A tale of two young Ninja Warriors – Pearson versus Toparis
By Trevor Hedge
As always, the Ninja 300 Cup provided the most exciting racing when the Swann Superbike Championship visited Queensland Raceway earlier this month.
While Jimmy Broadbent, Sam Condon and Jack Dawes all deserve honourable mentions, the riders leading the battle up front were two of the youngest in the field, Broc Pearson and Tommy Toparis. Both riders riding machines prepared by Ben Henry’s Cube Racing Team.
15-year-old Queenslander Broc Pearson has spent recent seasons racing in the Asia Dream Cup, a one make series where riders contest incredibly close races on CBR 250 Honda machines. Pearson has scored a few podiums, and won a race in this hotly contested championship, and recently also climbed on the podium in a two-hour endurance race at Suzuka on the CBR 250.
While Pearson is very slight of build, he is quite tall, especially compared to his competition in Asia, where a lot of the riders are almost a foot shorter and up to 10kg lighter than Pearson. With only around 35 horsepower at your disposal, that size and weight penalty is massive, and thus Pearson has used the fierce battles in the Asia Dream Cup to learn the art of racecraft. He is an intelligent kid, and driven to succeed.
Pearson’s primary riding coach is Alex Cudlin, and in recent weeks he tried a CBR300 on for size in the company of Troy Herfoss. However, with it’s single cylinder engine the Honda was never going to cut the mustard while racing against the twin-cylinder Ninja. Thus Pearson teamed up with Cube Racing to pilot a Kawasaki at the third round of the Ninja 300 Cup.
His prime rival at QLD Raceway, Tom Toparis, may have been a few months older, but he is a lot smaller than Pearson, and has a modest weight advantage over his more experienced opponent. Toparis, though, is doing incredibly well for a rider that only first hopped on a road motorcycle a few months ago.
Prior to February of this year, Toparis’ riding experience consisted only of local junior motocross events. Hailing from Goulburn, Toparis’ progress has been mentored and watched closely by 2015 Swann Superbike Champion, and fellow Goulburn boy, Troy Herfoss.
Thus, with so little experience under his belt, Toparis did unbelievably well to battle Pearson all the way to the line in every contest on Sunday. The always smiling Toparis even managed to get the better of Pearson in one of their bouts on Saturday.
On Sunday, Toparis got ahead of Pearson at times and hardly a bike length separated the pair all weekend. Pearson’s experience and race smarts were the deciding factor, but Toparis’ is proving a quick learner. The fast rate at which Toparis’ has got up to speed has certainly been raising a few eyebrows.
Quick, smart, and eager to succeed, both of these young fellas are exciting new talents to watch in the future. We spoke with the pair in Parc Ferme at Queensland Raceway, while they were both still clearly pumped fresh from their on track exploits.
Broc Pearson Interview
Is this your first road race on Australian soil since when?
“My last race was at Morgan Park 6 – 8 months ago at the very start of the year. But that was me just riding around by myself. It was just me getting some track time.”
And this was your first time on a 300 Kawasaki Ninja, how was that?
“It was awesome, I’m not used to being on a thing that has a bit more sliding in it. It was good fun. I’ve never ridden a Ninja 300 till last weekend and I loved it so I thought I would do it again this weekend. I enjoyed the backing it in and the sliding it around. It doesn’t have the power of a thousand, but it’s still huge fun.”
And are we going to see you back for future rounds?
“Unfortunately there’s a couple of rounds coming up that I can’t make due to Eastern Creek’s age limit ,because I am only 15. Plus I have a commitment for an Indonesian round that clashes with the dates. So I think I will next be out here for the QR FX round.”
And you’re in your second season of the Asian Dream cup, that’s really honed your race craft?
“Was some good racing with Tommy. There was a couple of times where Sammy and Jack jumped in, but as soon as me and Tommy put in the lap times, they couldn’t keep up, which bodes well for the next round. But it was awesome riding around with Tom.”
Broc, it’s quite interesting that sometimes it looks like your bike is faster than Tommy’s, then the next lap it is reversed. What makes the differences from lap to lap?
“Yeah well it really all comes down to the exit of the turn, but it’s only going to be a slight chance of a couple of extra km/h. But if you exit a few bike lengths behind, there’s no wind, so by the time you pull out from behind, you have a few more rpm onboard and you just blow by them. But the key is keeping them on the edge of the tyre to keep the revs up. And that seems to work out for me with my height and weight.
