings, a short break, then back at it for two rounds on the North island. The racing was incredibly tough, and the weather always seemed to come into play.

After the three South Island rounds I’d built up a nine-point advantage, but that quickly turned into a six-point deficit after a tough Round 4.

One thing I underestimated when signing up to race in New Zealand was just how tough it is to travel to a different country and compete at your best, week in, week out. When things were going well, it was great. But when things got hard, it got real hard. I was in a strange land with few allies, no friends to see, and Dad was my only real support. It was clear early on that I was not the crowd favourite, competing for a title with one of the most popular racers in the country.

Just six points separated us going into the final round, and just to make things harder Pukekohe Park Raceway was one the most dangerous racetracks I’d seen. In the first race I managed to get a break mid-race and go on to win, with Andrew taking third. The series lead was back to me by three points. Numerous calls from Australia underlined the importance of the result. Race 2 was winner takes all – not just the round, not just the championship even… it was my career.

Andrew and I had a few minutes together before the start. We wished each other all the best, shook hands and focused. This was, still to this day, the most intense, aggressive and ruthless race I’ve been in. The lead changed most laps, the passes were tough and it was clear what the battle meant. It came down to the last two turns. I made a pass, got bumped, took to the grass and somehow made it back to the track to cross the line 0.06sec ahead! It truly was the greatest race of my life.

Andrew, being the true gentlemen that he is, was very gracious in defeat, but he didn’t have to wait too long to get one back over me. This was the start of a rivalry that went on for many years. My contract to continue racing with Suzuki in ASBK was renewed and, as they say, the rest is history.