Features 27 Jun 2023

Five Questions: Tom Toparis

Macadam Racing contender on 2023 comeback and BSB Supersport.

Double Australian Supersport champion Tom Toparis was sidelined for 2021 and much of the 2022 season as he underwent a humerus bone operation to correct growth arrest in his arm. 2023 marks the 23-year-old’s first full-season back racing, and he was able to secure a coveted spot with the Macadam Racing Yamaha team to compete in the Supersport category of the British Superbike Championship (BSB). Four rounds in and Toparis has demonstrated he still has plenty of speed after his hiatus, scoring podium finishes while remaining in the hunt for this year’s title. In this latest feature, CycleOnline caught up with the promising R6 rider to ask Five Questions regarding the 2023 opportunity and what could lie ahead.

Image: Supplied.

How did the opportunity to race with the Macadam Racing Yamaha team come about in BSB Supersport? 

I came over here at the end of last year and did a few fill-in rides for the Astro Triumph team, I did two races. In the end, it was my first race back after my injured arm, I couldn’t really ride that well and I had a few issues holding on and stuff like that just because it had been such a long time off the bike – I had to grow my arm 70mm! I was out for a while [2021 and most of the 2022 season], I came back and did those races and while I was over here, like you do, you get talking to people and the opportunity sort of came up that I could maybe ride the Yamaha. I am so lucky, my team is the best team on the grid really, they have won the most championships out of everyone, and for me to even have a sniff of riding for them, my ears pricked up. Got in touch with the guys and when I got back in Australia we did a few Zoom calls and stuff like that, and in the end, it all came together so I’m stoked about that. It had me motivated, when I went back to AUS, although I had gone back with an injury, I still wasn’t right to ride after my arm, but I was motivated to train and do well for this team.

Fast forward to March, I had obviously signed for the team, I had come back over and we went testing in Spain and it was great for me to get back to it. I raced from 2016 – 2020 non-stop, and when you are riding every weekend you sort of get into a rhythm, so then for me to have 2021 and most of 2022 off was big, because you lose your sort of natural rhythm of riding. It’s a weird one because you race motorbikes every weekend and then all of a sudden when you are out with an injury like that, your mind sort of goes away from racing a bit. I just wasn’t thinking about racing like I was the last couple of years, so to have a good couple of months back racing at a high level… for me BSB is the hardest championship – apart from the world championship – that I’ve ever raced in, so to get back and push and race against some of the best guys in Europe, it’s really good for me and I think I am starting to slowly get back to where I was, as in how I’m riding and stuff like that. It is good to feel comfortable again on the bike and mentally thinking about riding, bike set up, when you are into racing it is all you really think about.

We’ve had four rounds so far at a couple of new tracks for me. The way BSB works is we have 11 rounds and some of the tracks we go to twice. I’ve gone to most of the main tracks now, and I think now that we have done a race at each of them and we go around for a second time, hopefully, I have learned a lot and I can improve on what I have already done. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’ve had a few podiums so far and I was really close to a win, so just sort of building up to hopefully getting my first victory – if I can get a race win it will be a big confidence boost for me. Working towards that, last weekend we raced up in Scotland, and I had never been up there either, it was a difficult little track for me but I ended up coming to fourth in the second race, which I think was a good result for me and I enjoyed the race, the last five or six laps I had to pass three guys and for me to come out on top in the little battle I was in, it was a big confidence boost. Just really enjoying it, and hopefully, I can continue to make steps forward as a rider, and like I said, if I can get a win, I’d be stoked. Just trying to be consistent enough that at the end of the year… at the moment I’m fourth in the championship like 20 points off the lead, if I can continue to be consistent and try to minimise my DNFs and stuff, then hopefully at the end of the year I’m in contention for the championship.

Racing in BSB Supersport currently in a top team, where does that lead to for you? 

