Aussie motorcycle racers make their mark in 2004
Here's a refrain to kick off proceedings -- "Australia has a rich history in motorcycle racing". More than ever, that oft-mentioned verse holds true, with the country continuing to nurture motorcycle racers of the highest calibre who, more often than not, make a seamless transition onto the international arena.
That global success is not a result of happenstance, but instead a function of the ultra-professional way motorcycle racing at a domestic level is conducted -- melded with a liberal dose of that trademark Aussie spirit and determination. In 2004, a whopping nine Australian riders won world championship events, with three of them reaching the giddy heights of world champion -- Jason Crump (speedway), Stefan Merriman (enduro) and Karl Muggeridge (Supersport). The triple treat -- which equals previous Aussie efforts in 1997 and 2003 -- has taken the overall Australian world championship count to 35, kick started by Lionel van Praag's victory in the 1936 speedway title. Of the 35 victories, Mick Doohan (five 500cc GP titles) and Merriman (four enduro) are the pantheons -- with the latter still at his pernicious best.
In addition to Crump -- who clinched he speedway title after three successive years as runner-up - Merriman and Muggeridge, the remaining Aussie riders who won world championship events in 2004 were Leigh Adams (speedway), Andrew McFarlane (motocross), Chris Vermeulen (Superbike), Garry McCoy (Superbike), Casey Stoner (125 GP) and Josh Brookes (Supersport). Of the sextet, McFarlane, Vermeulen, McCoy and Brookes were first-time winners in their respective disciplines, with the latter's victory as a wildcard in the Australian round of the Supersport World Championship particularly meritorious. Meanwhile, the Yamaha-mounted McFarlane became just the third Aussie to win a world motocross race after Jeff Leisk and Chad Reed.
On top of the triumvirate of world championship winners, Parkes, Adams, Vermeulen, Stoner and Rory Schlein (junior speedway) all managed to finish in the top five at season's end, with Parkes second behind Muggeridge in Supersport. For the record, Muggeridge became the third Australian world Supersport winner in its six-year existence, with Andrew Pitt (2001) and Vermeulen (2003) doing the damage earlier on.
Muggeridge, like Vermeulen a year before, will now step up to world Superbike in 2005, where he will be joined by six countrymen -- Australia's largest-ever representation in the championship.
Other luminaries on the international arena in 2004 included Mathew Mladin, Aaron Gobert and Chad Reed, who all won American national championships. Mladin won an unprecedented fifth Superbike title, while Gobert, the 2000 Australian Australian 250 Production champion, emerged victorious in Superstock.
As for Reed, he became just the third foreigner to win the AMA 250cc supercross title in its 31-year existence after steamrolling the opposition. The 2003 world supercross champion finished first or second in every round on his factory Yamaha YZ250, including a scintillating bank of nine victories.
Other domestic winners in 2004 included the bespectacled Schlien in the Scottish speedway championship, and Merriman, who near-whitewashed the Italian enduro title for the second year running.
From a team perspective, Australia's five-man speedway operation failed to reach the final of the British-hosted World Cup for the first time since 2000 after it was eliminated in the last-chance qualifier. Australia is a four-time winner of the World Cup, with three of its triumphs coming since 1999. That left Australia's Trial des Nations team as the beacon in 2004 after it finished fourth in the second-tier International Trophy division. Finally, the Dutch-held Motocross of Nations saw an undermanned Australia finished a respectable 13th.
That was the international focus in 2004 -- and what a year it was at the domestic level. With two championships still to be finalised -- senior long track and supermoto -- the racing has been superb, producing contests of the highest order. Congratulations to the 83 individuals and four teams who have been crowned Australian champions thus far, with a special mention to the five riders who managed to win two classes in the same championship -- Adam Fergusson (road racing), and the dirt track quartet of Tom Armstrong, Todd Kurtz (both juniors), Troy Herfoss and Ken Bisley.
Fergusson, aboard Hondas, dominated the Superbike and Supersport classes in the Shell Advance Australian Superbike Championship (SAASC), especially after teammate Brookes -- who had scythed through the early rounds -- broke his pelvis in Perth and missed the final three hitouts.
With all four Japanese marques represented at the distributor-level in the 2004 SAASC, supported by a number of highly credentialled privateers, the racing was cut-throat. And, thanks to a posse of naming rights' sponsors, including Yamaha, Honda, Akubra, Tom's Cycle City Yamaha, Jack Daniel's and Trialzone, the remaining Aussie titles were also highly successful affairs -- in both the senior and junior divisions.
So what's in the pipeline for 2005? As usual, Phillip Island will play host to the antipodean legs of the MotoGP, Superbike and Supersport world titles, while the Australian Safari will return to the Cross-Country Rallies World Championship calendar. As well, a full complement of Australian titles will again be held, kicking off with the entire quota of speedway events in the first quarter.