AUSTRALIAN Superbikes promises the best domestic line-up in years and the level of talent sitting on the Phillip Island start list for round one of the 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.
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 Australian 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 make 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.
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’.
Meanwhile, the two 22-lap WorldSBK races will be held at 3pm on Saturday and Sunday, with WorldSSP (18 laps) starting at 1.30pm on Sunday.
Tickets for the WorldSBK at Phillip Island are available through Ticketek, with a three-day general admission pass for $120 – a saving of $35 over the gate price.
BarSBK passes, for undercover viewing locations at some of the most spectacular parts of the circuit are $260, while adult single-day passes cost $30 for Friday, $65 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday.
Aussie Superbikes looking good