Features 28 Sep 2017

Rewind: History of Team Honda Racing

Recalling Paul Free's time at the helm of Honda's racing programs.

Just one more round of the Australian Superbike Championship remains until Paul Free’s Motologic operation exits the series, including its Team Honda Racing division, marking an unfortunate end of an era for what has been a remarkably competitive race team in its existence under a variety of guises.

A former factory racer himself, Free was called in to head Honda Motorcycles Australia’s in-house program way back ahead of the 2003 season, signing Josh Brookes and Shannon Johnson for its inaugural year of contesting both the Superbike and Supersport categories. The late Kirk McCarthy also rode for the team in he second half of that year on the CBR954RR.

That first season marked a steep learning curve, essentially building the team from scratch despite Honda’s rich road racing history that had ceased at an official level by the end of 2000, and a mixture of podiums topped by a single Supersport race win for Brookes in Sydney’s final round were the highlights.

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The following season was a stellar one in 2004, as Free brought Adam ‘Krusty’ Fergusson back from the US and he went on to win both the Superbike – aboard the then new CBR1000RR – and Supersport titles. As for Brookes, he scored an unforgettable World Supersport wildcard win at Phillip Island against all odds, but had his season cut short with a broken pelvis suffered in Perth.

Come 2005 it was all Brookes however, repeating Fergusson’s feat of claiming both championships in the single season and delivering Honda the elusive double for a second-straight year. That form was what spring-boarded Brookes to the world stage following that year and he’s been competing internationally ever since.

From that point, Honda had one of its tougher years in 2006 with Fergusson and Glenn Allerton at the helm, while 2007 with the new combination of Russell Holland and Bryan Staring wasn’t much better in terms of championship rankings. That ultimately prompted change in Honda’s approach and resulted in the formation of both Motologic as it stands today.

What happened was Free took further control of Honda’s racing endeavors, moving into their own headquarters nearby at Campbellfield and re-signing Allerton to ride alongside Jason O’Halloran aboard the highly-anticipated new CBR1000RR for 2008. The team also had a single Supersport rider in Wayne Maxwell that season.

Allerton won on debut when the new Fireblade arrived in time for the Mallala round and the rest was history as he blitzed to a first-career crown, while rookie wonder O’Halloran starred on his way to P4. To cap off a memorable season, Maxwell piloted his CBR600RR to third in the Supersport standings.

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In a surprising turn of events, Honda actually pulled its support from the defending champion team prior to 2009, leaving Free to effectively fund Allerton and Maxwell on a pair of private Superbikes, albeit still on CBR machinery, and they placed second and third in the standings after putting up a convincing title bid. Despite that, more change was to come.

It’s not often spoken about these days, but there was a single year that Free’s Motologic squad didn’t run Hondas and that was in 2010, when he fielded former longtime rival Jamie Stauffer and Jordan Burgess on factory-supported Ducatis. That excursion saw Stauffer ride to fifth in points, while funnily enough, Honda-mounted Bryan Staring took the title in a satellite effort of sorts.

With Motologic going back to Honda one year later in 2011, it was Stauffer who was retained along with the return of Maxwell. And along with that came the factory backing of the Japanese powerhouse for the first time since 2008 and the brand Team Honda Racing was solidified. It was a strong year, but not a championship year, as Stauffer took second and Maxwell fourth when all was said and done.

The next year in 2012, Maxwell and Stauffer remained in the premier class, this time improving to second and third in the points table respectively. And on top of that, Team Honda Racing fielded a CBR600RR again, with Josh Hook taking second. 2013 saw Stauffer race to fourth despite a pelvis injury and Superbike rookie Hook was drafted in as well, eventually cementing P5 overall.

And this is where the team truly established itself as one of the most iconic in the sport’s history. In 2014 using the up-spec CBR1000RR SP models upon transferring to the Australasian Superbike Championship (ASC) and Australian FX-Superbike Championship (AFX-SBK) run collectively, an all-star line-up of Maxwell, Stauffer, Troy Herfoss and Hook went 1-2-3-5 in the ASC, plus Maxwell and Herfoss went 1-2 in AFX-SBK.

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That next season, again in the breakaway series that featured the top competition of the time during 2015, Herfoss broke through to capture both the ASC and AFX-SBK crowns, while Stauffer went 5-6 despite being injured early on in the year and missing the opener. As part of Motologic, the full potential of Herfoss had been discovered.

Last year marked Team Honda Racing’s return to the Motorcycling Australia (MA)-run ASBK series once again and it was a Herfoss repeat to assert himself as the number one Superbike rider in the country. Meanwhile, team mainstay Stauffer rode to eighth overall after again having his season ruined by injury, but that would be his last in the fold.

Which brings us to 2017, marking Free’s last in charge of Team Honda Racing as he closes Motologic altogether. With one round remaining at Phillip Island next weekend on 6-8 October, Herfoss again leads the championship in hope of delivering a dream send-off to his ever-competitive and professional team boss. That would possibly the most significant achievement of all.