Phillip Island Test gives insight into season ahead
Words by Mark Bracks
There has been some big news in the Supersport ranks with two recent developments concerning the 600cc category for ASBK 2018.
The first late news that broke during the test is that Kawasaki will be the ASBK Supersport naming rights sponsor in 2018.
The other recent news is that Yamaha Racing Team has entered the class with a factory effort headed by Cru Halliday. The Sydneysider stepping down from the Superbike category to spearhead the Yamaha YZF-R6 assault on the now Kawasaki-sponsored class.
It was a late decision for Yamaha in getting Cru on board, which was evident when the team missed the first session as they were still preparing the bike. Last year’s ASBK effort was a privately run team with family and friends where he proved very competitive, however a few crashes hit the budget quite substantially.
At the end of 2017 there was some doubt whether Cru would front for this year’s Superbike title chase, and here’s what he had to say about this year’s opportunity coming knocking:
“When we started talking about it, the decision didn’t take very long. It will cost us a lot less and I am in a supported team again. I’ve had a great relationship with Yamaha for a long time, and the chance to race the new R6 with guys like Kev Marshall steering things was too tempting to knock back.”
This year there are a few regular competitors returning for another year, but additionally, there are a great bunch of very talented youngsters moving into the class. It will be an interesting sidelight to keep an eye on their progress.
Bikes on track at the test numbered 19 made up of nine Yamahas, six Kawasakis, three Suzukis.
With his rise and improvement in the past 12 months, Tom Toparis (Cube Racing/Leda) is perhaps the favourite in the class but he sure won’t have it all his own way. He topped the leader board after the test but it was a close run thing.
In a way, it’s a pity that Lachlan Epis (Response RE) won’t be contesting the entire Australian Supersport title, as the pair of teenagers spent the sessions lapping within tenths of a second of each other and it would make for an entertaining title battle.
Tom’s 1:36.354 from the third session on Day One was the quickest of the two days, with a lap of 1:36.378 set in the second session on Day Two by Epis second fastest. The pair were the only two to lap in the 1:36 bracket for three of the eight sessions.
The only other to dip into similar times was Halliday in the final session, to be third fastest with a 1:36.474 lap. After a couple of days of turning a road bike into a track bike there are good signs that Cru will be right in the mix from the outset.
It wasn’t all full steam ahead though as Epis suffered engine problems that caused him to miss a couple of sessions. While Toparis high-sided himself exiting Siberia during the second session on Day Two, ending up with one relatively beaten up bike, but no serious injuries.
The pair will meet again in the WSS event at Phillip Island in a few weeks time, which should provide an interesting contest.
“It will be a good benchmark to compare, Lachlan has been in World Supersport for a while and this year he is in a bigger team. We were pretty close in times over the two days and although his WSS bike will be different I hope that the bike we are building will be able to compete in the class. We will have more even equipment for this race than we did when I did the Wild Cards in Moto3 last year.”
Yamaha R3 Cup victor Tom Edwards was fourth fastest as he becomes more accustomed to a 600cc machine. He’s a fast learner. This year he will be primarily racing in the World SSP300 Championship with Dutch Team Benjan Kawasaki, but in good news for us, he will also be heading home to compete in non-conflicting rounds of the domestic 600cc championship on a Yamaha. Great to see.
Nic Liminton (YRD Arai Yamaha R6) was fifth fastest as he continues his steady rise up the ranks. He showed he is in position to improve his results and claim a few podiums throughout the year, as could Giuseppe Scarcella who was sixth fastest.
Scarcella is an infrequent visitor and was MIA for most of last year as he competed in the World Supersport Championship, but not before he claimed a podium at Wakefield Park in the second round of last year’s championship. This year he will be charging around on a BC Performance Kawasaki ZX-6R.
It’s also sensational to see that Broc Pearson is fully recovered from the injuries he suffered in a training crash about 12 months ago and the lanky Queenslander has moved up to the Supersport category on a YRD R6. He was seventh fastest.
With Broc’s body dimensions he should be a lot more suited to the 600cc machine instead of trying to fold himself around a 300cc bike. It was an impressive debut for the kid.
Damon Rees was the only rider mounted on a Honda in eighth place, and will continue to trek across the Tasman to compete in the series. Damon proved to be very competitive last year but he had a few big crashes which really curtailed his efforts.
This caused Rees to miss the final two rounds of the championship, but if he can stay upright and with his dad Tony and Co. can get the most out of the Honda, then he will finish a lot higher than he did last year…
It was a blast from the past to read the name Brendan Clarke on the entry list for the class. Clarke hasn’t been around for many years, and he is thinking of getting out on track for most of the title rounds on a ZX-6R.
He sure picked a track to get back up to speed saying afterwards, “I can’t believe how fast this place is. It sure opened my eyes but it was great fun to get out there again. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and then got to the stage of, ‘Why not?’”
If Clarke decides to have a red hot crack at it then it will not be long before he marches further up the timesheets and starts knocking on the door of race podiums.
Rhys Belling is again on a Yamaha this year and was rounded out the top ten. Rhys is extremely keen to move up the leader board as he had a good progression last year, however he wouldn’t be too happy as, like Ted Collins in the premier class, he didn’t better his PB from the Island last year.
There were five debutants at the test with Scott Nicholson (Next Gen GSX-R), stepping up from the Proddie classes. Scott had a big crash at the Hayshed but managed 11th. He had a very severe crash at Hidden Valley last year as well, so it was reassuring to see that he was OK after a big get off.
He is another fast rider, and in just over a year he has come from the Junior road train to the Supersport ranks, and can be guaranteed to be another that will improve immensely during the year.
Matt Barton steps down from a very difficult year on a Honda Superbike, while Jack Passfield and Dallas Skeer are another pair stepping up from a the lower classes, with Jack coming from the 300 class and Dallas previously in the Moto3/125cc GP class.
Max Croker also debuts in Supersport, another graduate of Junior racing before Moto3 and Proddie racing last year. Max has been given a great opportunity as he is under the wing of the fledgling Mat Mladin racing team.
No prizes for guessing that Max is racing a Suzuki, and he was 12th fastest after a slow and steady introduction, with Mladin in attendance over the two days. It is excellent to see the multiple AMA Superbike champion coming on board to assist the next generation of riders
The field will no doubt increase in numbers from the first round and so will the action, while this year the title chase will go down to the final round at Phillip Island in early October.
ASBK Janury 2018 Test – Phillip Island
January 30-31, 2018 – Combined Supersport Times (TBC)
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