ASBK ’22: Jones takes the round, Maxwell back in the hunt
Twas a foggy start to the day and there was some talk of a delay to the start of the warmup sessions. But again, the Racing Gods were kind and proceedings kicked off at 9 am for the mi-bike Motorcycle Insurance Australian Superbike Championship, presented by Motul as the OJC headed out on track for their warmup. By 10 am the sun was out, the fog cleared, and we settled in for what would be a great day of racing…
Ordinarily, the morning warm-up would pass with barely a mention. But Wayne Maxwell had noted at the Saturday evening press conference that the Boost Mobile with K tech team would be returning to previous settings, so interest was piqued. The #1 plate was up by a lot on the Friday and just conceded ground in every session from then on. In the warmup it was that Mike Jones (Yamaha Racing Team) from Maxwell with Cru Halliday third.
Notable news from the warmup were crashes from both Lachlan Epis and Broc Pearson- in Pearson’s case, the Racesafe Medical team were dispatched to attend to him. Shortly after the session concluded, Race Direction sent out a bulletin indicating that Pearson was to be transferred to the hospital for further investigation and would play no further part in the day’s proceedings.
As they say, once the flag drops, the BS stops and it was Wayne Maxwell who took the lead into turn one, showing the Yamaha Racing Team pair of Jones and Halliday the way around the 2.2km Wakefield Park Raceway.
It remained thus: Maxwell, Jones and Halliday. Local lad, the much-improved Troy Herfoss, worked his way up to fourth and when Halliday had a small glitch early in the race, Herfoss found himself in contention for a podium spot.
At the front, Jones was probing and poking the bear that is Wayne Maxwell. While Maxwell was not only in P1 and had nailed the fastest lap of the race, he was somehow not riding away. Smooth, yes, alone; no. A .3 of a second lead was the most he could manage and as ASBK Commentator Phil Harlum would note “that’s a Wakefield zero”.
Behind the leading quartet, Bryan Staring found himself in no man’s land while Sissis, Waters, Allerton, Falzon and Epis all fought for position. Marcus Chiodo was having a solid dice with this second group until a crash at turn one ended his race and turned his bike into a collection of spare parts. He walked away, seemingly uninjured, but an ankle injury would see him out for the day.
At the front, it remained tense. At half distance, Maxwell and Jones remained locked in an immoveable arm wrestle. Every fast Maxwell lap saw Jones follow suit. The gap between the two sat at less than .2 of a second and the pundits wondered aloud if Jones was just content to stay where he was and wait for the final act.
While Halliday had fallen into Herfoss’ clutches for a time, he just put his head down and worked his way back into contention, but with six laps to go, he sat just a tantalising .8 off the back of the leading pair. Herfoss had been unable to stay with Halliday and a four-second gap opened.
Jones stopped biding his time with three to go and showed Maxwell a wheel at every opportunity and finally put a pass on the 2021 champion to take the lead into turn three- much to the surprise of onlookers and riders alike.
It was as unexpected as it was brilliant, and Maxwell seemed to have no answer. Immediately, Jones pushed his Yamaha R1 ahead and opened a seemingly unbeatable .6 gap to Maxwell’s familiar Boost Mobile Ducati.
Jones would hit the finish line by 1.118 seconds to take a tactically perfect victory and increase his lead in the Alpinestars Superbike Championship.
Halliday would finish third with the top ten made up of Herfoss, Staring, Sissis, Allerton, Waters, Falzon and West.
In race two, Jones got the good start he needed, and a motivated and aggressive Cru Halliday held on for second with Wayne Maxwell similarly aggressive. These two came together as they came onto the straight and set the tone for the rest of the 20 lap journey.
Halliday would get shuffled back to fourth by Bryan Staring as Jones again tried to get away from the pursuing pack. Maxwell- who lead the first race- now found himself as the hunter and settled happily into second place.
Meanwhile, fifth-placed Troy Herfoss stayed in contention behind Halliday. Up front, Maxwell was all over Jones but these two had now opened a one-second gap to the riders behind. Arthur Sissis showed he’s realising his huge potential by sitting in sixth with a German triumvirate of BMWs behind him in the form of Waters, Allerton and Epis.
Out front, Maxwell seemed to be playing the numbers and saving his tyres. While Jones happily – in Maxwell’s words “did the donkey work”, the 2021 champion did the same thing Jones did in race one; observed, poked and prodded.
