Bracksy’s take on the ASBK Grand Final at The Bend
Images by RBMotoLens
The dust from the final round (and there was plenty of that), of the 2021 mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship at The Bend has settled, but the buzz and memories are still swirling.
With a week’s reflection Bracksy is one of those still buzzing about an event that will go down in the annals of Australian road racing as a watershed moment. Here’s his take on the event.
It may be over a week since the event but that really doesn’t matter as ASBK fans will be waxing lyrical about this particular event for many years.
It’s no coincidence that M.A. has announced a very similar date for the final round of 2022 at the same venue. Will Jack be back? You can bet on it. And as he hinted to yours truly there may be a few other of his MotoGP mates that may follow. If he does manage to get a few of his buddies to come on down, there’s a fair chance Joan Mir will probably not get an invite!
In the weeks leading up to the event, there was a hint of doubt as the dreaded pandemic raised its ugly head again which could lead to another event being canned, but thanks to all the hard work behind the scenes we managed to all unite.
It wasn’t just a case of getting excited about the on-track action. That was a bonus. Uniting with the road racing fraternity was the highlight, and after being in the paddock for all of five minutes it was palpable that everyone felt the same.
The event was magnificent medicine for the mental health of everyone; from officials to sponsors, to families and the thousands of spectators that witnessed the racing.
According to circuit management, over the weekend of the event more than 17,000 paying customers went through the entrance gates, considerably more than the first ASBK event at the venue in 2018, when the Asia Road Racing Championships was also on the card.
Mates from Victoria and NSW travelled to the meeting, while there were some that introduced themselves that had ridden down from Queensland. There was a real buzz in the atmosphere with so many people in attendance.
The old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ was definitely the case, as besides the Darwin ASBK round in late June, it was the first time since mid-April that the ASBK paddock was all together. The event was only the sixth time in two years that a full ASBK round had been conducted.
There will never be too many words written or spoken about the involvement of Jack Miller and what he has done for the sport in this country on the back of this. But here’s a few more.
The motorcycle racing world was king-hit with the news that Jack would compete and put it all on the line, with a target on his back, and nothing to gain, but a lot to gone wrong.
After his appearance there are thousands more folk that are aware of the ASBK title that may not have shown any interest before. The entire road racing world was watching ASBK.
Anyone that doubted Jack would be competitive was already eating messy egg sandwiches just after lunchtime Friday when he topped the second practice session of the 4.95 km layout.. The most obvious hurdle was tyre wear as after just a couple of laps the Michelins were crying ‘Enough!’ after being tortured by Miller, but it sure as hell didn’t slow him down. Watching him man handle the Duke around The Bend on shagged tyres, wheel spinning, sliding and smoking the rear while tying the thing in knots was magnificent.
Tyres weren’t his only woe, as he had problems running out of fuel a few times during Friday’s three sessions and during Saturday morning. With the lads helping him coming from a dirt bike background a bit of banter in the DesmoSport Ducati box was that maybe they should throw more fuel in, as road bikes have much larger fuel tanks to fill than what they are used to when topping up a dirt squirter!
To put Jack’s appearance in perspective, it was the first time since 1980 – 41 years ago – that a current, contracted premier class Australian GP rider competed in a round of the Australian Championships. That rider was the late Gregg Hansford, another people’s champion.
Gregg finished runner-up in the 1978/79 250 cc and 350 cc world titles with 10 GP victories, behind his South African team mate Kork Ballington. In 1980 he competed in a few GPs in the lower classes waiting while Kawasaki made an ill-feted attempt at constructing a 500 cc machine. After competing in a few European GPs, Gregg returned to Australia, to compete in three events; the annual Australian Grand Prix at Bathurst festival, a round of the Australian Road Racing Championships at the Adelaide International Raceway, and Oran Park for an endurance race.
In modern times it never happens. Jack changed that in one fell swoop.
The momentous occasion eventuated because one of his best mates, Josh Hook put it to him with a bet. The pair share a house in Andorra and as mates do when a challenge is thrown, one thing led to another. As Josh said to the crowd – tongue in cheek – at the autograph signing, “You can thank me for getting him down here!“
After that, Jack did it all on his own. He purchased a bike and everything fell into place, with the blessing of his employers in Italy. He wasn’t paid any appearance money and he brought a few mates down from Townsville to work on his bike. They had never worked on a road bike before, but they had a ball.
