Features 17 Oct 2017

Profiled: Tom Toparis

Australian championship regular's rain-soaked Moto3 debut in Japan.

Words: Russell Colvin

It was never going to be a walk in the park, so to speak, for Cube Racing’s Tom Toparis’s debut outing as a Moto3 wildcard rider at last weekend’s Motul Grand Prix of Japan. But then again, when has any wildcard ride been an easy stroll? Especially in the cut throat Moto3 class!

Toparis, 17, had a rocky introduction to the 4.8km Twin Ring Motegi circuit on Friday. In fact, the whole weekend was rather rocky as he slipped and slid around the 14 corner circuit which was more suited to Jet Ski racing, rather than motorcycle racing.

The opening practice session on Friday simply about Toparis finding his feet, as remember this was his first time at Motegi and on the ex-Kiefer Racing Kalex KTM, a completely different machine to what he rode in the third practice session and race three at Phillip Island the weekend before in the Australian Moto3 Championship at the Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK).

During the 40-minute practice session Toparis had to return to the pits a couple of times as he and his Cube Racing team had to tape up the radiator, as a Moto3 bike has to run pretty warm: “The bike was showing warning signs on the dash that the bike was too cold, which forced me to come into the pits, which costed us a lot of valuable track time,” Toparis commented.

When the Goulburn ace finally got back out on circuit he was in a bit of a rush to try and snag a decent lap time and as a result he tucked the front-end at turn three, which he said later on that it was a disappointing way to start the weekend.

Image: Andrew Northcott (AJRN).

The crash he had was a basic low-side, but unfortunately he was unable to get the bike restarted. The first session Toparis finishing in 31st place with a time of 2m19.657s. It was a positive step forward in the second session in the afternoon, which saw Toparis, who finished third in this year’s Australian Supersport Championship, as he improved his time by 1.37 seconds.

However, just like in the first session, Toparis did hit the deck again, this time being thrown over the bars at turn four. He was well and slowly working his way into a good rhythm, but through the fast right-hand corner he was wide-open and the rear-end just stepped out on him: “It gave me no warning what so ever,” explained Toparis. “Thankfully I’m okay and hopefully the bike to.”

Main thing was but, Toparis and his Queensland-based team put in a time which was good enough to see them qualify for their first-ever Moto3 wildcard appearance. The weather once again played havoc for Toparis for Saturday’s third practice session and qualifying. His time he set in the third practice session was on par to what he did the day before at 2m18.292s.

Toparis would go even faster in qualifying when he nailed a 2m16.493s, which qualified him in 31st place. However, once again the session was hampered by another high-side, this time at turn five. Just like on Friday, it again gave him no warning at all as he came into the corner no differently than the lap before and the back-end just stepped out on him mid-corner.

“I’m trying my hardest and trying not to crash, but unfortunately it’s not working for me that well at the moment,” said Toparis. Evidently, the stiffer chassis characteristics of the grand prix bike takes some time to adapt to in comparison to his usual production-based machinery.

By this stage Toparis expressed that he needed dry weather so he and the team could learn the bike for this weekend’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix. Unfortunately, there was no sign of dry weather coming his way at all: “We’ll just deal with whatever is thrown our way. If it rains, so be it, but I do want some dry time that’s for sure.”

Come race day and yet again, the weather was not on Toparis’ side. But in true Aussie style he came through with the goods to finish in a positive 24th position, in a race which was cut from 20 to 13 laps because of a major delay after an oil spill in the Moto3 warm-up aused by SKY Racing Team VR46’s Andrea Migno. The Cube Racing team told Toparis ahead of the race to simply finish the race and if he finished on the lead lap, which he did, it would have been an added bonus.

The race itself was the hardest conditions that Toparis has raced in. Not only was the spray hard to see through, which was like driving down the M7 in wet weather conditions and barley seeing a thing, but because of the oil spill in the warm-up, it made the surface extra slick.

“I had no feeling at all throughout the whole race,” reflected Toparis after the race. “The main thing is we managed to keep the bike upright and finished the race, which is a nice way to repay the team back after a rather testing outing. We’ll now be able to go out on track in free practice one on Friday at Phillip Island and have a bit of a play.”

Image: Andrew Northcott (AJRN).

Toparis has made it very clear that he’s hoping for dry weather at Phillip Island this weekend: “I simply just want dry time on this bike as I can’t seem to get it together on this bike in the wet. I want to gain experience and hopefully be closer to the field. I know I can ride fast at the Island and hopefully the bike will be up to it.”

Overall however, it was a good experience for Toparis and his Leda-supported Cube Racing team as they have learnt a lot, but they would have gained more information and experience if it was dry. After all, the whole reason why they went over to Japan was to learn about the bike for the Aussie round of the MotoGP.

So with last weekend now under his belt, how he is Toparis feeling about this weekend? He is feeling a bit more confident because it now feels a bit more ‘normal’ now being out on track with the best world such as race winner Romano Fenati or Nicolo Bulega.

“When the likes of Romano or Niccolo [Antonelli] passed me I was like ‘wow’,” said Toparis. “But now that I have been on track with these riders for one weekend now it does feel a bit more normal, so I’m pretty confident heading my home round this weekend.

“I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the team for helping me this weekend. Everyone has just been happy to be here. It’s so hard to do a Moto3 wildcard ride, but that’s the reason why it’s the toughest championship in the world.

“On top of that I can’t our team sponsors enough for getting behind whole project. Without Leda Nutrition, Australian Outdoor Living, Ben Henry from Cube Performance Centre and Marty Redshaw from Underground Designs, this would not be at all possible, so a massive thanks to everyone involved. I just can’t wait to get down to the Island now and race in front of the Australian crowd.”