Features 2 Mar 2023

Q&A: What we learned from Phillip Island

Further breaking down the opening round of ASBK 2023.

In typical Phillip Island fashion, riders were faced with their share of variable weather conditions across the opening round of the 2023 Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK), with early leaders and contenders emerging following the first three races of the season. CycleOnline answers some of the key questions that arose from the first round of the season in this Q&A feature.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Can Josh Waters carry this form throughout the whole season? 

A: Labelled by many as the pre-season favourite, McMartin Racing Ducati rider Josh Waters delivered at Phillip Island to take a perfect 76 points in dominant fashion, posting a new ASBK qualifying and race lap record on his way to pole and three victories. Pre-season testing would indicate Waters is in a position to do the same at round two, Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP), but the big question as to whether he can keep this advantage throughout the whole season will be the Queensland rounds, where reigning champion Mike Jones (Yamaha Racing Team) has been historically strong on the R1 – particularly at Queensland Raceway. Waters himself said Morgan Park is the ‘dark one’ for him, but if he is able to win there it could likely be the critical blow to his rivals that will help pave his way to the title. Obviously, a lot is to happen before that point and Yamaha Racing Team duo Jones and Cru Halliday will be doing everything in their power to bridge the deficit they currently face, with the number 65 himself showing strong form at the SMSP pre-season test and Jones a proven winner on the Yamaha last year at Queensland Raceway, Hidden Valley and The Bend (Wakefield Park’s not on this year’s calendar). Troy Herfoss and Penrite Honda Racing admittedly suffered grip issues at Phillip Island, but if this can be resolved in the upcoming rounds, you can never discount the Fireblade rider.

Q: Who would be the most disappointed with their performance? 

A: DesmoSport Ducati’s Broc Pearson was plagued by electronics problems at Phillip Island, leaving the Queensland-based rider unable to deliver the results his pre-season form might suggest. He ultimately qualified ninth and finished 10th overall with 10-9-11 results. Signed as the sole DesmoSport Ducati rider for this season, Pearson was fifth fastest at the Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP) pre-season test and will be looking to get on top of the issues with the team so he can challenge up the pointy end come round two on 24-25 March.

Q: Were there any major casualties in the opening round?

A: Thankfully, there were no major casualties throughout the opening round. Halliday was able to walk away from his turn-three scare in the opening encounter and compete the next day, rebounding to score a pair of second-place finishes. While Mark Chiodo (Honda) did not contest race three after a crash in race two, this was due to a lack of available race-ready spares on hand rather than injury. With all of the key Superbike contenders healthy leaving the opening round, we can look forward to the battles ahead at Sydney Motorsport Park in less than one month’s time.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Can we draw any early title contenders from a Supersport weekend of attrition? 

A: Supersport contenders were faced with different weather in each of the three races, ranging from dry, completely wet and drying track conditions. Ultimately it was last season’s runner-up Ty Lynch who stood tall, showing speed and composure when it counted to claim the overall. Riding with a fractured talus bone, reigning John Lytras champion kept himself right in contention, notably scoring a pair of fourths in the tricky conditions throughout races two and three. He is currently P4 in the standings, seven points back from Lynch. What was a major shake-up in terms of the Supersport round one points tally was race two in the wet, with last year’s number three Tom Bramich, Olly Simpson – who was right in contention in 2022 before injury at Wakefield, Dallas Skeer, Sean Condon, impressive rookie Cameron Dunker and Scott Nicholson all going down or limping to a low finish. Adding to the carnage Sydney Motorsport Summer Night Series winner Jake Farnsworth high-sided out of second during race three. Each rider listed could arguably be a top three candidate this year in terms of the Supersport Championship, so for them to miss out on valuable points throughout the weekend places the likes of Lynch, Jack Passfield and John Lytras in a position of strength. That said, it is a long season and Lytras had a low points haul at round one last year and was able to recover and capture the championship come race two at The Bend. Harrison Voight had a clear pace advantage over the weekend and if it wasn’t for his fall while leading in race two, he would have won the overall. Voight will not contest the full season, however, venturing to Europe to compete in the European Moto2 Championship, which leaves it all to play for in the 600 class come Sydney Motorsport Park.

Q: Is there anyone who surprised in terms of their performance?

A: With limited time with the MotoGo Yamaha team in the build-up to round one, Bryan Staring impressed to qualify fourth fastest courtesy of a 1m32.075s. Limited by a wrong tyre choice in the re-started race one and bad starts throughout the weekend, Staring ultimately finished eighth overall, but was in the mix with Herfoss, Glenn Allerton (BMW) and Arthur Sissis (Unitech Racing Yamaha). It was a case of results not meeting the potential shown, but there is certainly early promise there for both Staring and the MotoGo Yamaha team. After missing the Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP) test and a number of pre-season races due to a V4 R not yet being sourced with an emerging Sydney-based team, three-time champion Allerton banked solid points. With such Ducati machinery still not available for Allerton come round one, he made the decision to compete onboard a Shane Kinderis-prepared BMW M 1000 RR in a similar dynamic to which he competed last season. The number 14 finished a strong third in race one and completed the round fourth overall. We wouldn’t say the performance of Staring or Allerton was surprising considering their proven capabilities, however, under the circumstances leading up to round one for each what they were able to deliver was certainly commendable. A notable mention also goes out to Max Stauffer (GTR MotoStars Yamaha), who has vastly improved throughout the off-season, his qualifying result of P6 testament to his progress.