The bike he purchased was an ex-DesmoSport Ducati from Ben Henry. A spare bike from the ASBK squad with a fresh engine and taken to Darwin as a spare but never raced. Jack himself hadn’t even seen the bike in the ‘flesh’ until he arrived at the track.
There was one difference between Jack’s bike and the other Panigale V4Rs that graced the track, primarily due to the fact that Jack is restricted from using the full race kit ECU set-ups currently fitted to the other Ducatis being raced in ASBK. That restriction stems from the rules set in place by Dorna, preventing MotoGP riders testing in the off-season on Superbikes fitted with that level of telemetry.
In many other Superbike series around the world their race bikes would be modified in many other ways that would also prevent any MotoGP rider from legally being able to ride them at all, let alone race them.
Luckily, ECU aside, our ASBK Superbikes are otherwise so standard that Miller can race here without breaking the MotoGP testing rules that only allow competitors to ride production bikes with minimal changes. And that, essentially, is what an Australian Superbike is. Our Superbikes are more standard than most Superstock categories around the world, let alone a British Superbike or World Superbike.
Jack cannot be commended highly enough for what he did. The same must be said for Ducati head office for giving him the stamp of approval to take part in the final round. I am sure there was a lot of tension at Bologna as they watched from afar, and no doubt a few gasps of breath when he tumbled across the deck twice.
With his off-track actions, attitude and his interaction with everyone he gained a massive amount of adulation. Jack’s fan base would’ve grown massively, probably doubled, even tripled. Nothing seemed to be any trouble for him.
The amount of time he spent with his fans was insane. No one was knocked back for a photo, or an autograph.
After the second ASBK race – where he finished second – on the slow down lap, he stopped at the back of the circuit. He asked a Marshall to hold his bike while he ran over to another Marshall behind the retaining wall and gave him his gloves, then pointed up to the spectator hill and instructed the Marshall to give the gloves to a kid that had been waving a Miller flag all weekend. Pure class.
There were countless moments in the pits when he spoke, joked and posed with fans to prove he really is the People’s Champion.
Another fact about Jack; his house in Andorra is known as the ‘Australian Embassy’ a half-way training house for many young Aussie rider that compete in various championships in Europe.
But the final round wasn’t just about Jack.
There were five championships to be decided.
Because of the drama of the last couple of years, there’s been words uttered and comments posted on social media that the past two seasons haven’t been a real championship because they were unusually short seasons. That is way off the mark.
It may have been a shortened season due to the ever-changing landscape during all the lockdowns, but to think that is an insult to those that put it on the line every time they head out on track.
Take a wander through history; there have been many years when the Australia titles were decided over only one weekend. Or 2014, when there was two rounds, as the championship sunk to its nadir, before M.A. stepped in to take control the following year. Very few remember there were only two rounds, but Glenn Allerton’s name will be in the record books for ever more.
Since 2008 six riders have shared the ASBK Superbike championship title, and all competed at some stage this year; those riders were Wayne Maxwell, Josh Waters, Glenn Allerton, Bryan Staring, Mike Jones and Troy Herfoss.
In the past 21 seasons, only three riders; Wayne Maxwell, Glenn Allerton and Mike Jones have won championships on different brands.
Additionally, Wayne Maxwell is the first rider to claim back-to-back titles since 2006/07, when Jamie Stauffer did the double.
Adding to the drama were a couple of developments that occurred a few weeks out from the meeting, dubbed The Grand Finale.
The biggest news was the demise of the BC Performance Kawasaki team after the Japanese manufacturer withdrew direct support from the team, leaving Bryan Staring and Josh Waters without a ride.
The other was the earlier than anticipated split in the Next Gen Maxima Oils BMW team. Glenn Allerton and Lachlan Epis had shared a pit box at the previous rounds this season but at the Bend Allerton was the sole rider, stewarded by long-time crew chief Shane Kinderis, still under the Next Gen Maxima Racing Oils banner. Lachlan Epis entered with the new BMW Alliance Team alongside Nathan Spiteri for a two rider line-up, that will continue in 2022.
The Tyre War
The bitumen of The Bend is renown for tyre degradation. The last time ASBK visited, in April 2019, Bryan Staring took three wins from three starts using Dunlop tyres. This was somewhat of a standout anomaly in comparison to their performances that season at most other tracks. The Dunlops were more durable and Staring used the length of the three races to conserve tyres and then pick off riders at will as their tyre degradation set in, and his Dunlops stayed strong.