How impressive is it with young Tommy to be able to ride with you this weekend?
“I knew I was in for a hard race because last weekend Tommy smoked me up in all the races. I knew I was in for a hard one. He’s done great for his first year. I didn’t expect him to be pushing me like that, but it’s awesome.
Tom Toparis Interview
Tom your first time on a race track was only a few months ago wasn’t it?
“My first time on a road race track was only a few months ago in February at Eastern creek south circuit. That was my first road bike ride yeah.”
And you’ve raced motocross before?
“I’ve been racing MX since I was ten. Every few weekends. Just local rounds around Goulburn. But this year I’ve stepped it up and been all around Australia with the road racing.”
And your first time on a road bike, was that only a few months ago as well?
“I think January or February.”
And your local Goulburn road race star Troy Herfoss has given you a few tips?
“Yeah Troy helps me out. He compares a lot of stuff from the superbike to the ninja, which doesn’t always translate. It still helps in a lot of ways, he is often on the phone to my dad. He’s been great.
And have you learned a few things off Broc this weekend Tommy?
“Yeah….I have. I’ve learned about close racing actually. In qualifying we worked together. He had some strategies to use from Asia. He also taught me to turn my head and look around to see where other riders are. I did ride everywhere solely focussed on what’s in front of me. But he taught me to keep an eye on what the other riders were doing. It doesn’t look good, but it’s good to know where people behind you are.”
So will you practice again before the next round.
“Yeah I definitely will get on the bike somewhere. I’ve got Morgan Park in a few weeks. I’ll also be doing some motard out the front of my house.”
Troy Herfoss on Tom Toparis
“I’ve known Tom, His Dad (Richard) and the entire Toparis family all my life. They are the type of people that just never stop, love trying as many different sports as possible, so when Tom decided he wanted to try Road Racing I knew Richard would be excited.
“Tom has great coordination and little fear, which seem to be two good ingredients for a racer, if they can use them both in the right way. It makes me laugh when I stand with his dad and watch, as Tom has picked up road racing far quicker than I expected, and is showing he has raw speed, but also a mature head on is shoulders, which I hope puts his mother (Vanessa) at ease. It’s hard to imagine what the future holds for him, already having race podiums and a lap record to his name in only a few months of road riding.”
Troy Herfoss on Broc Pearson
“I’ve only known Broc personally a little while, recently I have spent the odd day chasing him around Pimpama Go Kart track on the Gold Coast.
“Broc seems to be the opposite of Tommy, he has a lot of experience riding all kinds of bikes and even at his young age, seems to know exactly where he wants to go, and it shows a little in his race craft. Broc’s Mum & Dad (Ian & Carol) are 110 per cent backing him so I think he has the ingredients to excel in the sport.”
Troy Herfoss compares the two
“When I watch them ride together I see two very different riders, but at the end of the race a very close result. Broc is very precise, hits his lines almost every lap and makes sure he knows his surroundings well, where as Tommy I think is trying to gain the experience as the races go on, then really dives for the corners and attacks the rider in front at his first chance. It made for great racing at QR over the weekend and I think they both took a step forward because of it. I’m looking forward to watching them battle some more but I just hope they don’t grow up too quick, the last thing I need is more youngsters on a Superbike. Haha.”
Cube Racing Team Manager Ben Henry on his two young charges
“The two kids that come from different backgrounds, and its obvious. Country kid, and city kid. The pair of them get on like a house on fire, they enjoyed racing each other and there was nothing but compliments all round from both sides of the team, including both fathers, which is hard to find!
“They are easy to deal with and are learning at an incredible rate, its crazy to watch them.
“They race the race then go and sit together and watch their onboard footage, watching each other drafting and passing the other.
“For now its easy going, but it will be interesting as the year unfolds. Currently Broc is winning predominantly, but I think as Tommy gets more experience he will certainly be one to watch.
“Broc has a crazy understanding of the bike, and how to get the most out of it, he was taking a hand off the bar and holding a fork leg for more aero and holding the bike on its side longer to get it to rev quicker etc etc. When I make a suspension change he understands and talks to me like he’s been in the game for 10 years!
“Of course Tommy doesn’t have those skills yet but his progress is unrelenting nonetheless.”