Features 26 Oct 2023

Q&A: How ASBK is unfolding

Dissecting the 2023 season after five rounds of the championship.

With three and a half months since the last outing at Morgan Park, the 2023 Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) makes its eager return to action this weekend at Phillip Island. As things heat up entering the penultimate round of the season, CycleOnline answers some of the key questions that have emerged over the extended break and from the action that has unfolded so far.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: What are the key developments that have unfolded during the extended break? 

A: Current national Superbike leader Troy Herfoss (Penrite Honda Racing) fell while preparing for a ProMX cameo at QMP, the Tuesday following the Morgan Park round. While no one ever wishes to get hurt, the timing of the incident in relation to his ASBK title fight couldn’t really have been better. Despite breaking his collarbone, suffering several broken ribs and subsequently a collapsed lung, Herfoss has made a positive recovery and cited after a Victorian Road Race Championship (VRRC) outing at Phillip Island in September and indicated that ‘it didn’t feel like I’d had an injury’. The Penrite Honda rider additionally spent a lot of time based in Melbourne during the build-up to round six, as he is putting everything into finishing the season in the best possible way. Nearest rival Josh Waters (McMartin Racing Ducati) also battled his share of damage between Morgan Park and Phillip Island, undergoing wrist surgery following a qualifying crash that ruled him out from the Suzuka 8 Hours in August. Also of note, Waters dislocated his shoulder in the incident, with scans revealing that he had refractured a recent fracture in his shoulder, sustained right before Morgan Park. Waters has been back on the V4 R since, completing laps at Phillip Island and also Tailem Bend. Also in the Superbike category, the DesmoSport Ducati team has now built a 2023 V4 R for Broc Pearson, with his first competitive outing on the latest platform to be at round six. In the Supersport ranks, the 666 Racing with Stop and Seal team has brought in a powerhouse line-up, providing support to rookie standout Hayden Nelson, in addition to fielding double national Supersport champion Tom Toparis across the final two rounds. Defending Supersport champion John Lytras (Yamaha) has been forced to the sidelines following multiple breaks to his right wrist in a motocross crash, and likewise Tom Bramich will miss the final two rounds after undergoing surgery on his injured right knee.

Q: How can we expect the national Supersport field to stack up against the returning Toparis?

A: This year marked the first full season back for Toparis after a lengthy tenure on the sidelines as he corrected growth arrest in his right arm. That said, he showed no signs of having lost any speed throughout the 2023 campaign, and finished a commendable third in the British Supersport Championship standings with the Macadam Racing team onboard a Yamaha. The question now lies, how will he stack up against the current crop of national Supersport talent in Australia. On his own R6 earlier in the season, he was able to keep European Moto2 Championship rider Harrison Voight – also Yamaha-equipped – honest in St George Summer Night Series races at Sydney Motorsport Park. Voight competed in the last round of ASBK at The Bend in 2022, and the opening round at Phillip Island, and was untouchable in terms of his outright pace – setting a new lap record at the latter. You would think the bike Toparis will be riding for Stop and Seal will not be shy when it comes to performance, and with his previous track record and his Supersport World Championship experience at ‘The Island’, it would not be a surprise to see Toparis sweep the weekend. That said, the national pool of talent, spearheaded by championship leader Olly Simpson (Yamaha), will be determined to show the level domestically has at least somewhat bridged the gap to that of the high international standard, and you can’t imagine that Toparis will have any success handed to him.  The key thing in this dynamic is that Toparis, having missed the first five rounds, is completely out of contention for title, while Simpson holds a 13-point advantage ahead of Cameron Dunker, with Ty Lynch – who won the opening round of the year at Phillip Island – currently third in the championship battle and four points back from Dunker. Whether Toparis takes points away from winning races, or finishes in between key title protagonists, there’s no doubt his proven speed will certainly impact how this Supersport Championship fight unfolds. Of note, Toparis will also ride a Superbike for the Stop and Seal team on Friday, with a decision pending on whether he will complete the weekend in both classes or focus solely on Supersport.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Is there a realistic chance for anyone outside of the leading two to challenge for the Superbike title? 

A: Just 14-points separate Herfoss and Waters at the head of the standings, with 60 points between third-placed Mike Jones (Yamaha Racing Team) and the championship lead. With four races to go and a maximum of 102 points up for grabs, realistically the championship is shaping up to be a two-rider battle for first, then a three-rider battle for third between Jones, Glenn Allerton (GT Racing Team BMW) and Cru Halliday (Yamaha Racing Team). Waters and Herfoss are the only two riders to win a race so far this year, with the number 21 sweeping rounds one and two in terms of race wins, plus the opening bout at Darwin, while Herfoss has been on the top step in the other six races. Essentially Waters had the early momentum, but that has swung to the Fireblade rider. Jones holds just a six-point lead ahead of Allerton for P3 in the standings, and having been so close to victory a number of times this season against Herfoss. The Queenslander will be eager to chalk some victories while wearing the number one plate, a tough round in Sydney with a mechanical DNF seeing him lose valuable points in the standings. Phillip Island has increasingly been a strong suit for teammate Halliday in recent years, and despite the number 65 suffering a high-speed fall at the Hayshed while testing in the build-up to round six, a strong weekend at the Island could bring him right back in contention for a series podium, as he is currently 25 points behind Jones in the title-race. With all of this being said, it is racing and anything can happen, but it would take an extreme event/s for both Herfoss and Waters to be caught in the standings.

Q: Who enters Phillip Island in elevated form? 

A: Two riders come to mind, Allerton and Max Stauffer (GTR MotoStars Yamaha). The three-time ASBK champion swept the latest VRRC outing at the venue, including winning the coveted Harvey Wiltshire Trophy against the likes of Herfoss and Jones. Allerton has gone from strength to strength since the debut of GT Racing at Sydney Motorsport Park, and will be hungry to convert his strong form shown in the break to further ASBK success. Meanwhile, Stauffer displayed great promise at the VRRC event, fighting right in the leading group. Casting our minds back to round one at Phillip Island in February, Stauffer was fast there too, qualifying on the second row, but bad luck in the races ultimately restricted him. Obviously, you can’t look past Waters as a favourite for the weekend though, considering his record-setting pace and blistering dominance at the opening round this year. The key change for him will be that he’s on equipped with the latest V4 R this time around, which he transitioned to at Hidden Valley. Herfoss has spent a lot of time at Phillip Island in the build-up to this event, which should pay dividends especially when it comes to races.

Q: Outside of those mentioned, which riders are also worth tracking on at round six? 

Aprilia-mounted Matt Walters will be making his return to the grid, having missed Morgan Park to ensure the correct time for the Motec electronics to be installed and initially shaken down. On a relatively standard Aprilia RSV4 1100, Walters made some solid strides forward across the opening four rounds, and now with a more complete package plus prior experience on the platform at Phillip Island, he will be keen to make the next step. Jed Metcher (Yamaha) also features on the Superbike entry list, notably with Michelin tyres on his bike. In one what has become a Pirelli-dominated series, it will be interesting to see how Metcher fairs on the French rubber following his absence from the first five rounds. Also, Anthony West (Addicted To Track Yamaha) boasts a wealth of experience around Phillip Island, and he too showed strong form at the recent VRRC outing. The progress of MotoGO Yamaha’s Bryan Staring, plus seeing how Arthur Sissis (Unitech Racing) fares after his VRRC off will also be worth watching.