With 2017 preparing to disappear into history, it is a fitting time to look back on what has been a breakthrough season for GP Juniors Australia. This year was a quantum leap for junior road racing in Australia and has provided an encouraging foundation for 2018 and beyond.
The first major development for 2017 was the inauguration of the GP Juniors Cup, with a one make series reintroduced after a gap of nearly a decade, the series contested by kids from 12 to under 16 years of age.
Yamaha Motor Australia stepped in to expand its major support of domestic racing with the Yamaha YZF-R15 the bike of choice for the GP Juniors Cup and Bridgestone also became a part of GP Juniors Australia with all the bikes using the Japanese company’s BT 39 treaded road tyre as the control rubber for 2017.
While these little machines do not have the outright top speed of the two stroke machines that have been the bike of choice in recent years, the competitiveness of all riders on the same machine and same tyres play a big part in unearthing the vast talent pool of young riders that this country continues to produce.
Motorcycling Australia was also a big part of the GP Juniors Australia in 2017 and made room for three rounds of the GP Juniors Cup to be held alongside the premier categories of the Yamaha Motor Finance Australian Superbike Championships. Additionally there were another three rounds for the GP Juniors Cup held with various clubs as well as three rounds for the 85cc and 70cc capacity machines in GP Juniors Australia.
Without doubt it has been a major success as in recent years the 150cc four-stroke class has had only two or three riders competing regularly in GP Juniors Australia, however, with the re-introduction of the one make series the numbers have increased by a whopping 500%!
A major reason for such a dramatic increase in numbers was the price of the bikes. At just $4690 for a Yamaha YZF-R15, with the race kit fitted and a further $246 for the Bridgestone tyres – if purchased through GP Juniors Australia – the cost is remarkable for a youngster to enter the world of road racing compared to the expense incurred with the traditional GP-style, two-stroke machines, that often require extra maintenance when compared to the reliability of the little Yamaha 150cc machines.
Also there are a fleet of bikes available for lease through GP Juniors Australia, a further enticement for families from as far away as North Queensland and Darwin that alleviates the expense of transporting their own bikes over vast distances to various events.
Another feature that was reintroduced in 2017 was the MAC points award that is awarded at each round and sponsored by AMCN. The award is for a rider that demonstrates attributes off the track that include Marketability, Attitude and Character.
If MotoGP is the university of road racing, the aim of GP Juniors Australia is to be the pre-school where they commence the education to move through to the primary school class of the Supersport 300 and 600cc machines as they chase their dreams of success with the next step Superbike senior school before, hopefully, graduating to the world championships.
GP Juniors Australia received excellent exposure through the press during the year with plenty of column inches in regional papers where the racing was held as well as valuable air time on TV news bulletins added to the coverage received at the ASSBK rounds through the live streaming that was introduced this year.
So let’s take a look at how the season unfolded.
The first outing for the new look cup was in March at Wakefield Park near Goulburn (NSW) as part of the program for round two of the YMF Australian Superbike Championship, with a good mix of experienced and novice riders taking part,
The most experienced of these was15-year-old, Tommy Edwards (Enemies Everywhere/Newcaslte Supermoto/AlpineStars, NSW), from Newcastle (NSW). Tom returned to Australia in 2017 after a couple of years in Asia, with the pinnacle competing in the 2016 Asia Talent Cup. Others involved were the little blood nut from Darwin, Joel Kelso (JDS Racing/Deborah Motorsports. NT) on one of themeless bikes while the likes of Max Stauffer (Dyno 27/YRD), Ben Baker (Baker Racing) from the NSW Central Coast and John Lytras (Caboolture Yamaha) had a ton of dirt track experience with Stauffer having the advantage of his Dad, Jamie Stauffer who has won multiple Australian titles on the dirt and tar on hand to assist.
Edwards’ experience proved to be a benchmark for all the others to compare their progress throughout the year and was of a great benefit to everyone. He didn’t have it all his own way as the youngsters gave as good as they received in some very intense battles thought the year.
Front row (L-R) Luke Power, Reece Oughtred, Harry Khouri Back row: Max Stauffer, John Lytras, Jack Cousens, Ben Baker Pic: GP Juniors Australia.
However the weather had a major impact on the proceedings as every practice and qualifying session as well as the three, six-lap races were hampered by extremely wet conditions.
