The weekend of the fourth and final round of the GP Juniors Australian Junior Road Racing Championships at Winton is done and dusted, and what an absolutely sensational weekend it was.
Being an official part of the YMF Australian Superbike Championship was a moment that was not lost on the kids that competed, nor for the families.
The 14 bikes were split into three classes with the best turnout of 150s for years, with six on the grid, accompanied by five in the 70cc class and three in the up to 85cc class.
It was the strongest field of the year, and even with a couple of late cancellations there were 14 entries including two cross-entries from the 300cc Production category with MRRDA/GP Junior graduates Reid Battye and Zane Ford showing support by entering the races.
The line-up of youngsters that took part in the historic event. In a few years, some could be household names.
Going into the meeting, the fastest bikes in the field are the 85cc class and Joel Kelso (JDS Moto RMU 80) was a solitary point in front of Victorian, Scott Nicholson (G Williams MC Eng Honda RS85) with Peter Terlich (RMU GP80) a distant third. In the 150cc class Ben Bramich (Ron Angel Racing Honda CBR 150) had a commanding 29 point buffer over Ned Faulkhead with Jack Cousens third, while in the toddler, 12 inch wheel, 70cc two strokes Travis Hall held a 27 points lead over Ben Baker and Travis’ brother, Joshua in third.
After the weekend, three of these riders would have the honour of being an Australian Champion.
A special mention has to go to Sandgroper, Stephen O’Brien and his son, Callum. They had a last minute hiccup in flying to Melbourne, so Stephen drove instead. That’s commitment.
The final round saw the race debut in Australia of the little Suzuki GSX-150 and what a little head turner they are. The occasion may not be too large in the scheme of things but as far as the GP Juniors is concerned it is a beacon and will be seriously considered as a contender for the future.
The four Suzukis were the centre of attention all weekend, no more so than the trio of teenagers who were picked to ride them. The three teenagers that were to ride them were Jack Cousins, Ned Faulkhead and Callum O’Brien. Jack tested the bike at Eastern Creek a few weeks previously and loved the bike. Ned’s bike had lunched itself the week before at the Vic Champs and after Callum’s massive trek across the country, it wasn’t surprising that he was offered one of the new steeds.
Suzuki Australia shipped four into the country and they were all at the track with three of them to be raced and one to be used as a spare. A big thanks to Lewis Croft from Suzuki for allowing them to be put on track.
A massive thanks to Dave Cousens for picking the bikes up and providing transport to Winton, as well as, loaning his Honda CBR 150 to Reid Battye for the weekend. Great effort.
Arriving at the track on Thursday afternoon it appeared that a flood was not far off; the ground sodden with more puddles and mini lakes making the walk through the paddock a shoe soaking .
As everyone was setting up the signs weren’t good for a dry weekend but that didn’t lessons the spirits no matter what heavens were dumping.
Friday dawned wet and miserable with everyone up early to take part in a track walk. Thanks to the officials for allowing this to take place as it was very important for the youngsters to have a look at the track. In drizzling rain they headed off with Aussie and world champion Steve Martin who passed on some tips as to how to approach the track in the miserable conditions.
Soon after the inspection, the kids were given their very own riders’ briefing by Clerk of the Course, Tom Williams. Tom explained the procedure of the meeting, safety and what would be in store for them in their first meeting with the championship proper.
Friday free practice was a drawn out affairs with the two sessions but plenty of time to set up the pit garages and for the kids to do what they normally do when not on track; being kids!
To see all the bikes lined up in pit lane waiting to go out in their first session was a proud moment. Even though it was wet, most of the riders were champing at the bit to get out there, particularly the lads on the little Gixxers, all eager to debut the bikes.
Reid Battye was straight into it and took the fastest spot on a sodden track with streams of run soaking wet track and an 11.4 deg air temp stunned his rivals, displaying the worth of racing in the 300cc Production Championship. His rivals were agog with 150cc series leader, Ben Bramich exclaiming, “he came past me with his knee on the deck through a big stream of water!”
The weather caused many riders, from all classes to crash, but after the two sessions the GP Junior competitors could feel happy that they had added just one to the crash tally. An exceptional effort in the sketchy and variable conditions.
Day’s end had Scott Nicholson (second in the 85cc class behind Joel Kelso by a solitary point) at the top of the time-sheets a position he maintained in Saturday morning’s qualifying session
Saturday dawned a shade brighter for the qualifying session and Scott Nicholson carried on from his overall fastest time of the previous day, the track was dry. Zane Ford was the fastest 150cc machine with Ben baker the fastest of the 70cc machines. Hard luck story of the session was young Luke Power, who didn’t complete a lap, a dodgy throttle cable the culprit. As such, he had to start all races from the rear of the grid, which was a shame as he is one rapid beginner on his big wheel Metrakit 70cc. During the second practice session he followed Nicholson for a few laps and ended up second fastest!