A couple of years down the track and the performance of tyres, naturally, was still a headline. All tyre brands were a little nervous about what lay ahead, but none were admitting it. It’s the nature of their corporate pride as they put on a brave face exuding confidence in the product while quietly stressing about durability, weather conditions and the track surface.
It was soon apparent that the track surface was a lot more user friendly than in past years. The surface is now “bedded-in” with the track a little bit smoother due to the amount of use it has been through, wearing away the hard edges of the surface that is common with a green track.
Heading into the event, riders on Pirelli and Dunlop rubber were cautious in regards to tyre durability. Michelin were quietly confident as they had tested at exactly the same time of year, in very similar hot conditions, albeit two years previously with a range of tyres, two of which proved very satisfactory.
The company took the two preferred rears but mysteriously neither of them performed as expected, causing a lot of head scratching in the Michelin truck. The rear was lasting just a few laps before grip became an issue and it wasn’t only on Jack’s bike; anyone running Michelins suffered the same fate with a lack of rear tyre durability. Speaking to the Michelin crew they were at a loss to explain what had gone wrong and have since been in contact with head office in France in an attempt to rectify the situation in future.
There was some recompense for the French rubber when Jack finished third in Race Two, but his tyre was deteriorating rapidly. One more lap and a fast finishing Cru Halliday would’ve put Dunlop up on the podium again, after his third place finish in the opening stanza.
By the end of the weekend it was Pirelli who was smiling the loudest as Maxwell had claimed pole, the two wins, a new race lap record and the fastest ever lap of the circuit.
This year we have become nonchalant with lap records as after such a prolonged gap between meetings at many venues, the advances in tyres and machinery has seen many records broken. The question was by how much the qualifying and race lap records set by Mike Jones in April 2019 would be lowered.
The lap record tango between Miller and Maxwell in qualifying and the racing was extremely entertaining, but they were not the only ones to lap under the previous records.
Bear with me as I explain the numbers.
On Jack’s very first flying lap during the Timed Practice session on Saturday morning, the MotoGP star went within 0.5 second of the all-time fastest lap that at the time was 1:51.220. Maxwell then went within 0.023sec. On Jack’s very next lap the record fell with a time of 1:51.163 taking just 0.067 sec off. Jack appeared to be aiming for an even faster time but crashed at T1 to end his session.
Not to be out-done, as Jack was brushing off the dust, Maxwell lowered it again to a new benchmark of 1:50.924 – 0.296 seconds quicker.
As the Q2 session heated up, Miller couldn’t quite match his morning’s time but Maxwell chomped almost half-a-second under his morning time to set a new qualifying record of 1:50.520
The record breaking continued in the races, or more to the point, the race lap record of 1:52.875 was obliterated, a number of times.
On the second lap Maxwell took 1.330 sec off the record as he crossed the line over a second in front of Jack, who was just 0.059 sec slower than Maxwell’s stellar lap. Glenn Allerton on the Next Gen BMW was also a second under the previous benchmark.
Miller and Maxwell again shaved time off the new lap record as Maxwell posted the fastest lap of the race on Lap 4 with a 1:51.192 – an astonishing 1.683 sec under the old record. Okay, the weather was a lot warmer in December than April, and the track is more tyre friendly, but that is still a remarkable time.
If that wasn’t enough in the last race of the year – and quite possibly Maxwell’s last race – the successful defending champion was the first rider to get under the 1:51s, setting another record with a 1:50.972 lap – less than half-a-second off his qualifying record set the previous day. Astounding.
Maxwell 306 km/h
Maxwell 304 km/h
Maxwell 298 km/h
Maxwell 301 km/h
Jack was repeatedly the fastest as his corner speed through the final sector was ultimately the difference in top speeds. His speeds and lap times demonstrated that there is not a lot of differences in ECU. It’s more in the fine tuning over race distance. It might also have something to with who is in the jockey seat of the 200+ hp weapon.
Taking a bit of shine away from the weekend was the lack of bike fitness/strength exhibited by Troy Herfoss on the Penrite Honda, still recovering from the terrible injuries he suffered at Hidden Valley.
