The temperature raised as the action on the track heated up for the Darwin round of ASBK. With the field swapping places all weekend, it was Mike Jones who eventually took home the round win and extended his championship lead…
Early on it was Bryan Staring aboard the frankly stunning indigenous-round-liveried DesmoSport Ducati who banked the fastest lap. Staring looked and sounded afterward very comfortable aboard the 2021 race winning team bike. Staring bristled at suggestions that he was losing touch with the leading pair of Maxwell and Jones and his early form- and indeed pace across the day- indicates that the Western Australian is well in the hunt not only for the top step this weekend, but championship contention.
The 2021 champion has a theory- and we all know it, and he’s done it for years- post a ludicrously fast time and make the other riders work for it. Sure enough, he nailed the fasted time in FP1 and then left it to Staring and Mike Jones to duke it out for second and third respectively.
Mike Jones would not be denied. A few clever changes in both bike setup and mindset saw the familiar Yamaha hit the top of the table for FP2 and indeed bank the fastest lap of the day. While FP2 didn’t provide conditions as conducive to fast laps as FP1, the reality was the riders found a little more and all progressed. For FP2 it was Jones- who not only managed a race simulation, but then went to a softer tyre and banged out a succession of fastest laps. One rider confided afterward; “This weekend is his for the taking”. Maxwell and Staring rounded out the top three for FP2.
Bryan Staring cleverly countered the Jones phenom by getting out early in Free Practice 3 and posting a fast time to again challenge the field to “come at me”. The track temperature was now fifty-hell-no and after a few solid sessions from everything from Supercars to Porsches and Hyundai Excels, the track had “gone away”. Bryan Staring would later admit he wasn’t sure if it was the cars or the temperature that had slowed things, but it was certainly not as fast as it was earlier in the day.
And while earlier sessions had been all about lap times and tuning, the early running in FP3 was apparently “who would like to crash?” with a multitude of riders – mercifully largely uninjured- finding themselves off track. Josh Waters, Luke Macdonald, Marc Chiodo and Ant West all crashed, and it was clear that there was a high level of pressure and expectation.
The day ended with combined times giving the nod to Jones from Maxwell and Staring. A much-improved Glenn Allerton – in his 100th ASBK event – found some time hidden deep in the M 1000 RR followed by Yamaha’s Cru Halliday who ought to be pleased with yet another consistent performance.
Former Darwin race winner, Honda’s Troy Herfoss and on-the-improve Arthur Sissis were sixth and seventh, with Lachlan Epis keen to make up for lost time in eighth, Daniel Falzon in ninth and Josh Waters down in tenth after his crash in FP3.
Saturday morning brings things to a head early with the first 20-minute qualifying session at 9:10am. The second session sees them back on track at 9:35am for the top 12 and at 1:20pm the best Superbike racers in the country will be unleashed for 16 laps. With no more practice sessions and a lot to play for, Saturday will be as fascinating as it could be pivotal for season 2022.
ASBK Darwin Friday Combined Top 3 (Full results here)
1 Mike Jones- Yamaha YZF-R1 1:05.506
2 Wayne Maxwell- Ducati V4R 1:05.591
3 Bryan Staring- Ducati V4R 1:05.772
The qualifying sessions for the Merlin Darwin Triple Crown were one of the best and most exciting sessions seen in many years. While the early session just saw top riders do enough to avoid missing Q2, for the second session the top 12 riders in the country put on a show.
Mike Jones did enough in Q1 to ensure he would be there for Q2, whereas Wayne Maxwell did a Wayne Maxwell and of course topped the sheets when that was not required. But when it really mattered in the second qualifying session, Jones got down to business and hit a 1:05.411 that he followed a while later with a 1:05.333 and then a fastest-for the-weekend 1:05.213.
While it wasn’t into the 1:04s that various pundits had predicted, the feeling in the paddock was that Maxwell would need to keep it together and his early qualifying laps- that included a short off circuit excursion- indicated that perhaps the reigning champion would not be able to have a solid dip in the last few minutes.
And then everyone else had a dip. With a few minutes to go a glance at the timing monitors was eye popping as a multitude of riders mid-lap were dipping into the fastest lap, lap record and personal best territory. As has been often the case, the longest and hardest sector- three- would be the undoing of many …except for Wayne Maxwell, who just pushed through to take not only the pole position, but get into the 1:04s, the qualifying record time and – but for Mike Jones’ emphatic race simulation times on Friday- warm favouritism for the opening race.
ASBK Darwin Grid (Full results here)
1 Wayne Maxwell – Ducati V4R 1:04.962
2 Mike Jones – Yamaha YZF-R1 1:05.213
3 Bryan Staring – Ducati V4R 1:05.330
One could not ignore the achievement of Troy Herfoss fighting his way out- not only from sixth place on the grid- but out of a Darwin Hospital where he was 12 months ago to the day after his worst ever crash- a crash that many thought would see the end of his career.