For most people they obviously want to go to the world championship, I think the world championship is the goal for most people over here and BSB is like the stepping stone to WorldSBK. For me, I like BSB that much that I would love to just race BSB Superbike, something like Brookesy [Josh Brookes] or [Jason] O’Halloran has done. I think that is a realistic goal for me. At the end of the day, I want to be able to race motorbikes and not have to pay money for it. It would be nice to be getting paid and do that as a career, and a lot of the guys in [BSB] Superbike are getting paid, on good money. That’s my goal you could say, make a career in British Superbike. I’d be happy to spend the rest of my career racing over here and if that doesn’t work out, go back to Australia to race Aussie Superbike, that’s my plan B sort of thing, do what like [Troy] Herfoss or Wayno [Wayne Maxwell] has sort of done. That’s my career goal realistically, you are not going to make it to MotoGP at 23 and world superbikes… world superbikes are cool but I don’t know if it’s sort of something that I want to do. Of course, you want to race that level, but money is crazy expensive there. Racing in England is kind of a good thing, because I’ve raced in Germany and some other championships, but racing in England sort of feels like home, just like an overgrown ASBK. There are still family-run teams, but if you have seen the footage of race weekends, there are so many fans that come to the races and they are big meetings. There is a lot of support for this championship which is really good.

Does being a double Australian Supersport champion help reduce the cost to race for a good team over there?

I wouldn’t say it helps with the cost of the racing, but it probably helps with the level of ride you can get. I think that’s a reason that I got this ride was because of my two championships in Australia. From what I’ve been told, that’s sort of one of the main things that got me over the line I think. It is a tough situation with the money thing in racing, everyone tries to be hush-hush about it but there is no secret that it costs a lot of money. Like I said, having two Aussie championships doesn’t really make it any cheaper, there’s not many guys out there who aren’t paying to race motorbikes. Especially the younger guys, some of the older guys are still getting away with it, the guys that are in the later stages of their career, but all of the young guys coming through definitely have got to have some kind of backing. Hopefully, if I can put a good year together… I think it works in some ways, if you are at the stage where you are a championship contender, I don’t really know, but I’m sure then maybe it can be a better situation for you financially.

Image: Supplied.

Have you had any talks with anyone regarding an ASBK Superbike appearance for the final two rounds this year? 

I actually have. I wanted to do it last year, if it wasn’t for my arm still not being 100 percent I would have hopefully done it then. I missed that round, it’s obviously a big spectacle now that end-of-the-year race, since Jack [Miller] has come back and raced I have really wanted to do it. I’ve had a chat with some guys back in AUS, we kind of get home from BSB the week of Phillip Island, so it will probably be a situation where I go straight from here to Melbourne airport and straight to the track. I’m looking forward to it, it’s not secured yet but my plan for this year is definitely to get back home and do those final two rounds which will be really good.

How would you rate your BSB Supersport season so far, four rounds in? 

There’s been some ups and downs, Oulton was definitely the down, in FP1 I was third fastest in the dry and after that we just had… it wasn’t that it was a wet weather weekend, it was like iffy weather – you didn’t know if it was going to be wet or dry. I sort of never got my head around it, and BSB is quite renowned for wet weather, I just didn’t have enough experience in those conditions and I think it cost me. I’m not going to lie, I was crap in the rain, in the first race, they almost didn’t race but they sent us out for an eight-lap sprint to beat the curfew on Saturday night, I just couldn’t get into a rhythm, I had no grip so I struggled there. On the Sunday to make up for the day before, I went out on the first lap of the race coming back from 14th I pushed so hard and had a crash, which I’m furious about because if I didn’t have that crash I would nearly be leading the championship right now.

Apart from those two races, I think they have been quite solid. The first round at Silverstone was a good one for me, I ended up third and I was like 0.4s off the win, raced against some good guys and that was at a new track for me as well, never been there before and didn’t really get a chance to test there in the dry. Donington was a good one for me, I’ve been there before and was second in that first one, and was like fifth in that second one – just solid weekends where I am gathering lots of points. Knockhill on the weekend was another one where I knew I was going to struggle a little bit because I had never seen the track, Thruxton is one track I haven’t been to yet but I’ve been to all the rest of them.

I think now looking forwards there are not really any excuses, like I said before my team is so good and they are so experienced with this bike, I just need to keep in the game. It’s a long year, 11 rounds is quite long compared to AUS. I can feel myself improving as well which is another thing, because I had been out for so long that I was not race-fit. A couple of rounds into the season I can feel myself getting better over the long runs, just physically I feel stronger throughout the race than what I did for say race one of the year. If I can just get a win under my belt in the next couple of rounds, that would really kickstart it a bit. All the other guys in the championship around me have had a race win, and me and Ben Currie haven’t had a win yet. If I can just snag a win it would be unreal, and just kickstart us back into the fight.