Before a wheel was turned he was second in the title chase, 26 points adrift from Maxwell. Glenn Allerton on the Maxima Racing Oils BMW was then just six points away in third and Cru Halliday, in his last meeting for the Yamaha Factory Team, sitting in fourth spot, in with a huge sniff of a top three finish, 12 points adrift of Allerton.
Riders are different to us mortals. If a doctor tells them not to do something for a certain period of time, they use that as motivation to get back in the saddle sooner. Herfoss is one of those riders. No matter the pain and discomfort, he had to compete. To him, it was a better option than sitting at home watching the weekend from afar.
He sure gave it a great crack and considering the physically and mentally draining nature of the undulating 4.95 km track his efforts were all the more impressive.
Unfortunately, after giving it his all over the weekend where Troy qualified in eighth spot and finished in seventh place in the restarted first leg, discretion played the better part of valour and he withdrew from the event.
Fair call, too. The championship hunt was over after Maxwell claimed the title in the first leg. Allerton had drawn level with Herfoss and Halliday had closed the gap Halliday.
Troy will be back just as strong and all the more determined to claim another ASBK title.
Local Lads Shine
Hats off to the local lads, Daniel Falzon and Arthur Sissis who flew the flag high for the Crow Eaters. The pair were on the pipe from the outset on Friday afternoon and in the first session the pair topped the timesheets – understandable considering they had the bonus of some track days at the venue.
Sissis was the more consistent of the pair throughout the weekend. To see the way he gained on Maxwell during the final free practice on Friday was most impressive, and many were thinking that the quietly spoken lad had a real chance come race day.
Arthur had a bit of extra motivation as he and Jack competed in the Moto3 World Championship from 2012 – 2014. In 2012 Arthur actually finished in front of him in the title chase, that included a third at the Oz GP.
As for qualifying Falzon had the bragging rights but only just, as he was third on the grid sitting beside Jack Miller with Maxwell on Pole Position, Sissis just 0.081 behind him in fourth. With his trademark rocket starts fourth was a great position for a run into Turn One.
While it all looked promising for the pair, it soon went pear shaped on race day. Falzon crashed in the opening lap when his front wheel kissed the white line at T6 and he went down, he remounted to be mobile when the red flag came out. As he was at the rear of the field, he threw in a new rear tyre and started from last on the grid.
After the 15 km dash he finished in fifth place, and no doubt with a couple of extra laps would’ve been in line for a podium. It went even worse in race two when he again crashed and in the melee was hit by another ride suffering leg injuries. Whatever the result sheets say, we all know that Falzon is very rapid so expect him to be back at the sharp end in 2022.
Sissis was in a buoyant, but quietly confident mood as race day dawned but in reality what promised so much, delivered very little. In the first leg of race one he was in a strong position, in third place, and closing on Jack Miller, when the red flag was displayed after another local, Evan Byles, had a massive high side exiting the second last turn, requiring medical assistance.
In the re-start Sissis cooked the clutch and had to retire.
Leg two went further downhill for Sissis when he was caught up with Josh Hook at Turn One. That combined with the incident with Falzon at T3, saw the red flag brought out again. Fortunately, Sissis remounted and was able to return to the pits and so was able to compete in the restart and salvage a little from the weekend, finishing seventh but unable to get close to the lap times he was reeling off previously.
Wagner and Miller
There was one incident in the restart of the first Superbike race that had tongues wagging and race control investigating. Heading into the downhill Turn 6 hairpin, Miller ran a little wide as he struggled severely with a shagged rear Michelin. (In a restart if you fit a new tyre, you have to start from the rear of the grid, so most riders opted to race the three laps on old bags).
That left a gap and Yamaha’s Aiden Wagner went for it. Unfortunately he lost the front and skittled the Ducati with two riders and bikes sliding off track. As the dust settled and the pair ran back to their bikes Jack gave Aiden the thumbs up.
Many thought it was a derogatory gesture but in fact, Jack was asking if Aiden was ok. Initially, race control thought there was something in it and Aiden’s appearance was required where he was informed that he would be penalised 10 positions on the grid for the next race.
Wagner appealed and with Jack backing him up saying it was just a racing incident as he’d left a gap and as he said, “He’s a racer. I ran wide, there was a gap and he went for it. It was just a racing incident.”
With Jack’s support, Wagner maintained his original grid position with no other penalty and the matter was put to bed.
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