Halliday got past Staring in an important championship-points situation. Staring’s tyre woes appeared to have struck as Herfoss also put a pass on the Western Australian’s DesmoSport Panigale.
At the halfway point it was Jones and Maxwell out front with Maxwell “shadowing Jones perfectly” according to ASBK commentator Steve Martin. The tactic also seemed to suit Maxwell physically who had complained of arm pump in race one.
Herfoss and Halliday were trading lap times in third and fourth, but neither was able to set off after the leaders, while Staring was clearly struggling with his Ducati.’s rear grip.
On lap 14, Maxwell ran out of patience- or saw an opportunity- and took the race lead into the last turn. Immediately he did the expected thing and banged out a fast lap. But he might as well have been actually towing Jones around as the blue R1 stayed glued to his tailpipe.
Meanwhile, Herfoss was as brave as he was confident, and tried to get around Halliday, only to run wide and let Halliday get away.
At the pointy end, the tables were turned, with Jones now in hot pursuit. Maxwell was riding 10/10ths and while there were only a few laps left, it was far from over.
Maxwell got out to a .3 second lap, but for all that effort, Jones reeled him in again with a lap to go to get back on terms. For all his efforts, Jones seemed to be losing some drive and Maxwell was clearly hungry for the win.
Maxwell played the last lap to perfection and drove the Ducati to the line to take the win to put himself well into the championship contention in terms of points and perhaps even more importantly, put himself psychologically back in the game.
End of round live press conference: https://youtu.be/A_308YGaw_8
Alpinestars Superbike standings after Round 3
1 46 Mike JONES Yamaha 132
2 1 Wayne MAXWELL Ducati 109
3 67 Bryan STARING Ducati 102
Sean Condon stepped in for the absent Tom Edwards and there were murmurs in the paddock about how a retired rider with a seven-year absence from racing could turn up and take pole.
The talk was not suspicion about Condon’s pace, but rather the lack of it from the rest of the field who, once the flag dropped for Race One, needed to show that season-long racers would beat a one-off guest rider.
Almost immediately after the race started, Tom Drane had an excursion at turn two and that brought out the red flag. Drane remounted and returned to the track. Sean Condon was one of the few riders pleased to see the red flag after he literally missed the start. While being interviewed by Kate Peck for ASBK TV, he admitted that he not only missed the start, but he also wasn’t even sure about how the light sequence worked.
At the restart, Condon repeated his poor start and immediately dropped to fourth, with Lytras, Lynch and Nicholson ahead.
On lap two, all hell broke loose with Bramich, Nicholson and Mahon all crashing in the space of 30 seconds. Nicholson would remount but go a lap down.
Out front, Lytras and Lynch diced for the lead, trading places while Condon looked on. The leading trio would push out to a 6+ second lead. Lytras tried to push hard in the middle part of the race to get a gap, but Lynch and Condon gave him nothing. Condon seemed to be checking out potential passing points while biding his time.
With two laps to go, the lap times dropped under one minute and Condon tried to push past Lynch, but could not find a gap.
Lytras lead them into the final lap and ground out a small, but handy lead. Meanwhile, Condon finally took second place from Lynch, while Lytras saluted for the win.
Mitch Kuhne and Jake Farnsworth were fourth and fifth while Scott Nicholson salvaged some championship points by finishing 10th.
For the post-lunch break race two, the light rain that had threatened to derail everyone’s best-laid plans did the honourable thing and disappeared with some cloud and sun setting up a tantalising battle.
Polesitter Sean Condon had- courtesy of a restart in race one- two race starts and both were ugly. Race two was no different as the bike reared up briefly and he gifted the lead to John Lytras with Ty Lynch and Scott Nicholson filling the top three.
Lytras took the lead and immediately got down to business, pressing home the advantage out to 7/10th of a second while the following trio of Lynch, Nicholson and Condon tried to stay in touch.
Things would remain that way for much of the early and middle part of the race and while Lytras was keen to get away, the pursuers still had him in sight and were not letting go.
In the final third of the race, the leading foursome split into two pairs of Lytras and Lynch and then Nicholson and Condon.
Mitch Kuhne ran out of luck after several heart in mouth moments and crashed, remounting in 12th place.
With two to go, Condon got past Nicholson and set off after the leading pair. Lytras and Lynch started the last lap nose to tail, and it became clear that only they could take the top spot on the podium.