That Mike Jones was out front reeling off lap after consistent lap was impressive- and frankly might be the start of a critical and definitive run to the 2022 Championship- but it was hard to get past not only the Herfoss result, but also the battle that he and Bryan Staring had to get to the line.
The race started off at the expected frenetic pace with the magnificent DesmoSport Ducati in its one-off indigenous livery, firing off the line from third into first for turn one. Bryan Staring wisely didn’t go too deep into the opening turn and that spooked then-second placed Arthur Sissis who had also had a huge start from seventh.
After leading for five laps, Staring found himself second to the number 46 Yamaha after Mike Jones decided that he had the pace and tyres to go to the line. As soon as he hit the lead, Jones focused on smooth, consistent laps and eked out a small, but noticeable gap.
While it was not immediately obvious to anyone off track, early in the race, 2021 Champion Wayne Maxwell was in trouble. His electronics were not on song, and he was losing power and drive in places where there was no need to drop power. Riders around him pounced as the big Ducati popped and burped its way around the Hidden Valley layout. Fourth in race one was a good outcome given the circumstances.
Glenn Allerton had been relegated from eight to tenth after a track limits breach in qualifying and apparently that situation had fired him up as he took the BMW M 1000 RR from tenth to fourth. In his 100th ASBK round, Allerton was not in the mood for a mid-pack finish.
In his 100th ASBK round, Allerton was not in the mood for a mid-pack finish…
Glenn found himself in a group that were all looking to work their way back into podium contention and while he was unable to get by Maxwell, fifth on the day was a good outcome on a weekend where the Maxima Oils Racing Team appear to be making significant steps forward.
Allerton’s teammate Josh Waters also had a great start but some timing glitches with his transponder made it difficult to establish just exactly how he was going. For all the issues with his timing, he did in fact nail the fastest lap of the race with a 1:05.499 and after a difficult Friday eighth was not what he wanted…
Cru Halliday had a poor start and went from sixth to eighth. While he would work his way past a few riders, on the day the best he could manage was a return to sixth by the checkered flag.
For the leading group, it was all panning out to Mike Jones’ liking as he stretched his lead a little each lap. Herfoss had passed Maxwell and while you could not see his face, the attitude of the Honda and Herfoss’ body language showed he was absolutely looking to bridge the multi second gap to Staring.
And he did. With just two laps left, Herfoss arrived for what would be the battle of the day. With respect for each other, but a championship and the day’s honours to battle for, they traded positions multiple times and nearly sent themselves off track on the last lap. It was nail biting, exciting and brilliant dicing with Herfoss coming out the winner- albeit for second place on the day.
While the Staring/Herfoss fight was holding the attention of the TV directors and fans, Jones quietly took the Championship by the scruff of the neck as he took race one. He might have missed the bonus point for pole, but the 25 points for the win was ample compensation. With nominal non-title contender Herfoss second, the stretch in Jones’ Championship points lead over Maxwell and Staring was an added bonus.
ASBK Darwin Race One Podium (Full Results Here)
1 Mike Jones – Yamaha YZF-R1
2 Troy Herfoss – Honda CBR RR +3.260
3 Bryan Staring – Ducati V4R +3.616
For Wayne Maxwell and Arthur Sissis, they found themselves as the yin and yang of Race Two. Arthur repeated his good start of yesterday but with a little greatness thrown in this time round, taking his Yamaha from seventh to first into turn one. For Wayne Maxwell, short of crashing, he could not have had a worse start. “Like a kid trying to pop a wheelie on a BMX” was the call from the track announcer and it was hard to argue with that analysis, as the reigning champion effectively swapped grid places with Sissis.
It felt like a pivotal moment for both men. For Sissis it was the realisation that he could not only get to the front, but he could box on with the likes of Herfoss, Jones, Halliday and Allerton. For Maxwell, it appeared to be the moment he conceded more points to Jones and with it potentially the title.
Up front, for five solid laps Arthur Sissis contested the lead and was P1 every time over the finish line. The South Australian Sissis gave as good as he got, showing that a good start was not all he had. In a field of wily, older racers, it was gratifying to see a twenty something serving up a hot bowl of quality race craft to the olde brigade. Staring had to use everything he had at his disposal- including the mighty DesmoSport Ducati’s straight-line advantage- to squeeze into the lead.
