ASBK P.I. Test Reflections
By Mark Bracks
The famous philosopher, Aristotle is credited with uttering that, “One swallow does not a summer make.” If around today he may utter, “A two-day test does not a season make.”
Testing is only testing and no true indication of the 15 ASBK Superbike races ahead, but rest assured the ASBK title chase is going to be an absolute rib tickler, with a healthy dose of squirrel grip!
There is always something to take out of a test from an observer’s view and times posted have given an excellent indication of how close the racing is going to be, and the variety of riders that we can expect to see jousting in very close proximity. The real winners will be the fans of Australian road racing as the intensity of competition is set to step up another notch this year.
There were 32 Superbikes at Phillip Island, split between eight Kwakas and eight Suzukis, seven Yamahas, four Ducatis, two Beemers, two Hondas and one Aprilia, an affirmation that the championship is gaining momentum.
Additionally, Pirelli brought along a new spec front and rear tyre that – according to the boffins – sits somewhere in between the ‘X’ and the ‘0′.
Times were very close with only two-seconds separating the top 13 riders, but don’t read too much into the leader board, as any of the top 10 riders can run at the very front, and are capable of winning the championship. Also, some in the final session used a softer tyre, while others stuck to a race compound tyre, and did not worry about the bragging rights.
Added intrigue has been provided by the rider changes, of which there are three major moves.
Daniel Falzon, after a decade competing in a true family team, which saw him win three 600cc Australian Championships and placed him as a Superbike front runner in recent years, has moved across to the Yamaha Racing Team alongside Wayne Maxwell. Falzon has repaced Glenn Allerton at YRT, after his three years of service on the YZF-R1.
The other two major names that changed teams (both Australian Superbike Champions), are Bryan Staring, who has become reacquainted with Kawasaki, running under the BC Performance banner, while Allerton has been reunited with his championship winning Next Gen team. With the team change comes added determination to prove to many that they still have the goods to win a title.
The trio showed all signs to confirm that they will be, well and truly, in the thick of the hunt. Allerton and Staring topped the sheets separated by 0.023 sec. Both described the bikes as, “like putting on an old glove,” and are truly inspired with the change, and the test added a decent jolt of confidence to their title aspirations.
There has been some other rider changes as far as who is riding for whom. Regular faces are back albeit in different livery, a few familiar names return to the series, and a smattering of young debutantes in the class who proved that their graduation to the premier category is not a misjudgment.
The biggest focus was on the return of Troy Bayliss for his assault on the Superbike title, after retiring from world championship racing a decade ago. Since his announcement late last year that he would be coming out of retirement there have been many column inches written about his decision.
After the two days, TB was 10th, 1.212 sec off the fastest time, but when you delve a little deeper and study the “Best Partial Times” charts he is a second off the top – and the seven in front of him all had faster ideal laps. Also just after posting his fastest time of the test on his second last lap of the final session, the first two “splits” displayed a much better lap time was a distinct probability, but he was hindered through the Hayshed.
In the eighth and final session, Troy was third fastest through the second split. Watching him through Turn 3 Stoner Corner with the throttle to the stops, the engine on full noise and the rear stepping out in a beautiful power slide was stupendous. He is still extremely bloody fast and when he finds the solution to his front end woes that was causing many problems – primarily through Southern Loop – he will be a major threat at the first round.
“I am very happy with the way I went and how close we are to the front considering a few problems we had. I am still not perfectly happy with the feel from the front. We have some work to do but overall it was a very encouraging test for us. I am looking forward to getting out there in the first round.”
Bayliss may be the old boy returning to the superbike ranks but there are a few teenagers stepping up to the class this year who made their debuts, the most impressive of was Mark Chiodo.
The 19-year-old has had a meteoric rise. He only started riding a motorcycle midway through 2015 at a track day and has not traveled the path of many in the category with no experience in junior racing on dirt or bitumen. After a llittle over two years in Supersport he has now graduated to be a team mate to the three times, and defending, Australian Superbike Champion, Josh Waters in the Team Suzuki Ecstar outfit.
With such a delayed start to top flight road racing he has learnt the game at a rapid pace and was in the hunt for last year’s Supersport title but the steep learning curve bit many times and saw him crash many times, giving him a reputation for many crashes, but being very fast and obviously a very rapid learner.