Lytras again showed his determination and stamped not only his authority on the race, but showed he is capable of taking the 2022 title, winning by .520 from Ty Lynch, with Sean Condon on the podium some 1.7 behind.
Scott Nicholson and Tom Bramich were fourth and fifth.
Lytras now ascends to the seemingly cursed leadership of the Michelin Supersport in a season where there have already been three leaders (and nominal leaders) by round three.
Michelin Supersport standings after round 3
1 308 John LYTRAS Yamaha 117
2 85 Ty LYNCH Yamaha 100
3 39 Scott NICHOLSON 82
Dunlop Supersport 300
At the start of race one, the question was whether Dunker could sneak off and not tow anyone around for the 10 lap journey.
But it was not to be, as Dunker fluffed the start, dropped back to fourth and gifted Jonathan Nahlous, Hayden Nelson and Taiyo Aksu the top three spots.
But Dunker had been the fastest 300 rider all weekend and would not be denied. With less than three laps completed, he was back in the lead. The pressure that Dunker created took its toll immediately, with Nahlous trail braking too far into the final turn and folding the front end to crash out of the race.
Dunker now put his head down and tried to eke out a lead. While he would stretch the rubber band between him and the chasing pack, the main straight would see them re-attach to the Dunker freight train.
It was now a race of packs. The lead group of Dunker, Hayden Nelson, Akso and Glenn Nelson had a 6 second lead over pack two of Jacobs, Waters, Nikolis, Swain, Gawith and Championship leader Snell.
With just a few laps to go the leading quartet swapped turns and leadership with Dunker as far down at fourth – but also often leading,
Of course, it would come down to the final corner. Dunker desperately strove for the line with Aksu breaking out from the slipstream to also dive for the finish. It would be Dunker by 9/1000th of a second to Aksu, Hayden Nelson and Glenn Nelson.
The final race of the weekend for the Dunlop Supersport 300s again saw a hotly contested start with Dunker taking the holeshot, in the absence of an apparently injured Jonathan Nahlous who was due to start from P2.
Dunker again tried a magic trick in an attempt to disappear from view and got out to a .4 lead early in the race. Glenn Nelson sensed danger and pushed hard on lap two to get back on terms with Dunker and dragged Taiyo Aksu and Hayden Nelson with him.
The leading four gapped the field with a lonely James Jacobs on the lone Kawasaki caught between two groups.
Thanks to his diminutive stature, Dunker was able to maintain a highly aerodynamic profile that prevented- for a time- any riders from being able to get a solid draft behind him for the overtake.
At half race distance, Glenn Nelson slipped by and lit up the back half of the race. Dunker realised he was not going to be able to sneak off the front and began to dice for lead, taking it back from Glenn Nelson and then giving it back in what can only be described as a “classic Supersport 300 situation”. The lead changed too many times to mention, but the riders were just marking time to position themselves for the finale.
Taiyo Akso showed he wanted to get involved and took the lead while Dunker was shuffled down to fourth and was lucky just to stay on the bike. There were just two laps to go and while the literal gloves were on, the metaphorical ones were off.
Dunker pushed hard to get back into second place on the last lap with Aksu in the lead. Dunker had a look at Aksu here and there, but the assembled crowd were watching for the last turn where Dunker finally took the lead again.
Dunker did all he could to prevent the pursuing riders from making use of the slipstream and he did exactly that, taking the win by .051 from Taiyo Aksu in second and Hayden Nelson in third.
Glenn Nelson – who was in the lead for a time- finished fourth with a four-second gap to James Jacobs in fifth, Liam Waters (6th), Cameron Swain (7th), former championship leader Henry Snell (8th), Brodie Gawith (9th) and Marianos Nikolis (10th).
Yamaha Finance R3 Cup
The baby-faced assassin that is Cameron Dunker took his familiar pole position for the opening Sunday race for the Yamaha Finance R3 Cup and while the pack tried to swamp him into turn one, Dunker’s flouro yellow Yamaha still exited the opening turn in first position.
As the race settled in, Dunker naturally tried to check out of the race, the track and his hotel, but second-placed Hayden Nelson stayed in touch with Glenn Nelson on the move, lapping one second faster than the leading pair as he reeled them in.