Championship leader Mike Jones just did that thing he does; circulating steadily and without fanfare while everyone else dropped bombs and occasionally banged fairings. It was easy to get suckered into an MMA-style battle for position, but the blue 46 Yamaha of Jones sat comfortably in fourth. While Sissis was conceding the lead to Staring on lap five, the formerly serene Jones found himself being passed by man-on-a-mission Wayne Maxwell. There was no dicing, the #1 Ducati just blew by him as Maxwell had eyes only for the front of the field.
Herfoss barged his way past Sissis and kindly left a Mike Jones sized gap and then Arthur out braked himself into turn one, running wide and just like that, a podium chance went begging. Maxwell remained fixated on his mission and despite the Pirellis having great grip for the whole distance thus far, it was hard to believe he hadn’t somehow set them afire with his relentless pace that included a lap record (1:05.407).
As the race drew closer to the checkered flag, it was a race between two warring parties: Maxwell and Staring, Jones and Herfoss. With the usual benefit of hindsight, they ought to have called a ceasefire to get away- or catch up- as their dicing was slowing their pace and the leading pair could not get away allowing the chasers to stay within a shot. Jones pulled out all he had and was able to get past Staring on the last lap.
But it was Maxwell at the flag who had been able to bang out some solid laps to deny Jones any chance of a tow to the line and take the win. Staring came home in third with Herfoss in fourth, unable to match his heroic second from Saturday. He later conceded that his pace is his pace and there’s not much left.
The top four completed the 16-lap journey inside Jones’ winning time from Saturday, a fair indication of how the track was perhaps better, but also that the riders and teams found a little more to close the gap to Mike Jones. One rider noted it was a “good old-fashioned race with battles everywhere” and that was evident from the provisional lap chart.
ASBK Darwin Race Two Podium (Full Results Here)
1 Wayne Maxwell – Ducati V4R
2 Mike Jones – Yamaha YZF-R1 +0.249
3 Bryan Staring – Ducati V4R +0.734
Early on, it wasn’t funny, but it was certainly entertaining as the leading duo in the championship were also the leading duo in race three. They swapped the lead a few times and then a resurgent and confident Glenn Allerton found himself back close to the front again. On lap four Allerton pushed past longtime rival Maxwell and with all the self-confidence we know Glenn has, he clearly began to think about winning the race.
Maxwell, however, fell into the clutches of Staring and Herfoss, and coming out of turn six he just twisted the throttle a little too much and had the easiest, slowest and costliest low side. He knew what the stakes were and did not let go of the bike, preferring to spin to a slow stop while gripping onto the bike and his title chances with both hands. Maxwell remounted, but there would be no repeat of his race two heroics, the front runners were gone and the gap to season-saving points was half a lap up the road.
This middle phase of the race made it clear that it’s time Mike Jones retired the “Mad Mike” moniker. Mad has too many aggressive and wild connotations. His performance this weekend and particularly in race three was not mad. Some said it was robotic, and if this is true, then he is the Terminator. He just did everything needed to execute the mission. Solid laps, a bigger gap and then eyes were just on the battle for second as the blue R1 with the familiar 46 on it loudly drew away from the field.
The battle for second was on in earnest with the trio of Allerton, Staring and Herfoss all rightly laying claim to the spot while Halliday and Sissis drove their Yamahas hard to stay in contact. Allerton found himself down as low as fourth, Herfoss as high as second, but also as low as fourth. With three laps to go, Staring had both Allerton and Herfoss push past and set sail for the line. Their battle would come down to the last corners and when Herfoss tried his usual up-the-inside move, Allerton placed himself decisively in his way and Herfoss was unable to perform his favorite move. That was how they ran to the line. Jones – Daylight- Allerton– Herfoss– Staring.
Wayne Maxwell was able to move up to 11th for ten points and salvage something from the low side disaster at turn six, but now finds himself some 40 points (162) behind Jones (202). It is not insurmountable, but every time Jones has a round where he stretches his lead, Maxwell has one less round to catch him. The maths look difficult with three rounds, six races remaining and a maximum of 153 points on offer.
For the other top contenders- Staring (155) is now within 7 points of second in the Championship, while Halliday, Herfoss and Waters find themselves – incredibly – on the same points in fourth (136). That will be some kind of battle for the rest of the season. Allerton and Sissis are next and also sit together on 131 points. The Championship now has a mid-winter break before reconvening at Morgan Park 5-7 August, with the regular classes rejoining us for what promises to be a hectic back half of the season.
ASBK Darwin Race Three Podium (Full Results Here)
1 Mike Jones – Yamaha YZF-R1
2 Glenn Allerton – BMW M RR +6.502
3 Troy Herfoss – Honda CBR RR +6.950
ASBK Championship Standings After Darwin Rd4 (Full Standings Here)
1 Mike Jones – Yamaha YZF-R1 – 202
2 Wayne Maxwell – Ducati V4R – 162
3 Bryan Staring – Ducati V4R – 155