Victorian Shannon Johnson has won his first national Superbike race in three years after a monumental battle with Queenslander Robbie Bugden in the opening race on the support program at this year’s IVECO Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island.
In variable conditions, Johnson (Honda) and Bugden (Suzuki) rolled the dice on tyre selection and came up trumps, which set up a pulsating battle for the top spot in the final three laps.
Budgen led across the line on laps six and seven, but Johnson was able to win the game of cat and mouse on the final lap to claim victory by just 0.068 seconds, with Victorian Craig Coxhell a further seven seconds back in third on his Superstock-spec BMW.
Johnson also set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:37.324.
“I’ve got to say thanks to Robbie for being the donkey when the conditions were becoming a bit dicey during the race,” said Johnson.
“Because I haven’t ridden the Honda a lot (Johnson is deputising for Wayne Maxwell this weekend, with the latter on Moto2 commitments) I wasn’t sure how hard to push, so I just sat behind Robbie for a while.
“It’s just great to come out on top in a Superbike race again, and a big credit to the team for making it happen.”
Johnson started from the front row of the grid in the eight-lapper, while Bugden was forced to slice through the pack from way back in grid position 11.
Meanwhile, polesitter Jamie Stauffer (Ducati) engineered the perfect start and led for the first five laps on his wet-weather tyres, but it was only a matter of time before Johnson, Bugden and Coxhell all came sailing past.
Ben Henry (Suzuki) also managed to slip by Stauffer to finish in fourth, with positions six to eight filled by a trio of Hondas — Daniel Stauffer, current Australian superbike championshjip leader Bryan Staring, and Glenn Allerton.
Reigning Aussie champion Josh Waters (Suzuki) was another who was quickly shuffled backwards after an errant tyre choice, and he finished 10th in his return to racing after a long-term layoff with injury.
Seventeen riders finished the first eight-lapper, with two DNFs.
Race two of the Superbikes will be held at 8:35am on Sunday morning, followed by the finale at 11:45am.
Troy Herfoss has played the perfect strategic game to win the one and only Supersport race for the weekend.
On the drenched Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit, Herfoss was involved in a no-holds barred three-way skirmish with fellow-Suzuki rider Brodie Waters and Yamaha young gun Michael Jones for most of the journey, but was able to make his way to the front on the last lap and put up the shutters.
The three flashed across the finish line just 0.066 seconds apart, with Waters just holding off Jones for second place.
“After yesterday’s races were cancelled, it was finally great to get on the track,” said Herfoss, a former Australian dirt track and American supermoto champion. “We only have one race now, but I think we all made the most of it.
“I just had to be really patient, and it’s great to win for Suzuki.”
Meanwhile, Waters – the sibling of reigning Australian Superbike champion Josh Waters – was philosophical in defeat.
“I think that Troy wanted me to do all the hard work and he let me lead for most of the race,” said Waters. “And the he just took over at the end to claim the win, so he deserves a big pat on the back.”
Herfoss leads this year’s Australian Supersport Championship with just one round remaining, ahead of Christian Casella (Triumph) and Waters.
That represents something of a new guard in Supersport, with recent class stalwarts such as Jamie Stauffer, Bryan Staring and Shannon Johnson now Superbike-only competitors.
Blake Leigh-Smith (Suzuki) picked his way through the field to finish in a lonely fourth, ahead of Dylan Mavin (Honda), while Chas Hern (Suzuki), Casella and Nicholas Waters (Suzuki) – the third prong in the prodigiously gifted Mildura-domiciled Waters clan – all finished in close proximity.
A number of riders fell victim to the icy conditions, including recently-crowned Australian 125 GP champion James Mutton, who was riding a Honda belonging to AFL Brownlow medallist and former Brisbane and Western Bulldogs champion Jason Akermanis.
Twenty-four riders completed the eight-lapper.