Features 20 Dec 2023

CycleOnline AUS Awards: 2023

Annual feature highlighting the winners and events of the year gone by.

In the 2023 edition of the CycleOnline AUS Awards, we name the leading performers and storylines of the season past in a reflection of domestic and international competition. These are done purely for editorial purposes, pieced together from an Australian perspective via what we witnessed during the year both locally and abroad.

Image: Foremost Media.

National Rider of the Year – Troy Herfoss:
The 2023 campaign of Herfoss was nothing short of impressive and capped off a remarkable comeback after sustaining career-threatening injuries at Hidden Valley in 2021. The Penrite Honda Racing rider really began to find his feet at round three, sweeping Queensland Raceway to then win the following rounds at Hidden Valley and Morgan Park. Entering The Bend level on points with Josh Waters (McMartin Racing Ducati) Herfoss delivered pole and two race wins to secure the title, his third in the Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship premier class.

International Rider of the Year – Francesco Bagnaia:
Defending a title, especially in the MotoGP World Championship, is no small feat, but that’s exactly what Ducati Lenovo Team’s Francesco Bagnaia accomplished in 2023. When his back was against the wall, Bagnaia delivered, and with the composure of a champion in the closing stages of the season he withstood the charge of Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing). In doing so, he became the first rider in the in the MotoGP era to defend the title with the number one on their bike.

Rookie of the Year – Cameron Dunker:
On his 16th birthday, Australian Supersport rookie Cameron Dunker secured the title in the category at The Bend, becoming the youngest ever championship winner in the class. Dunker has shown maturity beyond his years to take race wins throughout the season in a variety of settings, also keeping his cool in pivotal moments throughout the campaign. It marks his third title in the ASBK paddock in two years after capturing both the Supersport 300 and R3 Cup Championships last year, with his future clearly a bright one.

Personality of the Year – Jack Miller:
While it was an up-and-down season for Jack Miller in his first year with Red Bull KTM Factory Racing in MotoGP, his personality and genuine interaction with the fans speaks volume. Whether it is asking engaging and funny questions to fellow racers while live on the Riders Parade, or putting in an extra effort to connect with those that follow the sport, the personality of Miller is one that he can be proud of. A special moment throughout the year was when he made the effort in the rain the walk across the track and interact with the fans after MotoGP proceedings were cancelled prematurely on Sunday at the Australian MotoGP.

Image: Supplied.

Series of the Year – MotoGP World Championship:
With an exciting new sprint race format introduced in 2023, the MotoGP World Championship arguably became an even more thrilling spectacle. The half-distance, half-length sprints produced a share of pivotal moments, and made Saturday’s that bit more exciting with both qualifying and the shorter race. Friday’s received an added point of intrigue mid-way through the year when it was determined that just a single session would determine direct entry into Q2, being practice in the afternoon. On top of the format changes, the racing in the championship itself was exciting having eight different grand prix winners and no back-to-back winners for the first time since 1949.

Most Anticipated Model – 2024 KTM 1390 Super Duke R:
The KTM 1390 SuperDuke R – and the up-spec Evo – is all-new for 2024 and brings intuitive WP Semi-Active Suspension Technology (SAT) to the fore on the Evo model, able to automatically adapt to the rider’s input or road surface. With 1350cc, 190hp at 10,000rpm, and 145Nm of torque at 8000rpm, it boasts a new aggressive look to match. Essentially the 2024 KTM 1390 SuperDuke R replaces its 1290 predecessor with more power and a host of features to provide the ultimate thrill on the road.

Top Team – McMartin Racing:
Losing a title sponsor is never easy for any team, let alone a privateer one, but it was clear in the pre-season that Boost Mobile and McMartin Racing would not continue its partnership to that extent in 2023. However, the team found a way to make things work, securing a variety of one-event title sponsors throughout the year in a professional appearance, both on and off the track. On top of that, it performed exceptionally, with Waters winning three rounds and seven races to narrowly miss out on the championship.

Best Event – Phillip Island WorldSBK:
In 2023 Phillip Island returned to its original grid slot as the season-opening Superbike World Championship (WorldSBK) event in late February, also hosting the Mi-Bike Australian Superbike Championship (ASBK) opener. Despite mixed weather throughout the weekend, the program was action-packed with great racing that saw Australia’s own Remy Gardner debut with the GYTR GRT Yamaha team in WorldSBK. The event is always popular and generally speaking it’s a nicer time of the year at the Island temperature-wise – bring on February 2024!

Hottest Topic – Troy Herfoss leaves Honda:
Sending shockwaves through the domestic paddock, Herfoss announced his exit from Honda and the Penrite Honda Racing team ahead of the final round of the season at The Bend. It raises the hot topic of where he will go next, with the now three-time ASBK champion outlining an international and domestic scope, also indicating he could retire if the right opportunity wasn’t out there. It also begs the question of Penrite Honda Racing’s future, and if they continue next year, who would be in line to replace Herfoss? We’re hearing that, unfortunately, the team may not be back at all.

Image: Supplied.

Greatest Disappointment – No MotoGP race Sunday at Phillip Island:
The Phillip Island weather certainly played a key role in how the 2023 Australian MotoGP unfolded. In response to the inclement weather forecast, multiple schedule changes occurred throughout the weekend, headlined by the MotoGP Australian GP race pushed forward to Saturday – which was won by Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Racing) – and all races pushed forward one hour on the Sunday to beat the weather. The Moto3 race went ahead, with Australia’s Joel Kelso scoring a popular home podium, while Moto2 was shortened due to the conditions and the MotoGP sprint race cancelled. It’s always disappointing to see an event unable to run the full schedule, especially when it’s the MotoGP at home.

Most Surprising Moment – RNF out of MotoGP:
While there was speculation about the exit of the RNF Racing Team, the manner in which it happened was perhaps a surprise in its own right. Shortly after the Valencia GP, Dorna effectively removed RNF from the MotoGP grid due to ‘repeated infractions and breaches of the participation agreement’. As a result, the team lost its grid spots, with American outfit Trackhouse Racing its effective replacement, and will run as an Independent Aprilia team on a three-year deal, commencing next season. Previously riding for RNF, both Raul Fernandez and Miguel Oliveira will compete for the new outfit, crucially onboard the latest spec Aprilia machinery.

Social Standout – Jason O’Halloran:
Regarded as one of the best Aussie exports that we have, Jason O’Halloran continues to apply his craft in the British Superbike Championship (BSB) and was sixth in the final standings this year. If you’re seeking a true glimpse behind the scenes of BSB, O’Halloran is an ideal follow on social media, especially as he makes the anticipated transition from Yamaha to Kawasaki machinery for 2024. Between on-track updates and a relevant share of storytelling in between, he’s setting a high standard in this important area of placing himself well and truly on the radar.

Special mention – Senna Agius/Jacob Roulstone:
There are a number of Australian riders who have done great things both domestically and internationally in 2023, but a special mention needs to go to Senna Agius for winning the European Moto2 Championship. The Liqui Moly Husqvarna Intact GP Junior Team rider delivered a commanding campaign with eight wins, including a back of the grid to first effort at Valencia. He will step up to the Moto2 World Championship full-time next year, while impressive Moto3 racer Jacob Roulstone will also graduate to the world championship with the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team. Roulstone completed the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup season inside the top five, notably scoring a strong P2 in the opening encounter at Jerez. Additionally, he is a previous winner in the European Talent Cup and notched runner-up results at Valencia and Catalunya in the JuniorGP World Championship.