It pains me to say it, but a chat with Troy Herfoss this week, after the Penrite Honda rider had another two days of testing under his belt at Queensland Raceway, left me as down in the dumps as he seems…
I have said it before, and copped flak for it, but will say it again anyway, Troy is the benchmark that in recent years other ASBK riders generally measure themselves against. Sure, Wayne Maxwell has won the championship the last two years, is in amazing form, is fast everywhere and is the current yardstick, he is the man to beat. Even if Troy was heading into season 2022 fit and fired up, Wayne would still be the championship favourite. Wayne’s form, and the set-up provided to him by the Boost Mobile Ducati squad at The Bend where, really, he walked it in, was some of the impetus that saw me start the conversation around parity in ASBK, looking towards 2023 and beyond.
But anyway, let’s get back to Troy…. This yarn is all about him.
The first time I saw Herfoss ride was at a backwater Supermoto meet in Toowoomba. I had never heard of him, don’t think anyone else had either outside of the close knit dirt track scene… But here was this lanky kid, complete with puppy fat, totally sideways into every turn, but with a level of bike control I had never witnessed. It sounds loose, but it was not loose, it was pinpoint precision.
I was well accustomed to seeing Supermoto bikes sideways, I was a big proponent of the discipline, enjoyed riding it myself, and after witnessing the spectacle of it on the Eastern seaboard, invested countless hours introducing Supermoto back to my home state of Western Australia.
So yes, sideways I was well accustomed to. But this kid was on a dime, every turn, every lap. His accuracy blew my mind. It is all well and good to be broadside sliding into a turn from way back, heck even this old hack can do that. But to do it lap after lap, on the exact same tip in point, the same smooth trajectory into the apex of the turn, followed by a perfectly fluid transition back to throttle and drive out, left me mouth wide open.
I rang Phil Tainton, Team Manager for the hugely successful Suzuki Australia road race team at the time, directly from the circuit, I told him if he is looking for a kid to give a go in road racing then he needs to sign this kid from Goulburn and put him on a 600 RFN. That’s Navy speak for ‘Right Fucking Now’. Phil never took heed of my advice at that early juncture, but he did sign Herf a few years later and was rewarded with an Australian Supersport Championship for Suzuki. I wish he listened to me first time around….
In the interim, before Phil signed him to the Suzuki road race squad, Herfoss headed overseas and won the American AMA Supermoto Championship. A nobody 21-year-old Aussie kid going up against the biggest names in the sport back then, Ward, Fillmore, Nicoll, Dymond, and he beat them all. Well, it was three AMA Supermoto Championships all up before he was done with America. Seems as though my initial judgement that he was a bit special was on money after all….
It is now over five months since that second bout of surgery, and Herfoss is still far from right…
Troy Herfoss Interview
Trevor Hedge: “So how did you go with the testing?”
Troy Herfoss: “Compared to where I was last year… shit.”
Trev: At Phillip Island I could see there was a pretty obvious struggle going on there, I didn’t want to interrupt and there wasn’t too many smiles going on in the pit garage, so I thought I’d leave it be and as I said to you in the interim, we would have a quick chat after you’d had a couple more days on the bike. So what’s holding you back, is it you, your physical condition, or the bike, or a combination of the two? What’s the real issue?
Herfoss: “It’s so hard, I honestly don’t know. It’s gotta be me because I’ve ridden that bike fast everywhere. I ran that bike at QR before Darwin and we’d done two days, and to be honest we didn’t go real fast, and I was about 1.2s slower than last year. So not miles off, but I still just don’t feel anywhere near where I should be.”
Trev: Like you’ve just said yourself, you can’t put your finger on it, is it a confidence thing? After so long away from the absolute maximum attack that we’re used to seeing you ride like?
Herfoss: “Yeah, if I didn’t go and race at Eastern Creek I would seriously be thinking I was in dire straits right now. But the fact is I went, I’m riding around testing and I’m literally five months and 15 days from my last surgery which was a pretty serious surgery, and I haven’t even got my six month scans yet to say its healed properly. I’m out there riding a bike, so I’m very cautious and the only thing that is keeping me going at the moment, was the fact that when we went to Sydney I rode all day at the track day, I was really slow, but we did the night program and I got on track with other riders, and bang I was travelling.
