Victoria’s Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit will play host to the opening round of the 2017 Yamaha Motor Finance Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) next weekend, 23-26 February, to mark the beginning of a hotly-contested seven-round title-chase.
Contested alongside the Yamaha Finance round of the Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) and with the attention of the globe firmly placed upon the picturesque 4.445-kilometre circuit, Australia’s finest Superbike talent will open their accounts for the season ahead.
Leading the charge will be defending champion Troy Herfoss (Crankt Protein Honda Racing), sporting the elusive number one plate after claiming last year’s crown at Winton during October. Currently armed with the very CBR1000RR SP that he clinched last year’s title aboard, he anxiously awaits Honda’s brand new 2017 edition and will enter with form on his side.
Out to upstage him from the first round onwards will be highly-credentialed Yamaha Racing Team duo Glenn Allerton and Wayne Maxwell after the former champions finished two and three in the standings last year. Between them they boast four ASBK titles – Allerton in 2008, 2011 and 2014, with Maxwell topping 2013.
Back on the grid full-time for this year will be two-time champion Josh Waters, who made headlines last week when it was formally announced that he has joined the brand new Team Suzuki Ecstar effort, reunited with technical guru Phil Tainton – the pairing that soared to the 2009 and 2012 championships. He will be on-board the spectacular new GSX-R1000R from the outset, albeit with minimal preparation entering the opener.
Poised to challenge them the entire distance will be returning fellow former champion Bryan Staring – the 2010 champion before embarking on an international career including MotoGP – alongside Herfoss and reunited with the Paul Free-led factory Honda organisation. It’s been a case of so far, so good during testing for the experienced Western Australia in his homecoming.
The talent-packed 43-rider Yamaha Motorcycle Insurance (YMI) Superbike field extends well beyond the previous champions however, with a who’s who of notable names making for one of the deepest line-ups to enter a new season in the history of the ASBK.
After departing the factory team at the end of last year, race winner and current national number four Cru Halliday will be back with a vengeance within his own program aboard the familiar YZF-R1M. Also Yamaha-equipped will be JD Racing front-runner Daniel Falzon, who himself is determined to overcome the factory might in a bid for the premier class title.
Perhaps the most topical Yamaha-supported newcomer at this point is Michael Blair, who stunned onlookers by topping the time-sheets during January’s Official ASBK Test at Phillip Island. Entering his first full season and with recent Asia Road Racing Championship experience on his side, Blair could be a podium factor sooner, rather than later.
And returning to the ASBK series in 2017 is Kawasaki BCperformance’s Robbie Bugden, the ever-popular Queenslander who is eager to once again establish himself among the championship’s elite. As the rounds tick over, expect Bugden to gain strength on the world championship-proven ZX-10R entry, and same goes for Matthew Walters (Kawasaki Connection), back this time for a complete campaign.
A strong assortment of youthful rookie riders will be sure to bolster this year’s championship, including Callum Spriggs (DesmoSport Ducati), who fills the large shoes of European-bound 2015 title-winner Mike Jones, as well as reigning Australian Supersport champion Troy Guenther (Next Gen Motorsports BMW), Bugden’s teammate Kyle Buckley (Kawasaki BCperformance) and another Yamaha charger in Mitch Levy.
A local favourite in the mix is certain to be the versatile Chas Hern, who has joined forces with MV Agusta Australia to mount an assault on the ASBK from round one. Hern is no stranger to entering exotic machinery at a national level, previously picking up a stunning race podium with EBR at Morgan Park two seasons ago.
Phillip Island will feature a trio of nail-biting 12-lap races to open the 2017 championship, which will set the stage for the season to come to throughout a selection of the country’s leading circuits. You can’t win the championship at round one, but it can certainly be lost and that’s why every step will count along the way.
The action definitely doesn’t stop there, with filled grids of Supersport (35 entries) and the new-look Supersport 300 (48 entries) division also set to produce traditional ASBK-type entertainment galore on WorldSBK weekend with a host of hugely-capable national competitors, before the YMF R3 Cup, Moto3/125GP and GP Juniors will join the fray throughout latter stages of the series.
In Supersport, which has produced many of the finest racers in the sport over the years, last year’s third-place finisher in the championship Luke Mitchell (DPH Motorsport Yamaha) is the early favourite on paper, as last year’s 1-2 – Guenther and Sam Clarke – have both moved on to new challenges.
Mitchell won’t have it all his own way by any means though, as in testing it was fearless rising talent Mark Chiodo (Repsol Gas Racing Triumph) who produced the fastest time during official testing. Also keep an eye on class debutants Tom Toparis (Cube Racing Kawasaki) and last year’s R3 Cup winner Zac Levy (Yamaha) for added fireworks, among multiple other up and comers.
The Supersport 300 category is shaping up to be just as frantic, with a full grid boasting a wide range of road racing experience and some very handy title threats. Title-holders Brandon Demmery (Over 300cc, Yamaha) and Drew Sells (Up To 300cc, Kawasaki) will both be back to defend their hard-earned championships of one year ago.
Oli Bayliss, son of three-time WorldSBK champion and DesmoSport Ducati co-owner Troy Bayliss, will also be a welcome addition as he embarks on a full season of ASBK competition within the Supersport 300 development ranks as part of Cube Racing, under the invaluable instruction of his world-famous father.
Tickets for the Yamaha Finance round of the WorldSBK are available through Ticketek, with a three-day general admission pass costing $120 – a saving of $35 over the gate price. BarSBK passes are $260, while adult single-day passes cost $30 for Friday, $65 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday (children aged 15 and under are free). Camping is available for up to four nights for $105.
For tickets visit www.ticketek.com.au, otherwise for more event information ring the Superbike Hotline on 1300 728 007 or visit www.worldsbk.com.au. Additional details on round one of the YMF ASBK series, as well as rounds two through seven, are available at www.asbk.com.au