The Whitsundays; A tropical paradise of crystal clear water and white sandy beaches, a must see destination for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who flock to the area to sample the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef and the deserted islands. But recently, a small percentage of those tourists have had another reason to visit, the Whitsundays has become the heartland of Supermoto racing in Australia.
The Whitsunday Raceway once again played host to the Australian Supermoto championship, the 2014 Crushtek Supermoto championship had been the subject of meticulous planning by the Whitsunday Moto Sports club since the very successful event held at the same venue in 2013. The one variable that could not be planned for was the weather but the shift to winter was expected to improve the chances of fine weather; it seemed mother nature had other ideas, reports coming out of the region in the lead up to the event had the Whitsundays living up to its local nickname... the Wetsundays.
Check out part 2 of the highlights video after the jump.
All Australian titles were up for grabs but the premier S2 category for up to 450cc bikes is the one to win. On paper it looked as if it could go any one of five different ways. 3 times World Superbike champion, Troy Bayliss was an unknown quantity when it comes to Supermoto but with his wealth of experience, everyone expected him to be fast, especially after picking up 3 Australian dirt-track titles the previous weekend at Taree. Last year's S2 champion Andy McLiesh had only recently got out of plaster after breaking his wrist racing in the UK, He would be fast, but could he last the distance? Angus Reekie has had a break from Supermoto while concentrating on road racing but with numerous Australian Supermoto titles to his name, he would surely have to be in the mix. Beau Laing and Jarrod Koppe had to sit out last year's event due to injury but with a return to full fitness and buoyed on by a great performance in the recent Qld championship round, they would both be looking to make amends this year.
Race day dawned cloudy with leaden skies and the threatened rain finally came during qualifying, sending riders and teams scurrying to change to wet weather tyres. With the meeting now declared wet, a new variable was thrown into the mix with most of the local Qld riders unaccustomed to riding in the rain.
The first two S2 races were all about Troy Bayliss and Angus Reekie, Reeekie pushed Bayliss hard for the win but ultimately had to settle for comfortable second places while the following pack got to grips with the now soaked circuit.
Blue skies greeted the competitors on Sunday morning for the second day of racing, but the still wet dirt section meant that by the time morning warm-up had been completed, the dry tarmac quickly became dirty and slippery. Even though the weather was dry, wet weather tyres were still the best choice for the conditions.
Bayliss continued on from where he left off the previous day, almost completing a clean sweep of wins in the Premier class. Defending champ Andy McLiesh was the only one to rain on his parade, managing to grab the victory in the final race and securing second place in the championship. Victorian rider Ben Verhagen was revelling in the Victorian weather conditions on Saturday and coupled with his performance on Sunday meant he finished the weekend on equal third place with former champ Angus Reekie, the result decided on countback meant that Verhagen took home the third place trophy ahead of some much more experienced opposition.
The S1 class was a three-way battle for class honours, multiple-time S1 champ Ross Taylor had the measure of Aaron Watson last year but with little riding under his belt since last year's event, would he be able to hold off the challenge from Watson and current Qld S1 Champ, Beau Laing? Each one of the S1 races played to the same script, Watson and Taylor pushed Laing hard but he held off the challenge to take 5 from 5, Watson finished the weekend in second place with all seconds and Taylor rounded out the podium with 5 third place finishes.
Troy Bayliss wheeled out his “favourite” bike to dominate the S3 (250cc) class. 250 specialist Jack Burgess tried to take the fight to Bayliss but it was not to be, the Mackay rider doing well to secure second place ahead of Michael Carew. It was an unlucky weekend for Luke Burgess, tipped to do well in the class, he was unfortunate to dislocate a shoulder in an incident in one of the S2 races.
Making a return for 2014 was the S10 (Women's) class, with a welcome step up in the numbers of female competitors compared to the previous year's event where Georgia Murray was the lone female. It was expected that Jess Shephard would be the one to watch, especially after recently winning the Australian Women's dirt-track championship at Taree but a wrist injury early in the event put her out of contention. NSW Enduro star Tayla Jones didn't take long to get to grips with Supermoto, taking 5 wins from 5 starts in her first ever Supermoto event, not content with showing the girls how it's done, she also finished a credible 7th in the feature race for the fastest 24 competitors. Local Whitsunday rider, Georgia Murray managed to keep Victorian rider Lahrra Cloak at bay to finish second, Cloak was unlucky not to podium due to a huge crash in race 4 which left her with a DNF. Kirstie Brooks rode well all weekend and her consistency was rewarded with the final spot on the podium.
Ash Rowe stamped his mark on the S4 Clubman open class in a dominant fashion taking every race win by a comfortable margin, the battle for second and third place was closely fought between Sunshine Coast rider, Jad Crowther and Whitsunday club stalwart Mungo McMurtrie, Crowther did well to keep it upright on a slick rear in some terrible conditions. At the conclusion of 5 races both riders were equally placed on 102 points but a countback saw Crowther take the second place with McMurtrie in third.
Shane Osbrough fought off a late charge from Morgan Barton to take out the win in the S5 clubman 450 cc class, Barton didn't trouble the podium in the wet on Saturday but found his form on the second day, securing a second and two firsts to finish up the weekend in second. Jad Crowther backed up his podium in the S4 clubman putting in a consistent performance to finish up with third.
Alex Stever, Brodie Oates, Conner Matthews and Kye Thompson all looked to be in contention for S8 junior class honours but in the end, Thompson was victorious, the Sunshine Coast rider took out 4 wins and the class win in his first supermoto event, Matthews finished second and Oates third.
John Lytras and Brayden Winterburn traded wins all weekend with Lytras getting the better of Winterburn in the first three races and Winterburn returning the favour in the last two races, three points separated both riders at the conclusion of five races but it was John Lytras who took out the class win in the S9 Junior class with Brayden in second. Jett Ogden had to contend with a hard charging Travis hall who was put out of contention with a DNF in the final race, leaving Ogden to take the third spot on the podium.
Andy McLeish made up for losing his S2 crown by taking out the dash for cash feature race in commanding style, the fastest 24 riders started from grid positions chosen by random peg draw. McLiesh started from pole and lead every lap until the chequered flag. The action behind was frantic with Darren Webb crashing out in spectacular style on lap 1, Angus Reekie topped off a less than successful weekend with a crash and retirement and Beau Laing managed to lose the front while pushing hard to make up for a bad draw, remounting, he charged through the pack and used the 10 laps to get back into third place at the flag. Ben Verhagen added another podium to his third in S2 and first in the non-championship Veterans class with a comfortable second place.
Now the dust (and mud) has settled on the Whitsundays, rumours have surfaced about a possible round of the FIM S1 Supermoto championship at the venue in 2018, it will take a lot of hard work but based on how far the Whitsunday raceway and the Whitsunday Moto-Sports club have come in such a short period of time, it instils a high degree of confidence that they can make it happen.