In fact, the youngsters faced the toughest of the conditions of any of the class as it seemed that every time the kids donned the helmets the heavens opened but they acquitted themselves remarkably well and accounted for the least number of crashes of all the classes throughout the weekend.
As expected there were many nervous eyes of the mums, dads and kids looking skywards as the first race approached. It was a very tentative start for the field as they headed out for the first race of the series on the Yamaha YZF-R15s in the extremely sketchy conditions with the track both wet and dry in parts.
Edwards experience shone through as he left them standing from the start and Kelso finished second with Lytras a further nine seconds behind in third. Young Jack Cousens (JC’s Motorcycle Shop/TM Performance) from Melbourne was up there fighting for a minor place but got a bit too excited and crashed around the half way point but gallantly remounted to grab some well earned points while one with little racing experience Harry Khouri was another casualty
Although the heavens opened just before the start of race two, the field was a lot closer as the confidence grew and Kelso Edwards and Lytras had a great duel in the opening laps with the trio locked together as they left the grid. Edwards led the first lap by just 0.002 from Lytras and Kelso third as they swapped the lead many times with a few slides to each rider thrown in to keep them further on their toes, however a big moment for Lytras on the third lap saw him drop of the bunch to remain in a lonely third. Meanwhile,12-year old Ben Baker and Stauffer were in close proximity the entire race in the battle for fourth.
Kelso won the race from Edwards by just 0.059 sec with Lytras third who managed a comfortable gap a gap over Baker and Stauffer with the pair crossing ht line side-by-side Baker claiming fourth by an extremely tight margin
The final race of the weekend was in the worst conditions of any of the classes, but again, the future stars put on excellent displays of riding.
When it was all over, as expected, the experience of Edwards shone through as he was victorious winning bthe final leg by a comprehensive margin. Cousens was up there in second for a couple of laps but a couple of near misses was enough for him to back it off a little. Lytras held onto second place from a fast finishing Kelso with Stauffer less than half a second away in fourth
The first outing for the GP Juniors Cup proved the concept was a winning and also highlighted that the season ahead was going to produce some very entertaining racing.
They’re off at Winton (Vic). Pic: Half Light Photography
The second round of the GP Juniors Cup was held at Winton Raceway on April 28-30 again with the ASBK however, unlike Wakefield a few weeks previously, thankfully the weather was kind with good conditions all weekend allowing the youngsters to put on an exceptionally dynamic and exciting exhibition of road racing.
The three races were decided by the closest margins of all 16 races during that ASBK weekend, including the premier YMI Australian Superbike Championship category, proving that the one make series with the Yamaha R15 was the correct choice for competition.
The scene for action was set in qualifying as 12-year-old, Ben Baker, claimed pole position from 13-year-old, Joel Kelso by just 0.007 of a second with Tom Edwards
As the field charged off the line in the first race, the front row trio were joined by another 12-year-old, John Lytras. The quartet soon became embroiled in a titanic duel, the lead changing at every one of the track’s corners, as riders went from first to fourth, and back again, from one corner to another.
After the five laps was done, the four crossed the line with Edwards beating Kelso and Lytras by 0.096 sec as Baker lost the slipstreaming duel to the finish line by just 0.320 sec.
The other two races was more of the same, just more intense! In the next leg, Melbourne teenager, Jack Cousens joined in for a five-bike freight train with some monumentally close racing before the race was red-flagged as the final lap started. It was set for another cracking finish but exiting Spokes Turn Two, Jack and Joel Kelso had a coming together through the second corner, causing Cousins to crash. The race was taken back a lap with Lytras the winner from Kelso and Edwards, the trio 0.219 sec apart with Baker just 0.417 sec away, in fourth.
The final leg was another exceptional race, an almost carbon copy of the opening race the day before, with another four-way dog fight. The race was set for an another enthralling battle to the wire but Lytras crashed out, half way through the final lap exiting YMF Turn seven and split the leading quartet with Kelso dropping off the Edwards and Baker. The pair had a great charge to the line to produce the closest finish of the weekend as Edwards beat his younger rival by an excruciating 0.012 sec! Kelso finished third, five seconds adrift.
The total winning margin of the three races between first and second was a massive 0.225sec! 0.079, 0.131, 0.015, respectively. Additionally in two of the races, the total margin covering the top four was 0.956 sec; 0.320 and 0.636, respectively.
