The dust settled on the official ASBK two-day test at Phillip Island a few weeks ago but the sentiment hasn’t changed – this year’s Kawasaki Australian Superbike Championship will be an oil-boiling cauldron of action, intensity, excitement and rivalry.
The battle gets underway when practice starts on Thursday the 21st of February at the Island. There may be some that are studying the lap times from the test ahead of the upcoming opening round of the championship, which will be staged alongside the Superbike World Championship (22-24 February), but in all honesty test times are about as newsworthy as last week’s newspaper.
In testing riders rarely go out to try and be the fastest unless they want to make a statement, get in their opponents heads, or try and steal the headlines and the cover shot on MCNews.com.au that day… What they really aim for is to keep improving and working towards an optimum bike set-up over a full race distance. This means exploring different options across very aspect of the motorcycle in preparation to go racing in the opening round of the season.
The test was especially prudent in regards to race rubber, as both Pirelli and Dunlop brought tyres with completely different characteristics to what the riders are used to. There was some head scratching in trying to find a definitive direction to head in.
It was still a surprise that Wayne Maxwell was fastest over the test, considering he was nursing the painful legacy of a broken left shoulder suffered in a cycling accident only a matter of days before. Marquez notably did the same on Day 1 of the Sepang MotoGP test, after recent shoulder surgery!
It was also the first real time that he has been able to get a clear track and become reacquainted with the GSX-R1000 Suzuki, this one a few generations on from the machine that took him to the Superbike title in 2013.
Maxwell has been knocking on the door of another championship for the last few years, finishing second twice in both 2016 and 2018 and, third in 2017, those results coming when part of the official Yamaha Racing Team effort.
An added ingredient to the move is that he is team-mates with Josh Waters, who has won three titles on Suzuki and is aiming for number four. 2018 was a below standard season for Waters and the man from Mildura will be out to try to regain supremacy in 2019.
Tthe 2019 season is the most open in recent memory for competition. There are no clear favourites in the premier category, in fact there are at least six that will be in the mix and unlike last year, the title should go down to the last round at Eastern Creek.
Defending champion Troy Herfoss. His two championships in three years are quite remarkable. Herfoss is the only rider that has given Honda something to smile about in production-based domestic racing anywhere in the world during recent seasons.
Can he also be the first man to win back-to-back titles since Jamie Stauffer in 2006/07? Statistics show it will be difficult and the odds are against him, but then Herfoss likes the odds against him, so he can rise to the occasion.
The Penrite Honda squad has a year under its belt, team owner Deon Coote ready to defend the title as well as this weekend give Herfoss a chance to shine in front of the world’s best with a Wild Card ride in the World Superbike Championship class.
This will give Herfoss the advantage of track time as he is at the WSBK test and will be swapping classes all weekend. Fitness won’t be a worry as he cycles a crazy amount of kilometres every week and is champing at the bit to show what he is capable of. Testing with the World Superbike spec’ machine this week though yielded results that were much less than they had hoped for. Could the WSBK wildcard take his eyes off the local ball and upset the opening of his ASBK Championship defence…?
What can be written about Troy Bayliss that hasn’t seen print? Not a lot, is there? Approaching 50 years of age, he is arguably as fast as he ever was – and hasn’t lost an ounce of determination.
He was second fastest at the recent test on the booming V-Twin Panigale that he rode to great success last year, but it wasn’t the fastest laps that caught my eye, it was his overall consistency in every session, times only tenths apart across the two days.
He adapted the quickest to the new spec Pirelli race tyre, which is understandable. Back in the old days of overnight specials, Troy had to learn very quickly to adapt to different tyre characteristics and go fast straight out of the box on new spec’ tyres.
This year Troy can also watch his son’s progress in the Supersport category, as the team now has the vastly experienced Glen Richards mentoring young Oli, leaving Troy to concentrate on that elusive Australian Superbike title that he wants to add to his BSB and World Superbike Titles.
There is also the fact that sometime during the year he will be debuting the new Ducati V4. Don’t be holding your breath to see it race this weekend, or perhaps even the first half of the year. At the moment there are very few parts for the machine available and until they have done extensive testing to make the bike competitive the team will stick to what they know. As Troy said at the test, “Until the V4 is as fast as what we are running now, we won’t be using it.”
The Yamaha Racing Team has retained the services of Daniel Falzon, who will be all the more polished for his year on the factory backed team. Cru Halliday steps back up to the ASBK playground after winning the Supersport title for YRT last year.
Falzon is somewhat of a quiet achiever, quite often keeping his head down and flying under the radar, but quietly racking up the points…
The mantra for most this weekend is, ‘Get through the weekend with a good bag of points and remember it’s a long season.’
The strongest team on the grid is Maxwell and Waters in Team Ecstar Suzuki. Besides watching their antics on track, it will be intriguing to see how the dynamic of the team changes during the year as the success of the pair ebbs and flows in relation to each other.
Both are fiercely competitive and while we won’t see any walls down the middle of the garage the rivalry between the pair – especially if they are close in the title chase – will add an entertaining element.
Team Principal Dale Brede will have his work cut out for him if things do get fraught. Maxwell won his ASBK title on a Suzuki (he also won a Swann Australasian FX Superbike Title with Honda), while Josh has won three Australian Superbike Championships for Suzuki. Their jousting this weekend will be special.
And discount the 2008 ASBK Champion Bryan Staring at your peril. In his second year on the Kawasaki BCPerformance outfit he will be a threat at every round. Make no mistake. He won a race at the corresponding round last year – and the overall round win – but for one reason or another didn’t quite springboard that result into a title threat.
BCPerformance Kawasaki is one of the few on Dunlop tyres and are hoping that what the factory has supplied will be competitive with the Pirellis at every track. Tyres will be crucial in his hopes for success.
Another on Dunlops – at this stage – is the NextGen Motorsports outfit with Glenn Allerton and Ted Collins as his wing man.
Allerton is fully fit and recovered from the plethora of injuries that has plagued him in the last two seasons. Hopefully, he can stay upright all year as he has been knocking on the door of a fourth title for the past few years, his best result recently was second to Herfoss in the 2016 title chase.
There is yet another ingredient to add to this spicy mix of talent and that is Aiden Wagner.
The Queenslander had everyone taking notes at the test. After a wretched few years trying to break into the WSS scene and recovering from injuries incurred on the way, and the debt that came with that tilt on the world stage, Wagner will be in the mix from the very outset and if he can stay fit, will be in it right up to the final race. He is perhaps a dark horse for the title, but he is most definitely in the race.
Picking a season winner, let alone who will be the one on top this weekend is nigh on impossible, as the depth of talent in the field is at its deepest for some years. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that Maxwell will win the round.
As for Champion 2019 my crystal ball is obscured by clouds!
There are three races over the weekend for the ASBK class as well as the same amount for both Supersport and Supersport 300 categories. Bring on The Island!
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