Features 8 Jun 2023

Top 10: Topics to follow in ASBK

Key points to be aware of at the halfway stage of the 2023 season.

The 2023 Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) fast approaches the halfway point of the season at Hidden Valley, and a number of interesting storylines have unfolded across the early rounds. As the series head to Darwin next weekend, CycleOnline looks at the Top 10 topics to follow.

Image: Foremost Media.

1. Chasing Waters:
Josh Waters has been a force to be reckoned with since joining the McMartin Racing Ducati team, and the three-time champion made his intentions clear for a record fourth ASBK premier class title by winning five from five races to start the season. After his success at Phillip Island and Sydney Motorsport Park (SMSP), round three at Queensland Raceway was not as smooth sailing for the number 21, with a crash in qualifying followed by a 4-4 scorecard in Sunday’s races. The outcome saw his championship lead cut 18 points ahead of Hidden Valley, with the upcoming round in Darwin sure to be pivotal one in terms of how the momentum swings in the 2023 season. Will Waters extend and really put his stamp on this year’s championship, or will someone rise and stop the Ducati rider from returning to the top?

2. Herfoss back to winning ways:
If there’s one person that has emerged as the clear challenger to Waters in terms of the championship, it’s Penrite Honda Racing’s Troy Herfoss. ‘Herf’ kept himself in contention across the opening two rounds with podium results, and fired a dangerous shot signalling his return to winning form at Queensland Raceway with a perfect weekend, pole and two race victories – the first time we have seen him deliver that kind of performance since his major accident in 2021.  He has seemingly maintained solid form since the third round of the 2023 season, entering the 1m12s bracket in chilly conditions while recently testing at Morgan Park, and genuinely enters Hidden Valley believing he can win.

3. Three races in Darwin alongside the Supercars:
Darwin is a highly anticipated event each season on the ASBK calendar, the unique 2.873km layout combined with scorching temperatures provide an demanding challenge for riders and teams. It is the only round on the current ASBK calendar that is held in conjunction with a round of the Supercars Championship, attracting great crowds and producing an electric atmosphere. While the ASBK support classes do not attend, it is one of two rounds throughout the 2023 season where premier class contenders compete in three races compared to the standard two. What makes this round extra intriguing is that it’s perhaps the circuit where the winner is most uncertain. Waters has been successful in the past at the venue, Herfoss too, the round last year marking an uplift for the Honda rider. Jones was the winner last year, showing the Yamaha is capable of victory at the Darwin circuit, so that’s three potential race winners with arguably no clear favourite. The list doesn’t end there, but it is certainly all to play for in the fourth round of the season.

4. Pirelli the Superbike tyre of choice:
All of the current front-running contenders have moved to one brand of tyre in the premier class, and that is Pirelli. Michelin’s marquee ASBK entry was Herfoss throughout the 2020 and 2021 seasons, winning a total of six races including a single-round victory at Wakefield in that period. Herfoss and Penrite Honda made a shock switch to Pirelli as the 2022 season opened at Phillip Island and have continued to use the brand since. 727 Moto Racing had committed to making a Michelin switch for the 2023 campaign, but so far they have not fielded a premier class entry in any of the three rounds contested in 2023. Anthony West was Dunlop’s leading ASBK entry, but after parting ways with the MotoGo Yamaha team he has been Pirelli equipped in his outings with the Addicted to Track outfit. Likewise, MotoGo Yamaha has switched to Pirelli with its new rider for 2023 Bryan Staring. In the Supersport category, there is a greater spread of leading riders on various brands, but in the premier class, Pirelli appears certainly the tyre of choice.

5. Defending champion Jones looking to rebound:
When looking at the things within reigning champions Mike Jones control, 2023 has been a relatively solid showing for the number one. He’s scored five podium finishes across the Phillip Island and Queensland Raceway rounds, but Sydney Motorsport Park was a real dent to his title defence ambitions. After qualifying third and looking set for what seemed to be a comfortable P3 in race one, disaster struck, however, on lap 10 when a mechanical issue forced him out of the race, with his primary race bike ultimately catching and remaining on fire for an extended period. Deemed as the cause of the red flag, he received no points for that race. Left with one bike, the Yamaha Racing Team had minimal time to change to wet settings prior to the final race’s restart, and Jones limped to P10 in race two in Sydney. He lost immense ground in the title race that weekend, but a 2-2 result in Queensland saw him begin to claw his way back up the standings to fifth, 56 points from Waters. It’s racing and anything can happen, and regardless of whether Jones is trying to claw back further points in the title race or simply underline why he has the number one plate, he will be looking to replicate his round victory from Darwin last year when the series competes at Hidden Valley next weekend.

