Due to the series promoter, Terry O’Neill, deciding to split the C & D graded riders away from the premier Superbike category in 2015, in order to give those riders a chance to shine in their own race, and climb out of the shadow cast by the bright lights of the Factory boys, the premier class Superbike fields have been small in 2015.
Another reason for O’Neill restricting the Superbike races in 2015 to A and B graded riders, although virtually the whole field is A grade, is the longer races held this season. With some rounds running three races on both Saturday and Sunday, and others, such as last weekend in Queensland, featuring two longer races. Still not GP length 100km races, but instead around 50km race distances, at least making it more than a quick sprint. Also these longer races are a bigger test of rider endurance, and bike preparation. Things that C and D graded competitors most struggle with.
Around 12 riders have fronted the grid for most races. That field, however, is top quality. Three-tenths covered the top four riders during qualifying last weekend, and less than a second covered the top eight.
It’s fair to say that every round, thus far, has borne witness to the closest Superbike racing we have seen this century. Certainly, across the 15 years I have been attending virtually every national level Superbike race meeting in this country, never has the competition been more intense.
Any minor mistake results in a rider losing a number of positions, and the competition so close that rarely does a rider successfully recover those positions before the chequered flag. Even in the longer races staged this season.
Eight different riders have won Superbike races in the first four rounds of the series. As far as I can ascertain, there is no other national road race series anywhere in the world with that amount of winners in a recent season.
The machines raced in the Swann Insurance Australasian Superbike / AFX series are perhaps the most standard of any ‘Superbike’ competition held anywhere in the world. In fact, the FX-ASC Superbike are more standard than some ‘Superstock’ categories raced elsewhere. Very little tuning is allowed, helping to reduce costs and level the playing field somewhat.
Combine those machine modification restrictions with a control tyre and it seems like the right recipe. Teams are forced to try and make the control tyre work at a variety of circuits, and across a range of race lengths, and only one set for each day’s racing… I think the results speak for themselves.
The enforced cost savings this brings also must be considered. Some racers need protecting from themselves. If allowed to spend money, they will, and all too commonly that money ends up being spent on shiny new bits that aren’t going to make them any faster anyway…
Of course, that means that any new high-spec’ machine is going to upset the apple cart, and that was exactly how it looked when Yamaha Racing Team debuted their all-new YZF-R1M.At the Sydney Motorsports Park season opener the Team Yamaha boys were scintillatingly fast during qualifying, it looked like the weekend was going to be a YZF-R1M whitewash. It’s fair to say there were some glum faces in the Team Honda camp on Friday evening.Come the Saturday and Sunday race days, however, it was Team Honda that dominated proceedings. Yamaha Racing Team had only just got access to the new machine, and with so little experience in setting up the new bike, the riders could not effectively manage the tyre wear over the full race distance.
Clearly, it was only going to be a matter of time before YRT got on top of this issue, and at some tracks the advantages of the new YZF-R1 would outshine the Team Honda Fireblade SP machines. However, at other circuits, the tractability and tactility of the Honda package, finely honed by the Campbellfield based Motologic squad, will, and has, come to the fore.
Goulburn’s Troy Herfoss has led the championship race all season, albeit with a slowly shrinking gap back to defending champion, Wayne Maxwell.
Maxwell knows only too well the ability of the Fireblade SP, he rode the exact same specification machine to the 2014 Title. The Melbourne based, but Wollongong raised, 32-year-old also knows just how long this season is going to be, and has been very careful not to take any undue risks. Particularly in this first half of the season, as only now have YRT really started to get a proper handle on fine tuning the abilities of the YZF-R1M.
Wayne has rarely stood out and shone above the other riders thus far in season 2015, but his impeccable consistency, and early season play it safe approach, has reaped great dividends. Despite flying under the radar a little this season, Maxwell is only three-points adrift of Herfoss. He will be in the fight to regain his #1 plate right up to the twilight Sydney Motorsport Park in early December, you can count on it.
Jamie Stauffer unfortunately suffered some significant injuries in a crash during the World Superbike support races, effectively ruining his chances of taking the Title. The Kurri Kurri based 36-year-old was fit and hungry for success in season 2015, but his Title challenge has been blunted by that round one absence. The best Jamie can hope for, realistically, is a top three finish in the series if he can really come to the fore and take top points in the remaining three rounds. And that is not out of the question, a few times this season we have seen Jamie as the fastest rider on the circuit, and the next two rounds, Wakefield Park and Winton Motor Raceway, are circuits that suit the Honda.