These traits arguably forfeited his chance of a Supersport title last year, however the only contact he and his GSX-R1000R made with Terra Firma was with its tyres. And, he looked smoother faster and more in control than he ever has. This is no doubt greatly assisted with the crew he has around him. Warren Monson returns to the Suzuki fold after a five-year stint with Yamaha to be Mark’s crew chief.
Mark will learn a remarkable amount from Josh during the year but at the test he also had Troy Corser keeping a close eye on him providing riding tips and coaching.
Mark was 11th overall and the leading rookie, missing out on posting a 1m33sec lap by just 0.019sec. Chiodo ended the two-day test a fraction behind Bayliss and just in front of another returnee, Jamie Stauffer. The Rookie also lowered his times by over three-seconds during the test and ended a little over a second slower than the chart toppers. He set his fastest lap on a tyre that had done nearly 30-laps.
He put a new rear “bag” in for the last couple of minutes of the final session but was unable to better his earlier time. Interestingly, Chiodo shared the top speed of 293km/h with Bryan Staring.
“I am very happy with the two days as it was the first time I rode this bike, although we do have a Suzuki track bike that is completely standard so the team bike was a lot better. My main aim was to learn the bike, how it is set up and the differences in the power delivery and horsepower compared to the Supersport machine I rode for the past couple of years.”
The 2017 Supersport Champion, Ted Collins was also a debutant in the ASBK test but he had a taste of Superbikes at the final round of last year’s ASBK and the GP Support races on the Next Gen BMW, and now has a great opportunity as teammate to three times champion, Glenn Allerton.
Ted wasn’t happy with his performance where he was 14th overall as he struggled with tyre grip, getting used to the new tyres that Pirelli brought along for the test, saying, “No matter what I tried I couldn’t seem to get it together as I have been faster on the bike last year, so it’s been a bit frustrating.”
Both Chiodo and Collins are in teams that could be called the Master and Apprentice, as both have riders with three Ausssie Superbike titles on the wall, so it would be fair to say that they will go through a massive learning curve in such professional teams to be educated not only in riding, but also in how a large team operates, which can only help for their career goals.
The BC Performance Kawasaki Team could fall into the same category with its Superbike line-up, where Bryan Staring has two team-mates with somewhat limited experience. Kyle Buckley is entering his second year riding the Superbike with the team and had Robert Bugden as a mentor in 2107. Like Bugden, Staring brings a wealth of experience to the team, having competed in the World Superstock Championship on a Kawasaki as well as being the only rider to claim Australian Championships in the 125cc, Supersport and Superbike categories.
Kyle was another rider that wasn’t happy with his testing, ending up down in 20th position overall. The Queenslander is still regaining confidence and fitness after his crash at the ASBK round in Darwin last July, and Phillip Island is a place where you have to be on your game to ride the track in anger.
The new boy in the Superbike team alongside Staring and Buckley is Lucas Vitale. It was his first time at the Island and achieved his goal of getting down to times in the 1:36sec bracket, a pretty impressive accomplishment.
Another long term Kawasaki rider, Matt Walters was impressive on his Swann Insurance/Rover Coasches Z-X10R but had to miss the last session to travel back home for work. Even with a session missed he still managed to record the ninth fastest time, just nine-thousandths of a second behind Troy Herfoss, and his best showing in quite some time.
Mike Jones, the 2015 Australian Superbike Champion was also on a Kawasaki and took the chance to get in some practice on a bike that was on the showroom floor a week previous and ended up fourth fastest.
Mike won’t be contesting the entire championship as he will be heading back to Europe, but unfortunately not to contest the European Superstock Cup on a Ducati. Jones was tight-lipped about exactly where and with whom he is riding but let’s say that, “Buenos noches “ or “Bon dia” may be in his vocabulary.
Behind Jones was a trio of Yamaha’s led by Yamaha Racing Team’s Wayne Maxwell with his new team mate, Falzon 0.080s behind. Maxwell was the fastest on Day One and remained at the top or very near it until the end of the final session as both riders stuck to race rubber on tyres that had racked up a few laps.