An interesting sidelight of the Winton meeting was the dramatic improvement in the lap times by some of the kids
The front of the field may have been the centre of attention but the rest of the youngsters had some great duels among themselves. Max Stauffer, was having his second attempt at road racing after his baptism in the atrocious conditions of Wakefield Park. He was involved in some excellent close quarter action with Harry Khouri (Excite Motorsport) their races also decided by tenths of a second.
Guess who? Pic Gp Juniors Australia.
MAX STAUFFER WITH A FAMILAR NUMBER, HARD AT IT Pic Half Light Photography
In June Round three of the GP Juniors headed to Queensland’s Morgan Park as part of the Southern Downs Road Race Series presented by the Motorcycle Sportsmen Club, and also featured the first round of the other classes in GP Juniors Australia for the 70cc and 85cc two-stroke machines.
Before we all arrived there, a special event was conducted a couple of hours away at Cooyar.
GP legend Garry McCoy had invited the participants of GP Juniors Australia to his magnificent 1800 acre property for two days of coaching and advice from the master himself.
Although it was during the school term, it was too good an offer to refuse so a number of the youngsters and their families took part in the exercise and camped overnight with Garry putting on a BBQ for dinner and also a hearty breakfast. All gained valuable information and tips to assist them in their development, no matter the levels of experience that was put into practice a couple of days later at Morgan Park where McCoy also attended to give further advice and guidance.
The entire week at Cooyar and at Morgan Park was a re
sounding success with the youngsters demonstrating remarkable skills in very testing conditions, particularly on Saturday. The way they handled the conditions was not doubt helped by what was taught to them on McCoy’s excellent training facility. as they learnt about sliding and front wheel control on the dirt in slippery conditions.
His efforts did’t go unnoticed by all who took part and for him to offer his time and expertise for nothing is ample demonstration of the passion he holds for passing on his knowledge to others. A massive thank you to him.
Also due a massive “thank you” is the Motorcycle Sportsmen Club as well as Motorcycling Queensland. Because of the numbers, the 70cc machines – that are raced by 9 -11 years old – were combined with the 85cc two- strokes and also the GP Juniors Cup Yamaha R-15, 150cc machines. As such, the spread of ages contravened what is laid down in the MoMS, but thankfully an exception was allowed for the 11year-olds of the 70cc to compete with their older peers, and what a display they all put on. The riding expertise of these young kids had to be seen to be appreciated and, on track, they conducted themselves brilliantly
Over the combined three classes, 14 kids, ranging in age from 11 to 15-years-old took part in four races over the two days with conditions on Saturday so bad that a number of races were postponed due to the deluge that swamped the track however the opening race was held on a very wet track before proceedings were halted. The riders handled the conditions with great dexterity and in some cases a lot better than their senior contemporaries, their skills belying their tender years.
The racing was very competitive in all races and all the conditions with close battles throughout the field with the weather allowing a number of riders in shine. A number of newcomers to GP Juniors Australiasuch as Tristan Adamason Zak Pettendy and Zylas Bunting demonstrated their fast learning skills as well as the talent they possess that will make them a force in the future.
Series leader, Tom Edwards from Newcastle (NSW) increased his lead over his rivals taking three wins, but it was newcomer, Adamson from the Gold Coast, who impressed the most on his debut in the class, taking out the very wet first leg l – and celebrated a birthday at the same time – to claim second overall from the rapidly improving Lytras, third overall.
Tom also took out the Australian Motor Cycle news MAC award which is for conduct off the track with Marketability, Character and Attitude the three attributes that are judged by three different people.
“It’s been a fantastic week here,” explained Edwards at the time. “We have all learnt so much with Garry and other coaches plus racing around this place is so much fun. To win the Mac Award means a lot, too”
Zylas Bunting won the 85cc class after favourite Tom Browne crashed out of the second leg while in a commanding lead. Ben Baker was third after competing on both the GP Juniors Cup before he decided to ride his two-stroke machine in the final leg.
In the 70cc class for the youngest of the competitors, Harrison Voight demonstrated that he is a definite star of the future as he was victorious with three wins and a third from Joshua Hall and Glenn Nelson.
A typical scene in any corner during the year. 12-year-old Lytras on the inside line from 14-year-old, Kelso. Pic: Half Light Photography