With Mark Bracks
With the cancellation of the official ASBK pre-season test at Phillip Island, due to ongoing border closures, the two-day Phillip Island Ride Days booking over the Australia Day long weekend was the ASBK test you have when there is no ASBK test.
Most of the major players in the premier class were in attendance except for YRT and Bryan Staring with his BC Performance Kawasaki team. Three-time Superbike Champion, Josh Waters had his first hit out on a Kawasaki for many years though and started to get to know the ZX-10R.
The days were fully subscribed, so all the big guns had trouble getting in good clean runs to rock the time sheets. Day Two was also marred by constant drizzle in the morning that curtailed much activity before the skies eventually cleared around lunchtime for a perfect afternoon with little wind.
As it was a ride day there were no official lap times for anyone to claim the bragging rights and most were keeping ‘Mum’ about their quickest laps, although there were utterances of high 1:32s and low 1:33s mentioned, with the majority seeming to be in the 1:34s. Non-consequential lap times aside, there was still plenty happening.
Probably the most eye-catching was the appearance of Oli Bayliss aboard the DesmoSport Ducati Panigale V4 R for the first time at the Island. One could be forgiven for thinking that it is his old man on the bike such are the similarities in riding styles. Uncanny. The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.
It was an impressive PI debut for the 17-year-old as he was not very far off the pace, his best a 1:33.9. Not too shabby at all with his times similar to his new and more experienced rivals so one thinks it wont be too long until there will be a mullet nipping at the heels of the leaders.
The “highlight” of the two days for both Mike Jones and Oli Bayliss was hitting a Cape Barren Goose going through the Hayshed. Mike hit it first with Oli then disintegrating the bird into oblivion resulting in the session being stopped to clear the remains. It gives new meaning to the term ‘red mist’ as in this case the red mist was the result of a 20kg creature being hit by a a pair of 200+ km/h motorcycles! How neither of them – particularly young Bayliss – didn’t crash is astounding.
The other eye opener in the Desmo Sport garage was the appearance of one of Valentino Rossi’s long term mechanics. The likeable and laconic Kiwi, Brent Stephens has signed on with the Desmo Sport Ducati team after being unceremoniously let go from the Yamaha squad last year after Rossi departed for Petronas SRT. After two decades in the GP paddock, Brent brings that depth of experience with him to the ASBK paddock for season 2021 with DesmoSport Ducati, and as he told me, “you cant be sitting at home all the time. You need to get out of the house and this is perfect.”
Ben Henry first approached fellow ex-Rossi mechanic, Alex Briggs to see if he would be interested but his reply was that he would be tuning only golf clubs and lawnmowers this year, so put Ben in contact with Brent.
It was a bit ironic to see him working on a Ducati with #46 on the nose!
One wonders how long before we see Alex in the paddock as well, or if Jeremy Burgess fronts up again to assist Michelin.
It’s great to see guys of this calibre keeping their hand in and their racing passion alive by joining the ASBK circus. On track we also can expect to see some riders back from Europe to compete in ASBK. Broc Parkes has already confirmed with Yamaha while GP winner Anthony West is expected to join the fray on a Kawasaki.
Two-time champion Wayne Maxwell had a few steers on his McMartin Racing Ducati V4 Panigale and also threw a leg over the Suzuki of his good mate, and leading privateer Nathan Spiteri, to provide some direction on set-up.
Maxwell was solo with one bike, and none of his regular team in attendance, instead he did the days with the help of the bike’s owner, Karl Webster. Maxwell wasn’t too worried about chasing set-up, but more just getting laps in while the team awaits the delivery of the factory Magnetti Marelli ECUs that has been homologated for Ducati riders this year.
The most shocking part of the two days was the condition of another two- times ASBK champ, Troy Herfoss from the Penrite Honda Elite Roads Team. In an incident unbeknown to many, Herfoss was involved in a serious crash while testing at Wakefield Park a week after the ASBK round back in December.