“We know that we can run on race pace around here after the two days. The bike has a lot more mid range and punch out of the corners and having the Japanese guys from Yamaha here to help us dial in the electronics and fuel injection has been invaluable. I get off the bike and Kev Marshall is there straight away asking questions. It seemed a waste to go out there and tear up tyres in what is basically a meaningless exercise as far as who is fastest. It all starts in a few weeks time. These two days have been to get decent settings and go from there. We have got through a lot of work.”
Over the years there has been a bit of tension, sometimes friction, between the pair so it was interesting to see the rapport between them as they shared a garage for the first time in team colours but as Daniel explained further:
“When you are running around in fourth or fifth everyone wants to help you and is friendly but when you start winning and regularly at the top it all changes. We all want to win, we are all so very competitive. But here it couldn’t be any better.”
Behind the Yamaha Team duo was Michael Blair, in seventh, riding an R1 in the family run outfit. Michael is entering his third year of riding a superbike with his father Matt – who was a handy rider in his day – and ex-Speedway star, Mick Poole in his corner. He may have been seventh overall but in a few sessions he posted the third and fourth fastest times, and was fourth fastest after Day One. Don’t be surprised to see the likable lad nab a few top five finishes, and maybe even a podium, during the year.
Sandwiched between Blair and Walters was Herfoss in eighth spot. Herfoss has never gelled with Phillip Island and the test was no different. Add the frustration of bike problems that saw him miss the entire third session session on Day Two, which continued into the final session where he only got six laps in, with his fastest time coming on his second lap.
In comparison Day One was different, Herfoss topped the first session and was third in the next, but it went downhill from there. In the one-rider Penrite Honda Team, Troy has familiar faces around him, with Crew Chief Shaun Clarke and mechanic Glenn Grainger. Herfoss also has the added bonus of being a Wild Card at the World Superbikes, with the test, WSBK duties and the ASBK opener for a mass of riding in a week to expunge the Phillip Island gremlins out. If it doesn’t come together at the opening round, look out at his home track for the second round.
Conversely, the extra track time for the other pair of Wild Cards, Falzon and Maxwell, will be just as good for them. Technically, Maxwell is not a Wild Card; he has a one off event entry but whatever the terminology, this is his chance against the big boys of WSBK. It will be a massive bonus for the start of the year as he hasn’t been known as the “Pharaoh of Phillip Island” because he is a stuffed set of old bones. More like that he has ruled over the place with some stellar performances over the years. As for Falzon, he set the place alight last year on his privateer Caterpillar Yamaha at the corresponding round where he took three wins from three starts.
Bayliss was not the only veteran to make an appearance at the test as after a year off, we saw Jamie Stauffer slip into a pair of leathers and hop on a Ducati. Since retiring from racing Stauffer has been working flat out at his dyno/engineering business preparing many speedway engines as well as overseeing his son, Max’s steps into road racing.
This year he returns to a V-twin, riding the Craig McMartin Ducati that was piloted by Josh Hook last year. By the end of the two days he was 12th fastest behind Chiodo, but he sure was feeling the pinch and pretty sore after such a long time off the bike. In typical Stauffer style he said at day’s end, “I am only slightly hurting after that. Seems I better get some fitness under the belt.”
Others in the leading 20 that are likely to make a splash include the two guys who raced the DesmoSport Ducati last year. Queenslander, Callum Spriggs was the original signing to the team but had his 2017 season cut short after suffering a major shoulder injury which required a few bouts of surgery to repair. For 2018 he is on a Kawasaki ZX-10R and it appears the time off the bike has done him well. After the two days he was 13th position, just behind Stauffer, and the last of the riders to post a time in the 1:34s bracket.
Fellow Queenslander Corey Turner, enters his second year in the Superbike ranks and after his half-season stint on the Desmo Sport Ducati in 2017, this year Turner will compete on a Suzuki under the Brisbane Motorcycles banner. His test didn’t go so smoothly, ending up in 19th position with the entire team perplexed at what was wrong with the bike. Admittedly, it was a completely stock bike with just a pipe fitted, but Corey and his team were concerned at the lack of progress in their attempts to find a set-up on the Suzuki.
Another rider swapping to Suzuki this year is Alex Phillis. He was 15th fastest and went about the task without much fanfare, just trying to put in as many laps as possible to find a base set-up.
