AUS-SBK: Season finale preview

Island set to rock for round seven After a five-state odyssey, the 2004 Shell Advance Australian Superbike Championship will conclude at the majestic Phillip Island circuit in Victoria from September 10-12, with eight of the nine ...

AUS-SBK: Season finale preview

Island set to rock for round seven

After a five-state odyssey, the 2004 Shell Advance Australian Superbike Championship will conclude at the majestic Phillip Island circuit in Victoria from September 10-12, with eight of the nine national-level classes still up for grabs.

Nearly 200 riders will converge on the picturesque 4.448km layout for the final chapter in this year's title race, with the track expected to serve up its regular stock-in-trade -- a smorgasbord of passing opportunities for those willing, on top of thrilling slipstreaming battles down the front straight.

In the premier Superbike class, there is only once fait accompli at the moment -- Suzuki's four-year-old stranglehold on proceedings will come to an end at Phillip Island, where factory pilot Shawn Giles (GSX-R1000) can only finish second at best.

Giles, a three-time Superbike champion between 2000-02 and the lap record holder at Phillip Island (1:35.248), is currently on 242pts after six rounds, eight behind Nikon Yamaha's Shannon Johnson (YZF-R1, 250), and well in arrears of Castrol Honda's Adam Fergusson (CBR1000RR, 316), who has finished on the podium in 13 of the 17 races -- which includes a bank of seven wins.

Fergusson, who hails from Melton in Victoria, clinched this year's Supersport championship in the penultimate round at Queensland Raceway, and victory in the Superbike title will make him the first rider in history to achieve the exalted double. Moreover, if Fergusson gets over the line, it will give Honda its first Superbike title since the late Kirk McCarthy piloted an RC45 to the summit in 1995 -- following on from Big Red's successes with Troy Corser (RC30) and Anthony Gobert (RC45) in 1993 and 1994 respectively.

The equation for Fergusson to hoist the Superbike winner's trophy is simple -- if Johnson, a fellow Victorian, manages to claim pole position and win the opening eight-lap encounter on Sunday morning, Fergusson only has to finish sixth or better to claim the spoils.

On past form, that should be a straightforward task for Fergusson, who won two of the three support races at this year's Australian round of the Superbike World Championship in late March.

Meanwhile, Johnson, the 2002 Supersport champion, is ruing his indifferent start to the year, which had him playing catch-up from the outset.

"If I had got my act together earlier, than who knows," said Johnson, whose recent form has been excellent. "In round one I was riding a new bike, in a new team and on new tyres, so it was always going to be difficult.

"I'm disappointed that the title's a little out of my grasp, but compared to where I was 12 months ago, I am really happy.

"I reckon the pace is going to be really hot at the Island, and I wouldn't be surprised if the lap record is broken -- but is at all depends on what sort of weather is served up."

Johnson's teammate Daniel Stauffer (YZF-R1), who crashed spectacularly at the corresponding Phillip Island round in 2003, will miss this year's proceedings after recent surgery to repair a pre-existing shoulder injury. Daniel, who has won four races this year, is currently 40pts (215 to 175) in front of sibling Jamie (Kawasaki Motors ZX-10R), who is in turn showing Damian Cudlin (Team Suzuki GSX-R1000, 140), the convalescing Josh Brookes (Castrol Honda CBR1000RR, 139) and leading privateer Robert Bugden (Star Yamaha YZF-R1, 130) a clean pair of heels.

Combined, Fergusson and Brookes have won nine races in 2004 for Honda, which has struck instant pay dirt with its all-new CBR1000RR. Yamaha has won six races and Suzuki has the single win with Giles in round six.

In the Supersport battle, Yamaha's pre-eminence from 2003, when Kevin Curtain and Brendan Clarke shared most of the spoils, has been supplanted by Honda, with Fergusson (CBR600RR) claiming champion-designate status in round six. He's now a whopping 106pts (307 to 201) in front of former 250 GP champion Russell Holland (Action Motorcycles CBR600), who leapt up the championship ladder in the penultimate round after a win and two seconds.

However, there's now a real logjam for second, with just 1.5pts separating Holland from fourth-placed Robbie Baird (Kawasaki Motors ZX-6RR). Glenn Allerton (Data Dot Yamaha YZF-R6, 200.5) sits in third. Remarkably, Brookes, who won the opening five races of the title, still remains in fifth on 190pts, although Josh Waters (YZF-R6, 179) will most likely take that spot during one of the three eight-lappers.

Four other classes will fight for official championship honours at Phillip Island -- Sidecar F1, FX Pro-Twins, NakedBike and 125 GP. In the latter, teenager Bryan Staring (Honda RS125), who has just been awarded a wildcard spot in the 125 GP race at the Cinzano Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in October, has been a revelation all year, and is in the box seat to prevail -- in what would be a 10-spot improvement on last year's 11th place finish Staring has 310pts after five rounds, 23 in advance of Mick Kelly (RS125, 287) in the Honda-dominated field.

Matthew Kuhne (Aluma-Lite Racing RS125, 213) is destined to finish third, while three-time champion Peter Galvin (RS125, 164pts) will fight out fourth spot with Brett Simmonds (Tassie Windscreens RS125, 160) and Paul Campbell (Redback RS125, 160). Kuhne and Simmonds will be the other wildcards at the Australian Grand Prix.

In FX Pro-Twins, the fearsome troika of Craig McMartin (Ducati Sydney 999S) and Aluma-Lite Aprilia Racing duo Benn Archibald and John Allen, both riding RSVR Factory machines, have hammered the opposition -- only two other riders have managed a podium position all year.

The result is that McMartin finds himself clear on 308pts after finishing first or second in 12 of the 14 races, ahead of Archibald (285) and Allen (215). The irrepressible trio will play out the last rites to the 15 other FX Pro-Twins competitors at Phillip Island, with McMartin expected to win his maiden Australian championship.

Not content with their headline roles in FX` Pro-Twins, Allen and Archibald, this time on a pair of rapid-fire RSVR Tuonos, have also been in a riotous mood in the NakedBike class, where the latter currently holds sway by a considerable margin -- 337.5 to 296. Simon Rattenbury (Australian Security Concepts, 165pts) is third, on a machine which has won the past two NakedBike crowns -- the Yamaha FZ1.

In Sidecar F1, Neville Lush and Martin Scott (NLR 1000, 194pts) are well placed to make it two in a row, although they are feeling the heat from two combinations which know all about winning national championships too -- Vince Messina/Alison Scoullar (Alvin, 175) and Lindsay Fagan/Ash Voice (Kawasaki, 154). Messina won the title in 2002 for the second time, while Fagan prevailed in 1998-99.

Finally, three classes will complete their battle for Cup honours at Phillip Island, with Jason James/Brett James (Suzuki) and Dave McLachlan/Evelyne Scholz (Yamaha) deadlocked on 173pts in Sidecar F2; Brendan Roberts (Yamaha YZF-R6) the favourite to outlast the massive Superstock field; and Keith Greentree (Honda CBR400) only has to go through the motions to win Ultra-Lites.

Eight races will be held at Phillip Island on Saturday, with the balance -- events 9-25 -- to be run on Sunday, including the three Superbike battles.

A two-day pass is $30, with children under 15 free. Pit access is free, as is parking. Programs will be $5.00.

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