Big challenge for speedster
NATHAN Houterman is under immense pressure to succeed this year.
Perhaps it is the relative inexperience of his 17 years, or his laidback Plainland nature, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it.
With only three rides on his new 1000cc Prostock bike (400cc bigger than he was riding last season) under his belt, he needs to qualify for the grid at the opening round of the 2011 Australian Superbike Championship at Phillip Island next month.
Success from the start is imperative because Houterman doesn’t have the financial backing of most of his rivals.
A strong start in the televised series could see him pick up much-needed sponsorship and his career take off.
A failure could see his dreams fade because he is unlikely to get another shot.
But Houterman dismisses the prospect of not reaching the main field.
He has been riding motorbikes since he was seven, having been taught by mum Rachelle, and competing since he was eight.
Last year he finished ninth overall in the 600cc Australian Superstock Championships, with a fifth-placed finish at Queensland Raceway his best effort.
At 86kg, Houterman is much bigger than some of his jockey-sized rivals and on a 600cc bike it makes a difference.
He is hoping the move to the 1000cc class will negate his weight disadvantage.
“On the 600, I used to have trouble with riders coming up beside me and going past me in the straight,” he said.
Few can match him in the corners, however, with Houterman forging a reputation for being one of the slickest under brakes.
But reputation means little now he has moved up a class and is coming to grips with a new bike, packing almost double the power.
Last Sunday at Queensland Raceway was his final chance to get to know his new machine before it is packed off for transport to Phillip Island, where he will have two short practice sessions before attempting to qualify for the big race.
But Houterman is unfazed.
He’s used to defying the odds and is targeting a top-five finish for the season. He and his dad Matthew, who doubles as his mechanic and support crew, have developed a reputation for punching above their weight on a shoe-string budget.
The costs of competing in the 1000cc Prostocks are much higher than the Superstocks and, with Matthew recently laid off from his job as a fitter and machinist at the Redbank Railway workshop, it is all or nothing this season.
The Houtermans have already spent $27,000 on the new bike and taken a third overdraft on their house recently to give Nathan his best chance of success.
They have employed the services of suspension specialist Andy Offer to give them an edge.
But for Houterman, the pressure of overdrafts and unfamiliar bikes is nothing compared to the excitement of the ride he is about to take. “It’s awesome,” he said.
“There’s always a great feeling stepping up to a bigger class. It takes a long time getting used to, especially the distances you have to brake going into a corner.”
At Phillip Island he anticipates reaching speeds up to 400kmh on a bike he’ll have ridden three times, against guys who have been doing it for 10 years and more.
The slowest eight qualifiers of the 48 entrants, which includes Superbikes and Prostock, won’t start the main race, but Houterman has no fears that will include him.
If there is any doubt about his ability on a bike, his track record at the Morgan Park track at Warwick should dispel them.
Combine his confidence with his obvious ability and it is apparent why his family is willing to stake everything on him succeeding this season.
For Houterman, there is no risk.
2011 motorcycle: Honda CBR1000 RR Fireblade.
Goal: Top-five finish in the 1000cc Prostock class of the Australian Superbike series and win the Queensland Superbike title.
2010: Finished ninth in Australian 600cc Superstock championship and third in Queensland 600cc Supersport Road Race titles on a Superstock bike.
Personal best: Holds the lap record of 1.04.999 for track E at Morgan Park, Warwick, in 600cc Superstock class.