Also flying the flag for Suzuki this year will be two stalwarts of Superbike racing, Trent Gibson and South Australian Adam Christie, with the pair teaming up in the AGMT Suzuki outfit.
Interestingly, all Suzuki riders are going to benefit from the progress of the Team Suzuki Ecstar as they will be passing on data to aid other GSX-R1000 mounted riders in 2018.
Aaron Morris is stepping up to the Superbike ranks this year and was making steady progress until packing up after the first session on day two. Morris is unsure of how many rounds he might make in 2018 and hopes to make an impact in the first round or two in order to try and attract sponsorship that might help him complete the entire season.
“I’m having intense problems with the front suspension. I have gone one way trying to cure something with the complete opposite happening. It has some pretty bad chatter at a few points around the track. It wasn’t worth chewing up more tyres chasing my tail here. I may as well go home and pull it right apart and put new internals in. Other than that I am happy with what I did. I have a lot of work to do but I’ll get there.”
Finally, the only one in the Top 20 not mentioned so far is Matthew Harding from the Hunter Valley. As in years gone by, the quietly spoken redhead will again be on a Kawasaki with assistance from Carl Walters at the local Kawasaki Connection establishment. Matt has been a great supporter of the Superbike ranks over the years and while he may not be at the front of the field, he is a very capable rider and will be keeping a few honest during the year.
There are plenty of questions that will be answered in coming weeks and months during the course of 2018 and while the two-day test may have not given any indication of a favourite for the year, the test did confirm that the racing will me more intense now that seen in the ASBK in many recent years. The depth of talent across the board in Superbikes ensures that all riders will have to be on song at every round.
Also it’s not only the Superbikes where the lads will have to wits and nerves sharpened for battle but right across all the classes of the championship. Stand by for more on that score…
ASBK Test – Phillip Island
January 30-31, 2018 – Combined Times (TBC)
- Glenn Allerton 1m32.728 BMW
- Bryan Staring 1m32.761 Kawasaki
- Josh Waters 1m32.838 Suzuki
- Mike Jones 1m33.158 Kawasaki
- Wayne Maxwell 1m33.160 Yamaha
- Daniel Falzon 1m33.244 Yamaha
- Michael Blair 1m33.633 Yamaha
- Troy Herfoss 1m33.745 Honda
- Matt Walters 1m33.754 Kawasaki
- Troy Bayliss 1m33.950 Ducati
- Mark Chiodo 1m34.018 Suzuki
- Jamie Stauffer 1m34.566 Ducati
- Callum Spriggs 1m34.996 Kawasaki
- Ted Collins 1m35.152 BMW
- Alex Phillis 1m35.476 Suzuki
- Aaron Morris 1m35.890 Yamaha
- Matt Harding 1m36.114 Kawasaki
- Lucas Vitale 1m36.458 Kawasaki
- Corey Turner 1m36.641 Suzuki
- Kyle Buckley 1m36.920 Kawasaki
- Brendan McIntyre 1m37.209 Suzuki
- Brad Swallow 1m37.521 Kawasaki
- Adam Christie 1m37.565 Suzuki
- Trent Gibson 1m37.725 Suzuki
- Patrick Li 1m38.277 Yamaha
- Con Kokkoris 1m38.513 Ducati
- Adam Senior 1m38.622 Yamaha
- Scott McGregor 1m39.191 Yamaha
- Heath Griffin 1m39.235 Ducati
- Phil Czaj 1m39.850 Aprilia
- Nathan Spiteri 1m40.960 Suzuki
- Ned Faulkhead 1m42.224 Honda
2018 ASBK Calendar
- Round 1- WSBK, Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit VIC February 22 – 25
- Round 2- Wakefield Park Raceway, Goulburn NSW March 16 – 18
- Round 3- The Bend Motorsport Park, Tailem Bend, SA April 19 – 22
- Round 4- Hidden Valley Raceway, Darwin NT June 28 – 1 July
- Round 5- Morgan Park Raceway, Warwick QLD August 17 – 19
- Round 6- Winton Motor Raceway, Benalla, VIC September 7 – 8
- Round 7- Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, VIC October 12 – 14