Features 12 Apr 2023

Profiled: Hayden Nelson

Supersport rookie on Sydney podium and learning the R6 in 2023 ASBK.

A number of highly-capable young riders have made the step to the Supersport ranks this year in the Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK), with 15-year-old Hayden Nelson a leading protagonist among those. The Yamaha-mounted 600 rookie has swiftly found his feet onboard the R6, and having finished third overall in the most recent round at Sydney Motorsport Park he features in our latest Profiled piece.

With success to his credit racing dirt track, Nelson joined the Oceania Junior Cup (OJC) in 2020 for what was a covid-condensed championship. He finished second in just his second race in the class at Phillip Island and stayed in the category the following year, opening the season with pole position at Winton.

Unfortunately, a fall in race one ruled him out of the remaining races that weekend, but he qualified on pole again during the following round at Wakefield and scored multiple podiums throughout the cup including a win in race three at the Goulburn venue.

Spending a single full season of ASBK in the Supersport 300 and R3 Cup categories the following year, Nelson delivered solid form to finish fourth in the standings for both categories. With his height and other factors considered, he made the decision to transition to Supersport for 2023.

“Being on the 300 was unreal, and I think the competition last year… all the guys were fast and we pushed each other throughout the year,” Nelson explained. “Making the step up to 600s, one thing was my height. I’m quite a tall rider and struggled a lot on the 300 in terms of the slipstream.

“That one was of the aspects for me. The other reason, my family, we can’t afford to go over to Europe or overseas, at this moment that is not an option. We were looking at Supersport and knew there were a lot of people stepping up, and guys like Sean [Condon] coming back to Supersport.

“We thought ‘this is going to be such a competitive class, why wouldn’t you want to be in it with so much to learn? There are so many good guys that are all going to be pushing each other’.

“I finished fourth in the 300s last year, and although it would have been nice to use the experience… it was my first year in the class, it would have been unreal to stay again and have all of the experience, but I think in the big picture the 600 was the better option.”

Image: Foremost Media.

Showing early promise throughout pre-season events, Nelson then completed his first weekend in the national Supersport ranks with a P4 finish in race three amidst the drying conditions at Phillip Island. Coincidentally, he was faced with somewhat similar conditions in race two at the following ASBK round in Sydney.

“It turned out the weather at Phillip Island was similar to Sydney [at round two], so that was obviously one thing,” Nelson added. “The Island, it looked like we may have got a wet race, and in typical Phillip Island fashion we did, and essentially the same thing happened at Sydney. “I honestly had done about five laps in the wet on a 600 before that Phillip Island race.

“At the Island it was good, but it was a big leap. Not only was it my first race [on a 600 in ASBK], but it was in conjunction with World Superbikes which brings a whole new standard and all of that.”

An impressive qualifying performance in the following round at Sydney Motorsport Park saw Nelson post a 1m33.758s to line-up P6 and on the second row of the grid, converting that to early pace in race one to feature inside the top five before being regulated to eighth position as the bout progressed.

“The biggest thing for me moving to the 600 is the rear-wheel grip,” he continued. “You’ve got three-times as much horsepower as a 300 and only about 20 kilos heavier. The power to weight, the 600 is a real motorbike, it’s got some power.

“For myself, learning to pick the bike up, and also, Dad and my mechanics – our small little team, learning how to set up a bigger bike. Then me, learning how to ride it, pick the bike up.

“I found at Sydney, especially in the racing, I’m really fast from the get-go and can put down some decent laps. It’s just that end of the race, keeping the tyre good.

“All of those little things, I’m very close to the pace at the start of the race, but just little things for me and the bike towards the end, I think that is where it is limiting us at the moment.”

Race two under lights in Sydney presented a difficult dynamic for Supersport contenders as the track was drying and riders were split on whether to choose slick or wet tyres. Nelson ultimately chose slicks, keeping his composure through the race to finish P5 and set the fastest lap of the race.

Image: Foremost Media.

“In the rain at Sydney it was actually quite funny, I was pitted in garage 49 I think it was, the closest to turn 12,” he said. “I looked outside the garage and we thought, this here is dry, so I rolled out of pitlane on slicks of course.

“We were silly enough not to watch the OJC race beforehand and had no idea that by the end of the pitlane it was wet. I pretty much rolled out of pitlane on slicks, everyone was rolling out next to me and I was seeing wets, wets. I thought ‘oh, I’m on here’ and I get down to the end of pitlane and there is spray coming off the wets. I looked down at my slicks and they were covered in water and thought ‘this is going to be fun’.

The 8-5 scorecard was ultimately enough for Nelson to land third overall in Sydney and score his first ASBK Supersport round podium, however, he wasn’t fully aware he had achieved the feat until after the race.

“I wasn’t sure, because I knew that Sean had crashed, he crashed about a metre from my front wheel,” Nelson stated. “So I knew that one, and actually at the start, Jake [Farnsworth] had been wheeled off the grid and he was quite ahead in the points as well.

“I didn’t really process that I had got third, one of the guys from ASBK came and gotme and told me I got on the podium for third. It was pretty good, the hard work put in during the pre-season by my team and myself that we put in with the bike and all of the development because the bike was an unknown to everyone pretty much.”

With two rounds down and four to go in the 2023 Australian Supersport Championship, Nelson is seventh in the points standings and will be looking to continue to build next time out at Queensland Raceway, between 28-30 April.

“Third was good, but it makes you want to get more you know,” he continued. “For the experience I’ve got, to be somewhere in the ballpark mixing it with these guys, is positive. I think I have got to shift my expectations to no, I’m not just going to try and run with them, I’ve got to have my best crack at trying to beat these guys.

“That’s where I am going to learn the most. If I am right at the front trying to mix it with them, I’m not going to learn as much sitting 30 metres back off them.

“I’ve got to keep learning. My mechanic made a good point, there are three steps to going well. You’ve got to first start to ride fast, then once you are riding fast you are with the guys and you can learn that, but once you are there you have got to learn to win. We are sort of pretty close to the guys now around that leading group, so now I have got to learn to win.”