Australia and Superbike, a strong connection that was formed back in 1988, the very first year of the production-derived championship. This coming season though, the series will not start at the legendary Phillip Island track as is now customary, the event still in doubt due to problems relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With the Australian round still uncertain, it’s a good time to dust off the history of the relationship between the Land Down Under and the production-derived series.
The very first Australian WorldSBK race took place on 25 September 1988 at Oran Park. The 1988 season was marked by various ‘firsts’ for the Australians, with pole for Malcolm Campbell in Austria, the wildcards of a young Robert Phillis but particularly a certain Mick Doohan. Yes, the five-time 500 world champion competed in two Superbike rounds in 1988, winning three races in four, namely one in Japan and two on home turf in Australia, at the Oran Park circuit.
From 1988 to 2019 the Australian GP has always been a classic on the calendar, whether held at the start or the end of the season. Only once, in 1993, did the series fail to travel to Oceania.
The most recent event took place last year, with Razgatlioglu, Rea and Lowes sharing the wins at the season-opener, before the Covid-19 pandemic put things on hold until early August.
The championship has made use of two main Australian tracks, Oran Park and Phillip Island. Oran Park, now used for the Australian championship, is a very short track, not even 3km in length and inaugurated in 1962. It hosted the first two editions of the Australian GP. Doohan dominated the 1988 edition while Goddard and Dowson shared the spoils the following year.
From 1990, the event changed location, going from the short Oran park to the longer Phillip Island with its spectacular ocean views. Originally hosting the final round, and then the second event of the season, from 2009 it became stage for the season-opener and the final pre-season tests.
Australia has brought many riders to WorldSBK, with mixed fortunes. It would be too easy to name only Troy Bayliss and Troy Corser, both multiple world champions. Over the years, there have been many riders from the Land Down Under. In 1988, for example, the well-known Robert Phillis and Mick Doohan, the winner of three races. 1989 saw the arrival of Peter Goddard, Steve Martin, Daryl Beattie (wild card in 89-90 before debuting in the world championship), Kevin Magee (a former world championship rider), Mat Mladin (star of AMA Superbike), Anthony Gobert (eight Superbike wins, five of which in Australia), to name the first ‘batch’.
The second ‘batch’ of Aussie riders starts with Broc Parkes, Andrew Pitt (two-time Supersport champion), Chris Vermeulen (2003 Supersport champion), Garry McCoy, Karl Muggeridge (2004 Supersport champion), Josh Brookes (current BSB runner-up), Mark Aitchison, Bryan Staring, Glen Allerton, Anthony West, Mike Jones and Josh Hook (now in the EWC).
When we think of Australia, we will always refer to one particular episode, or rather Fogarty’s accident in 2000. On 25 April of that year, the second event of the season ran at Phillip Island. In race 2, Fogarty made a poor start and was forced to play catch-up. His impatience to gain ground on what was a damp track saw him collide with Austrian Robert Ulm. The result? A fractured right humerus (exactly like Marquez), surgery, and an expected 40-day recovery time. This marked the end of the four-time Superbike champion’s season, and career in fact, King Carl announcing his retirement on 20 September of that year.
The other episode dates back to 1988, the first WorldSBK season. The Australian track was Oran Park. A young Mick Doohan (the Brisbane native was just 23) grabbed all the attention when he scored pole position and two race wins. A day to remember because in race 1, Australia monopolised the podium with Doohan joined by Dowson and Phillis.
Last but not least, how can we forget Anthony Gobert’s win with Bimota in race 1 in 2000? Bimota returned to Superbike in 2000 with the SB8R, choosing to field Australian Gobert. It was an unforgettable moment as the bike, with its #501, sped around a wet Phillip Island track in front of a passionate crowd who watched on as their local hero triumphed for an important brand like Bimota, eleven years after Giancarlo Falappa at the Paul Ricard circuit.
Translated by Heather Watson