The opening leg was the last race on the program on Saturday afternoon and it set the scene for the final two races of the year.
From the outset, the racing was exceptional with pockets of action throughout the entire field.
Up front, Nicholson launched off the line in the lead with Kelso in pursuit as the pair quickly broke away from the rest to continue their season long jousts with the lead changing many times including one lap where they swapped positions three times. Every lap was a cracker.
Behind them, Joshua Hall (Metrakit GP70) and Ben Baker (Honda RS65) battled for the final top three place and not far behind were the 150cc machines of Bramich and Battye along with Zane Ford on his Yamaha R15. The trio had a great duel for sixth position .
As for the Suzukis, while they were not up the front, they were very evenly matched with Cousens, O’Brien and Faulkhead line astern, trying to outsmart the other at every opportunity.
Kelso grabbed the lead on the final lap and retained it to the chequered flag from Nicholson with Joshua Hall claiming third spot by just two-tenths of a second from Baker with Peter Nerlich (RMU GP80) fifth, with Zane Ford leading the Honda 150s home from Battye and Bramich.
In the race debut of the Suzuki Gixxer, Cousens had first bragging rights when he claimed the win from O’Brien and Faulkhead, all covered by .
With his win, Kelso increased his championship lead to six points but that was to take a setback in the next race on Sunday morning.
The contrast in the weather of the previous three days with Sunday’s cloudless skies was surreal. It was hard to fathom that it could be such a beautiful day but trekking over the sodden spectator viewing areas brought one back to reality.
There was drama at the start of the second leg when Joel Kelso didn’t make it out for the warm up laps and as such had to start the race from Pit Lane. With that development, the only one that would beat Nicholson was himself and he launched off the line and was never threatened and took the win by 15 seconds.
The same can’t be said for the action behind, as while Kelso was scything his way through the field to salvage as many points as possible, the rest continued their entertaining jousts. Benny Baker claimed third from Terlich with Josh Hall fifth in front of his brother.
In the Honda 150s, Ford again took the class honours (and seventh overall) from a hard charging, Bramich, both of them swapping places a few times and the extra competition ensuring Bramich had to dig deep to stay in touch while learning the craft as he mixed with riders with a lot more fairing rubbing experience Battye was a casualty and posted a DNF.
O’Brien turned the tables on Cousins to take the win by just 0.034 of a second in the Suzuki trio with Faulkhead third.
With his win, Scott pulled back five points on the bloodnut, Kelso, so it was all or nothing for championship honours in the final race of the year and the pair didn’t disappoint as they stalked each other, waiting for one to make a mistake to pounce, but none was to be had. Again it came to the final lap when Kelso out-braked Nicholson in the final corners to take the win and the title.
The 150s were extremely entertaining again, with Battye, Ford and Bramich at each other but it came unstuck for Battye again when he lost the front end at the final corner on the second lap, to slide out of the race.
As was the case in the previous two races the little Suzukis were line astern, but Callum O’Brien, succumbed to the pressure and slid onto the grass on the second lap. With next to no damage he remounted to finish the race with Jack Cousins taking the win from Faulkhead.
As for the overall results of the weekend and the championship, on the day, Joel won the 85cc class from Nicholson and Peter Terlich and that is the way they finished off the year.
In the 150cc class, Zane Ford took the day with three wins from Ben Bramich with Jack Cousins third on the day. Young Jack the lad also had bragging rights for the Suzukis, after two wins and a second in the “Battle of the GIxxers.”.
Ben Bramich was crowned the 150cc Australian Champion with Ned Faulkhead second and Jack Cousins third overall.
Finally in the 70cc class Ben Baker won the 70s from Baker who won the weekend but it was not enough to overhaul Travis Hall who’s won the title with his brother Joshua, third on the day and overall for the year.
It was a great weekend and the efforts of the kids were not lost with the officials, older riders as well as spectators with many expressing their delight at seeing the kids on track and how competitive, how fast and safe they are. A great end to the year and it provides a springboard for the future.
The next stop to finish the year off was the Red Bull Rookies Cup selection trials and the try outs for the All Asia Talent Cup later in the month.
GP Juniors would like to thank many that had a hand in the year. Thanks to the staff at Motorcycling Australia, Preston MCC. St George MCC, The Motorcycle Sportsmen Club of Qld, Darren Bramich, Darren Sciberas, 5-Star Trophies, Dave Cousins, Suzuki Australia, Lewis Croft, Chris Baker, Paul Edwards, Alan Redman, Stuart Brown and many others that assisted to add in the success of GP Juniors Australia 2016.
2017 is looking like an even bigger and more successful year.