“So I’m just hoping that I am just not firing on all cylinders, and when I get there to Phillip Island to the race with the bit of work we’ve done and set-up, the bike is easier to ride and my race pace is on, I’m ready to attack again.
“In training I feel like I’m getting a lot fitter, I’m on the bike better, not in pain as such. I definitely don’t like being the guy that halfs anything, and I don’t like excuses, so I’m not going to talk about that. I hate when people make excuses all the time and I’m not that guy. I don’t need to talk to my injuries too much, I’m well enough to ride a bike.”
Trev: And of course, we’re only just two weeks out from Phillip Island and then it’s a couple of weeks after that that we’re up in Queensland, so it’s going to be coming thick and fast over the next month now.
Herfoss: “It really is, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t stretched, I am. It’s just hard to get an idea – I know where I am at – but I don’t know how our performance will go at Phillip Island and who will be competitive. Even today in QR, there’s guys who are really strong and then guys who are also going fast, and you wonder how long can they go fast for.
“So it’s just going to be… I think it’s still possible I can be competitive come the final rounds. But I’m going to have to just do my best in the first rounds, and you know, Wayne’s in great form, so he’s going to probably take a fairly clean sweep at Phillip island, based on the test. That’s without me chasing which I think – most years I’ve been chasing him. It doesn’t scare me too much, but I would definitely like to be a little bit stronger.”
Trev: I was going to talk about other things with changes in the team, but I guess where we are at now, it probably doesn’t even really matter.
Herfoss: “Honestly, that’s really it. It’s hard to know what to do, I’ve got good guys helping me, and I’m experienced, I don’t have a crew chief as such, we’ve been working with Phil Tainton a little bit, that’s been fun. We’ve had Phil helping us, but it is very hard, even talking to a guy as experienced and as good as Phil, it’s still very hard to really get the feel across. So yeah, at the moment we’re just trying to get by really. It’s so hard at the end of every day, because you don’t know if your body is the issue, or is it the inexperience in the team with a few changes we’ve got, which I don’t think is it. But I’m struggling in areas where I’m always really strong, and the reason I’m strong in those areas is because I’m fit and confident. I think that the team structure is definitely not what’s holding us back at the moment.”
Trev: So who’s going to act as your crew chief at the first round or two, at this stage?
Herfoss: “To be honest, I’m not sure… Phil wants to help, he’s been a friend of mine for a long time, he got me started in road racing, he wants to help, he’s just so busy. I just think it’s hard for him, to commit to a whole year and he’s one of those people who if he’s going to do it he does it properly. At the moment I have Charlie and Ian Colzo here with me this week, and big Granger is with me as always. It’s sort of between them three and we’re just putting our heads together and hopefully making logical smart decisions.”
Trev: Obviously we know, racing has a whole lot of factors to it, but certainly a lot that happens between the ears is a big part of it. So what are you doing to try and keep mentally strong and try and get that confidence to attack into the turns, etc, between here and then. Or is it just that you have to wait for your body to be up to it, and that’ll be the trigger that perhaps makes that switch in your brain, that goes righto, let’s get serious?
Herfoss: “I think the nerves and the pressure of race day is what I thrive on, and I know just from the low key race at Eastern Creek that at the race I was ready to go. I was attacking in race two and I’d done the fastest lap of the night, and I felt like I was part of the race and then kinda at Phillip Island I just felt like I wasn’t there. I didn’t feel any adrenaline, sort of… the bike didn’t feel right and I wasn’t willing to push the bike.
“Today and yesterday there’s been a frustration creeping in which is a good sign, which is me feeling like I wanna go again. I think it’ll just be a point where I get to, where the bike is feeling good and I can see someone leaving me for dead and I’ll be back on race mode. It is a hard thing, I haven’t been through this before in my life and it is hard at the moment, to know what’s the matter with me.”
Trev: Cool mate, that all does sound pretty brutal but I hope you can keep your head up, everybody knows how fast you are, what a champion you are, and how awesome we’ve seen you ride that motorbike so many times. We all look forward to seeing you back at your best. Hopefully that’s sooner rather than later.
Herfoss: “Thanks Trev, at the moment it feels like it’s never going to happen, but when I realise it’s been only five months, that’s not that much time really since my second operation, seven months since the crash, we’ll be right, just keep chipping away at it. My motto at the moment is ‘just keep fronting up’. It’ll be right.”
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