He parted ways with his bike at around 250 km/h while barreling towards Turn One, sustaining injuries to his hand, ribs and shoulder. He was also knocked unconscious for nearly 20 minutes, and couldn’t breathe for two minutes as his mouth and throat were blocked with dirt and gravel! Very scary indeed!
With such a high speed get off and being KO’d for such an agonisingly long time, Troy doesn’t remember the lead up to the crash or anything after for quite some time, so is at a loss to explain what happened.
Herfoss spent the Christmas and New Year period recuperating from such a severe concussion and was naturally a bit gun-shy when first riding the bike again and slowly worked on building confidence.
By the end of the two days he was approaching full speed but understands that after such a knock it will take time to get back to 100 per cent, both mentally and physically. Elite Roads boss Deon Coote sprung for a helicopter to get Herf’ back to the airport after testing was complete as wife Emily was due to drop the bundle at any moment! And that bundle successfully dropped last night as the family welcomed a young Mia Herfoss into the world. Congrats to mum and dad.
The Maxima Oils Racing BMW Team was also there with three-time champion Glenn Allerton and youngster Lachlan Epis. Visiting the garage a few times over the two days it was clearly evident that suspension and set-up was the focus as the rear shocks were often out of the bikes and changes being made.
As mentioned previously, Josh Waters – who celebrated his 34th birthday a couple of days ago – was there on an old BC Performance Kawasaki to get used to as well as adapting to the K-Tech suspension after coming off Ohlins. With brother, Brodie twiddling the spanners as usual, there was also a Dunlop rep’ in attendance. Josh ran Dunlops last year so it was a matter of getting them to work on the green beast with K-Tech.
Two-times ASBK Supersport champion Tom Toparis was there, making the leap up to the one-litre category riding a Yamaha YZF-R1. Toparis only did the one day and gave the second day a miss due to the wet conditions.
At this stage Tom is uncertain if he will compete in the full season of ASBK. He is in a dilemma, as he has offers to head to the UK to race Supersport in BSB, but with the pandemic is in two minds to go or not, however he is expected to make the decision within the next week.
It would be good to see talented Tom stay here to step up and race against his good mate Oli Bayliss, and the rest of the field, and put off overseas competition until 2022, when hopefully the world is in a better place.
Teenager, Luke Jhonston who made his debut in the Superbikes at Wakefield late last year, was also there getting to grips with his Yamaha YZF-R1. After his performance at the final round, it wont be too long before he makes his way up the leaderboard and adds a bit more spice to what will be an interesting year in the battle of the rookies.
Phil Czaj also tested and is switching to Yamaha machinery this year, ending a long association with Aprilia.
ASBK representation wasn’t only limited to Superbikes as there were riders from the other classes in attendance including Luke Power who is stepping up to the Supersport category on a Kawasaki with the ProWorx Team. Two-times Australian champion Tom Bramich is another rider returning from international competition who steps up to 600 cc Supersport class on a Yamaha YZF-R6. Scott Nicholson, Ryan Taylor, and Brendan Wilson are returning to the class and were there circulating alongside many club level and historic racers who took advantage of the holiday weekend.
2021 Australian Superbike Championship Calendar
|R1||Australian All Wheels Race Fest (SBK, SSP, SSP300, R3, OJC)||Phillip Island, VIC||Feb 19-21, 2021|
|R2||Winton Motor Raceway (SBK, SSP, SSP300, R3, OJC, Sidecar)||Benalla, VIC||Mar 12-14, 2021|
|R3||Wakefield Park Raceway (SBK, SSP, SSP300, R3, OJC, Sidecar)||Goulburn, NSW||Apr 16-18, 2021|
|R4||Hidden Valley Raceway (SBK Only)||Darwin NT||Jun 18-20, 2021|
|R5||Morgan Park Raceway (SBK, SSP, SSP300, R3, OJC)||Warwick QLD||Aug 20-22, 2021|
|R6||The Bend Motorsport Park (SBK, SSP, SSP300)||The Bend, SA||Sep 23-26, 2021|
|R7||Symmons Plains (SBK, SSP, SSP300, R3, OJC)||Tasmania||Nov 4-7, 2021|