Soon it was a train of six: Dunker, Hayden Nelson, Glenn Nelson, Cameron Swain and Taiyo Aksu.
And, as is almost always the case, once you have that many R3’s in close proximity, the lead started to change hands regularly. Dunker found himself down as low as third with the (unrelated) Nelsons at the front.
Into the last lap, Dunker played all of his aces, taking the lead and absolutely riding on the limit “A pretty impressive move” noted former ASBK champion and official commentator Steve Martin.
As always, it was the last corner and the drag to the line and it was Glenn Nelson who played it to perfection, slipstreaming and pulling alongside Dunker to record a cosy 7/1000th of a second win at the line from polesitter Cameron Dunker with Hayden Nelson rounding out the podium.
In the final race, Dunker would again take the holeshot, but this time 2021 OJC champion Cameron Swain would find himself second with Glenn Nelson in third.
After a day of separated pack racing, this final race settled into classic R3 conditions- a long, long train of ten riders all in contention.
Dunker and Glenn Nelson traded places several times and between them created a small gap to Liam Waters in third.
With two laps to go, there was still nothing between them. Liam Waters lead for a time while Dunker and others tried to position themselves for the final salvo.
Into the last lap and the inevitable R3 shenanigans really kicked off. Dunker found himself down in fourth, but as always, not out of the running. He moved into the lead by the last corner, but was now the hunted.
The ol’ run to the line saw a deserving Liam Waters take the slipstream win by the biggest margin of the day – .050! Second was Cameron Dunker followed by Glenn Nelson to round out the podium.
The top ten was made up of Hayden Nelson, Brodie Gawith, Cameron Swain, Taiyo Aksu, Marcus Hamod, Henry Snell and Sam Pezzeta.
bLU cRU Oceania Junior Cup
It was an unusually subdued and cautious bLU cRU Oceania Junior Cup field that made its way to the start line for their first race of the Sunday. A mist/light rain had descended upon the Wakefield circuit and as the riders gridded up on slick tyres the field, families, fans and officials all looked skyward for answers.
Mercifully the track was warm enough to dry the rain before it had a chance to cause carnage. From the get-go, most of the riders rode with care, maturity and the sort of mindfulness that Garry McCoy has been teaching all season.
The race itself saw Hudson Thompson and Harrison Watts aggressively break away from the rest of the riders who – for a change- were not hunting in packs but were rather in a single file with oddly sensible gaps between them.
As the laps wound down, Hudson Thompson seemed to have all he needed in terms of pace to take the win. Watts was close and of course, this being the OJC, being close means you’re still well in the hunt.
The riders chasing Thompson and Watts started to form into a chase group but they did not have enough laps remaining to mount a serious challenge. The stage was set: Thompson v Watts for the win.
Then Hudson Thompson made a mistake he will probably never make again, saluting for the win while actually greeting the one-lap-to-go board. Realising his mistake, he put his head down again to chase after Harrison Watts.
Thompson was able to immediately get on terms with Watts, but at the line, the commentators couldn’t call the win and this time neither rider celebrated. Official timing providers Computime gave the win to Watts by a tiny 2/1000th of a second, with Thompson second and a gap back to Marcus Hamod in third.
It would not end there. After the race, Thompson and Watts were penalised one place each for – in the words of the Clerk of the Course – “…breaching the safety of other competitors”. This was a serious situation and as younger riders in a development series, this was a necessary penalty for weaving over the white line while racing down the start-finish straight.
This elevated third-placed rider Levi Russo to the race win with Watts and Thompson in second and third respectively.
The final race started out in typical manner, but it was Hamod and Rende who joined Thompson at the front as part of a group of six: Thompson, Hamod, Watts, Rende, Russo and Drane.
Thompson managed to get out to a .4 second lead and was hoping to remove the drafting option for those following.
At the halfway point, just four riders remained in contention for the podium and the win: Thompson, Hamod, Watts and Rende. The lead group were mindful of each other as they traded spots, with all four taking a turn at the front.
The final lap beckoned and once again it was 14 (Watts) and 41 (Thompson) at the front as they went into the last corner. And there, a lot happened; Rende made a lunge up the inside for the lead from third, Thompson took the lead from Watts, Watts went back to fourth and Hamod was just happy to be in the hunt in second.
..and there they would finish. Hunter Thompson, Marcus Hamod, Harrison Watts and Cameron Rende in fourth.