Big guns locked in for Stanthorpe
The opening round of the Maxxis-backed Australian Supermoto Championship will be held at Stanthorpe (Qld) this Sunday, with a staggering array of talent set to line-up in the hybrid road/dirt event.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the premier S2 (250cc two-stroke versus 450cc four-stroke) class, where nearly half of the 31 competitors have won Australian motorcycle championships in disciplines including road racing, dirt track, enduro, long track -- and, of course, supermoto.
In S2, the top three riders from the 2003 national championship -- Yamaha YZ450F duo Mark Willis and Adam Altham and Kent Nielsen (Honda CRF450R) -- will all return to defend title honour, with the star-studded opposition set to come from the likes of Stuart Bennett (KTM 450SXR), Mark Avard (YZ450F), Graham Cheney (Husaberg FC450), Danny Ham (Suzuki DR-Z450) and the road racing quartet of Shannon Johnson (YZ450F), eight-time world Superbike winner Anthony Gobert (CRF450R), Melbournian Jordon Coote (YZ450F) and Judd Greedy (CRF450R).
To that ensemble cast you can add more recent conversions to the supermoto cause - dual Australian dirt track champion Troy Herfoss (Husqvarna TC450) and his contemporary Michael Kirkness (CRF450R), twice Australian 250 GP champion Shaun Geronimi (YZ450F), Chad Turnbull (TC450), and enduro gun Ryan Bouquet (CRF450R).
On top of the new supermoto-philes, another four of last year's top 10 S2 riders will back-up again in 2004: CRF450R-riding siblings Andy and Steve Fisher, Josh Houwen (YZ450F) and stuntman Rob Jones (DR-Z450). Steve Fisher was fourth overall in 2004, with his zenith a 91pt effort at Wagga Wagga's damp round two.
Bennett, Cheney and Avard scored the trifecta in the S1 class of the 2003 championship and, as such, should make a strong first-up impression in S2 at Stanthorpe -- emboldened by their strong showing at last year's equivalent Carnell Raceway-hosted round. In that meeting, Bennett, who recently represented Australia at the 2004 International Six Days' Enduro in Poland, scored 92pts out of a possible 100 in S1, with Avard second on 87 from Cheney (67). Meanwhile, Nielsen proved to be the rain master in S2 on that wet Queensland day, motoring to a sublime, round-high 97pt haul ahead of Altham and Steve Fisher (both 80).
Meanwhile, Willis, a former 500 GP punter, hit his nadir at Stanthorpe in 2003, only adding a mere 32pts to his scorecard after a first-up win was followed by some wayward riding and, eventually, mechanical despair.
"My memories from last year are not the greatest, but I actually really enjoy competing at Stanthorpe," said Willis, who has defected from Honda to Yamaha in 2004. "This year's battle is going to be extremely tough -- much tougher than last year -- but it's a challenge I am really looking forward to.
"There are so many top guys from all sorts of disciplines, which should make for exceptional racing. Stanthorpe suited the guys with a dirt-orientated background last year, so I'm expecting the likes of Bennett to be right on the pace this Sunday."
In addition to the lustre of the S2 class, three other championships will kick off their campaigns in Queensland -- two more than last year. S1 (over 450cc two-stroke versus 450-700cc four-stroke) remains on the roster, with Cheney (Husaberg), second last year, set to kick off proceedings as favourite against a cast of 15 other riders.
S3 (125-200cc two-stroke versus up to 250cc four-stroke) is the first of the new officially recognised classes, with eight of the 10 competitors aboard a Yamaha 250 -- including the standout duo, Altham and Rodney Taplin.
Finally, the junior brigade (S7/S8) completes the championship set, catering for 125cc two-stroke and 250cc four-stroke machinery.
Twenty-five races will be held on Sunday, with the S1 and S3 protagonists each earmarked for four outings -- 10 and eight-lap races respectively. Meanwhile, the S2 riders, courtesy of the high number of entries, will have to fight their way through heats and semis to get into the main action -- two 12-lappers.
The balance of the program will be completed by the three championship junior races and support events for quads and veteran/clubman competitors.
Entry is $20 for adults, $10 for children and $50 for a family. For more information, visit the official championship website at www.ozmotox.com