Image: Foremost Media.

6. Halliday knocking on the door:
It seems a matter of when – not if – Cru Halliday will return to the top step in the premier class, having stood on the podium in every race he has finished this season. The only real blemish in the number 65’s campaign was the season-opening race at Phillip Island when he was involved in a high-speed racing incident at turn three, ultimately resulting in a DNF. A refreshed approach for Halliday in 2023 has seen him with a new crew chief in the form of Brent Stephens – former MotoGP mechanic for Valentino Rossi – and while Hidden Valley hasn’t been his strongest track on paper, he has proved that you can’t count him out at any venue this year and he could be in the frame for a really strong weekend in Darwin.

7. Consistent Allerton still in the hunt:
GT Racing’s Glenn Allerton has kept himself in the hunt across the opening three rounds this season, featuring consistently in the top five to emerge from the third round in Queensland equal third in the championship with Halliday. The BMW-mounted rider completed the opening round at Phillip Island fourth overall, and was again fourth overall in Sydney for round two – his first outing with the newly formed GT Racing Team, owned by Trevor Groeneveld. After a 5-5 scorecard at Queensland Raceway, the number 14 is 45 points from Waters. Allerton has been a staple leading rider for BMW, and if he just find that bit extra he will be right in the mix to return to his proven winning ways.

8. Walters making headway with Aprilia:
After an extended 13-year racing tenure with Kawasaki, Matt Walters made the switch to the Aprilia RSV4 1100 platform for 2023. His move to the Italian manufacturer saw him remain on Pirelli tyres, but move to K-Tech suspension for the first time. With minimal pre-season testing, Walters qualified 13th at Phillip Island’s opener, 4.715s from pole. He reduced that deficit to the front of the grid to 3.557s at Sydney, and then chopped it further at Queensland Raceway to 2.458s, all while banking valuable race mileage throughout the weekends to help with the development of the bike. It is understood Walters has competed on a very basic spec bike across the first three rounds, with more race-spec components to arrive in the second half of the season.

9. DesmoSport in search of more:
It hasn’t been the fairytale start for DesmoSport Ducati in 2023, with sole team rider Broc Pearson currently eighth in the standings after battling a share of gremlins in the opening rounds. Pearson impressed on debut with the team last year to go 4-4 at Morgan Park, but has been unable to match that form since. The team did receive its share of scepticism after they picked Pearson instead of former team rider Staring for its sole spot in 2023, and Pearson is chomping at the bit to prove they made the right decision. Despite having not competed yet at Hidden Valley, the former Australian Supersport champion will be looking to at least ensure he is in front of the satellite and privateer entries while delivering a strong showing to help build momentum ahead of Morgan Park – likely to be a crucial point in his season. Pearson has proven he has the potential to be competitive on a Superbike, and likewise, the DesmoSport Ducati team boasts a championship-winning pedigree.

10. Healthy variety of manufacturers used in the series:
While only two riders, and two different manufacturers, have won premier class races so far this season, there is a healthy variety of different brands competing in the national Superbike category. Obviously, there are the staple entries such as Penrite Honda Racing, Yamaha Racing Team, Desmosport Ducati and McMartin Racing Ducati, but BCperfomance is on the grid with young Paris Hardwick onboard the Kawasaki. Stay tuned, but there is speculation that the outfit owned by Kelvin Riley is plotting to return at a larger scale once more. BMW has a highly-capable representation of three-time Australian Superbike champion Allerton with the GT Racing Team, and also with former Supersport champion Ted Collins competing with the well-presented Livson Racing outfit. Finally, with Walters making the switch to Aprilia, that’s six manufacturers set to be represented throughout the entirety of the series.