Troy Herfoss has certainly mellowed a little in recent years. It seems this slightly less intense approach to racing is paying dividends. Don’t get me wrong, the hunger to win still burns brightly behind those blue eyes, just that I get a sense this season that the 28-year-old has learned to control that intensity, and focus on the long game. The homicidal maniac inside is still there, it’s just a much smarter homicidal maniac. More Dexter, than Hannibal Lecter.
Herfoss has been almost faultless this season. It is this precise approach and measured aggression that has seen him retain his lead at the top of the table. That margin has now shrunk to a slender three points in the Sunday series, and 11 points in the Saturday series, against what has been a steadily strengthening YRT assault.
And what an assault that is proving to be. The prospect of the speed promised by the arrival of the new YZF-R1M for 2015 made it an easy task for Yamaha to recruit Wayne Maxwell and Glenn Allerton to fight for the Title alongside long-time YRT incumbent Cru Halliday.
Halliday seemingly came of age in 2014.A new level of aggression was brought to the main game by the 27-year-old last season, and he was the quickest out of the blocks for Yamaha at this year’s Sydney Motorsport Park season opener, taking pole position ahead of his more fancied teammates, who between them have half-a-dozen national level Superbike Championship Titles under their belts. This was Cru’s time to shine in the spotlight, something that no doubt stuck in the craw of his new teammates.
Halliday has also been quite consistent this season, but a race two crash last weekend made a distinct blot in his copybook.With things this tight at the top, a DNF is an abject disaster. Even with so many rounds and races, in what is the longest and busiest Superbike calendar I can remember, any slip up like that is incredibly costly. A great amount of work, and perhaps a little luck, is required in the rounds ahead to try and claw back that ground towards to the top of the table. Still, he is only 35-points adrift of Herfoss in the Sunday series, and only 14-points behind in the Saturday series.
After spending recent seasons onboard a fearsome BMW, Glenn Allerton has suffered the most in his quest to adapt to the new YZF-R1M. Allerton’s breakthrough came last weekend. A small change to the spring rate in the rear shock transformed the YZF-R1M into a weapon that Allerton could now wield with might. It was like watching a new rider on the #4 Yamaha in Queensland.
It’s fair to say that no rider beats themselves up harder than Allerton. When he does not perform at his best the look in his face can be read from a mile away. On the other side of the coin, when he’s happy and beaming like a cheshire cat, he is fiercely competitive. Excellent results last weekend pushed Glenn up to third in the championship, ahead of Cru Halliday, and now only 17-points adrift of the consistent Wayne Maxwell. If Allerton can come from behind to take this title it will be the hardest won, and most impressive accolade of his career. And due to the close nature of this championship, that goes for any of the riders mentioned here.
Season 2015 has been a watershed year for the O’Neill managed Formula Xtreme / Australasian Superbike Championship. The live internet video streaming has taken a huge step forward since round three at Eastern Creek, and the livestream show is now at a stage that it is good enough quality to be broadcast straight to live television. That will happen at the season finale, in a three-hour live slot on Foxtel, broadcast straight from the circuit on the Saturday evening of what will be a twilight Friday-Saturday event. Closing out the seven-round series on what will, hopefully, be the best possible note, with an exciting battle right to the line for top honours.
It will be interesting to see how the now 55-year-old O’Neill can build on the success of 2015 for next season. His first ever race meeting as a promoter in the fledging days of Formula Xtreme was at Oran Park in March, 1997. Thus 2016 will be the 20th anniversary of Formula Xtreme. It’s fair to say we’ve had our differences over the years, including expletive laden stand-up arguments, the only thing we haven’t done is punch each other, yet. But I have to hand it to him, he is always learning, and turns out to be right, more often than he turns out to be wrong.
2015 Australian FX-Superbike Championship Points (Saturday Series)
Troy Herfoss 182
Glenn Allerton 171
Wayne Maxwell 171
Cru Halliday 168
Sean Condon 145
Jamie Stauffer 128
Mike Jones 125
Matt Walters 115
Ben Burke 106
Evan Byles 82
NB: While I have only covered the leading Yamaha and Honda entrants here, I will get around to covering the excellent performances of Kawasaki supported privateers Mike Jones, Sean Condon and Matt Walters. The latter of which, Walters, made a huge leap forward at Queensland Raceway last weekend, only a shifter problem cost him an almost certain podium in the final bout last weekend. Ben Burke has also done well at some rounds, and has not been too far from the pointy end in a few races, although an engine failure last weekend cost the BCperformance rider dearly. Evan Byles has been gaining speed all year and will be looking to finish the season out with some more top ten results.
Rnd 5. 25th – 27th September Wakefield Park Raceway ……………. NSW
Rnd 6. 23rd – 25th October Winton International Raceway ……….. Vic
Rnd 7. 4th – 6th December Sydney International Raceway ………… NSW (Series Finale)
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