It’s stacking up to be a super-scorcher, with massive entry lists confirmed today for the national classes supporting the world categories in February 24-26’s opening Yamaha Finance round of the 2017 Superbike World Championships at Phillip Island.
With 147 riders lining up for the four national classes – Australian superbike, Australian supersport, supersport 300 and historics – grids in superbikes and supersport 300 are actually oversubscribed and riders will have to be at the best from the word go to make the race cut (see below for further details about the grid ruling).
Adding to the pressure, riders in superbike, supersport and supersport 300 will be facing the first round of their seven round national championship, so a shocker in qualifying to miss the start grid would spell disaster for a season launch.
It’s all adding up to a spectacular three days of on-track bike action. Sixteen races will be run, comprising the three world championship events in world superbike and world supersport, three races apiece for domestic superbike, supersport and supersport 300, and four outings for the historic bikes of yesteryear.
The Australian Superbike Championship has enjoyed a renaissance in the last couple of years, and the popularity of the class is reflected in 43 riders enlisted. And what a line-up across the three 12-lap Yamaha Finance races, with experienced hands like reigning champion Troy Herfoss, Wayne Maxwell, Glenn Allerton; international players returning home like Bryan Staring, Josh Waters, Matt Walters and Alex Phillis; and strong contenders Cru Halliday, Robbie Bugden, Daniel Falzon and Beau Beaton.
They’ll all lock horns and face an onslaught from the young stars like Michael Blair, Callum Spriggs and Troy Guenther. Blair was the fastest in a recent ASBK test at Phillip Island ahead of Allerton, Falzon and Maxwell. (see further on field in additional story below).
Aussie supersport has attracted 35 entries, with Luke Mitchell the most highly credentialed following his third place in the 2016 championship. Mark Chiodo appears the man to beat though after setting a cracking pace at the recent Phillip Island test session. The supersport races will be held over 10 laps.
Qualifying alone will throw up a challenge for the 300 supersport competitors, with 48 riders entered! The burgeoning class is proving to be a magnet for experienced riders and emerging talent alike, with a number of the rookies coming straight from dirt track competition – a discipline that has helped mould a number of Aussie road racing icons like Casey Stoner. WorldSBK icon Troy Bayliss’ son Ollie will be one of the riders in the three eight-lap races.
Finally, the majority of the 21 riders in historics will be backing up from the recent Island Classic meeting, including Chas Hern, Dean Oughtred and Craig Ditchburn – the trio most likely to be circulating at the pointy end in the four six-lappers.
Meanwhile, the two 22-lap WorldSBK races will be held at 3:00pm on Saturday and Sunday, with WorldSSP (18 laps) starting at 1:30pm on Sunday.
Aussie Superbikes: Stars At Every Turn
Australian superbikes promise the best domestic line-up in years and the level of talent sitting on the Phillip Island start list for round one of their seven round 2017 Aussie title chase is quite extraordinary.
There’s 43 riders enlisted for the three 12-lap Yamaha Finance races, with a clutch of exceptionally fast incumbents joined by returning Aussie superbike champions who’ve been racing overseas and riders joining the scene from other classes and series.
The huge roll-call will arrive en masse for the round, and the anticipation is palpable.
Let’s start with the incumbents, which is a potent enough roll call in itself. Troy Herfoss (Honda) is the rider everyone is gunning for after winning his first Aussie superbike title in 2016 ahead of Yamaha pair Glenn Allerton and Wayne Maxwell.
That trio will all return, but Herfoss has a new teammate in West Aussie Bryan Staring, who will make a full-time return to Australia for the first time since winning the 2010 domestic superbike title. Since then, Staring has spent a year in MotoGP as well as winning Superstock 1000 FIM Cup races.
Two-time Aussie superbike champion Josh Waters is also back for another full-time campaign after competing in the final round of the 2016 championship on a Yamaha. But he’ll now link up with Suzuki in 2017, the marque which has brought him the most success locally.
Yamaha trio Cru Halliday, Michael Blair and Daniel Falzon also return from 2016 ASBK duties, while experienced Kawasaki pair Matt Walters and Robbie Budgen are welcome additions to the scene.
Former European 600 superstock champion Jed Metcher (Yamaha) will also race at Phillip Island, while the rookies looking to snap the domination of the experienced clientele include Troy Guenther (BMW), Callum Spriggs (Ducati) and Kyle Buckley (Kawasaki).
Spriggs has replaced the Superstock 1000 FIM Cup-bound Mike Jones at the Troy Bayliss-owned Ducati team, while the impressive Guenther won the 2016 Australian supersport title. Mitch Levy (Yamaha) is another former supersport rider making the jump to the premier class.
Alex Phillis is also a late addition to the field on an Aprilia. The son of Aussie superbike legend Robbie Phillis has just come off a brilliant performance at the Island Classic in late January when he won took out the final International Challenge race after holding out the hard-charging Jeremy McWilliams.
So how’s the form guide shaping up? In testing at Phillip Island in late January, Blair was the big surprise as he went fastest from Allerton, Falzon, Maxwell, Herfoss, Bugden, Staring, Beau Beaton (Ducati), Walters and Halliday.
However, riders like Staring will be much better off for the gallop, while Maxwell and Allerton are also former Australian superbike champions for one reason: they know when to flick the switch. And Herfoss will be desperate to start his title defence off on a strong footing.
The lap record for Australian superbikes at Phillip Island is an impressive 1:32.316, held by Maxwell, which is only a couple of seconds off the benchmark for WorldSBK where the machines carry a much higher state of tune.
The class is all about showcasing the latest generation of high-performance four-stroke street bikes in a cut-throat environment – and there’s no more testing location than the sweeping curves of Phillip Island.
Superbikes have been at the pinnacle of domestic road racing since 1987 — and unofficially about a decade before that as riders like Aussie Wayne Gardner and Kiwi Graeme Crosby pioneered the category with machines that weren’t always the sweetest handling, but had buckets of horsepower and ‘character’.
Grid Ruling From Supplementary Regulations
Maximum grid capacity for Practice and Qualifying for all classes is 48.
Maximum grid capacity for Racing is 40 for Superbike, Supersport and Australian Period 5/6 and 42 for Supersport 300.
If the number of qualifiers exceeds the grid limit, positions will be determined by qualifying times.
Riders who qualify but are not allocated a grid position due the grid limit will be considered as reserves in the event of withdrawals.
National Support Classes Entry Lists
The 2017 FIM Motul Superbike World Championship kicks off at Australia’s Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit with the Yamaha Finance round from February 24-26, and is set to be a scorcher. Go to at www.worldsbk.com.au or call the Superbike Hotline on 1300 728 007 for tickets and general event information.
Pre-purchase your 3-Day General Admission ticket for $120*, saving $35 on the gate price. Get the best views at Bar SBK for only $260** with undercover viewing locations at the circuit’s most spectacular points – Doohan Corner, Lukey Heights and Siberia. Pre-purchased adult single day tickets start at $30* for Friday, $65* for Saturday and $80* for Sunday.
*All prices quoted are pre-purchase ticket prices. Pre-purchase ends 4pm Wednesday 22nd February 2017
**Available for pre-purchase only