Sharing a homeland with the likes of Doohan, Corser, Bayliss, Stoner, Pitt, and Muggeridge, Australian rider Chris Vermeulen began his motorcycle career in WorldSBK, before moving to the MotoGP world championship and even winning a race, at a wet Le Mans in 2007 with Suzuki.
Chris is now a great commentator for Fox Sports Australia and collaborates with the Phillip Island circuit after having interviewed the king, or rather fellow countryman Casey Stoner.
Early days and Barry Sheene’s advice
Born in Brisbane to Dutch parents on 19 June 1982, Chris started out riding MX and dirt track, winning championships in Queensland and New South Wales. In 1998 he made his move from dirt to track, competing in the Australian 250 championship and scoring his first wins. That same year, he also tested a Supersport 600. The test convinced him to race in the Australian Superbike championship, where he proved to the best privateer in 1999.
Also in ‘99, a certain Barry Sheene, who had moved to Australia a few years earlier, noticed him and advised him to move to Europe. Chris travelled to the UK where he competed in the Supersport and Superstock categories of the British Superbike series.
Supersport and the 2003 world championship
Having moved to Europe for the 2000 season, Vermeulen made an impression in the British Supersport championship. The Castrol Honda team then asked him to stand in for Japanese rider Shinya Takeishi for the last rounds of the year. Chris scored 16 points in three races, with a best result of sixth at Assen. This was enough to convince Honda to hire him for the following season. 2001 proved quite problematic though, the rider closing 17th with 27 points. In 2002, he moved to the Van-Zon-TKR team, and rounded out the season seventh, having scored 90 points, a pole position and his first world championship podium.
His best season came in 2003 when he moved to Ten Kate. He secured his first and only world title, with 201 points, four race wins and eight podiums.
The call to Superbike
The Supersport champion deserved to move to Superbike and did just that with team Ten Kate in 2004. He made something of a slow start as he adapted to the class and bike, the new CBR1000RR. The first part of the season saw him score two podiums, in his native Australia. At Silverstone, he reached the podium in race 1 before winning race 2, and then won both races at Laguna Seca, a track he’d never seen before. After a podium at Brands Hatch, Chris also won race 2 at Assen, and found himself in the mix for the title along with the two factory Ducatis of Laconi and Toseland. Imola proved to be the weekend of truth for Vermeulen and the Honda. During the race 1 sighting lap, he slipped on oil spilt by Bussei and suffered various fractures. Despite his injuries, he accomplished an incredible feat, starting the race from the pit lane and crossing the line second. He closed race 2 in sixth place. He finished the season fourth overall after a double DNF at Magny Cours.
This experience meant he came back stronger in 2005, more than ready to fight. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much he could do against the Suzuki GSX-R K5 of his fellow countryman Troy Corser. Vermeulen didn’t give up and scored six wins and fourteen podiums in all, enough to secure the runner-up spot come the end of the year.
MotoGP and the Le Mans feat
That particular result in Superbike led to a call from MotoGP, where Chris stood in for Troy Bayliss on the Camel Honda for the last races of 2005. He finished the season 21st overall with 10 points, having finished eleventh in both Australia and Turkey.
He moved to Suzuki in 2006, alongside re-confirmed Hopkins. He achieved two poles, in Turkey and Laguna Seca, finished second in what was a crazy Australian race, and rounded out the season eleventh overall, with 98 points.
He continued with Suzuki in 2007. The bikes now had 800 cc engines and the GSV-R was well balanced, also thanks to the Bridgestone tyres. He scored his one and only race win at Le Mans, in the rain, closing the season in sixth place overall with 179 points and a further three podiums.
His 2008 didn’t start in the best way, Vermeulen placing 17th in Qatar before scoring two top ten finishes followed by a DNF in China. From there, he was consistent, scoring two podiums in Germany and the US and finishing the year eighth with 128 points.
The 2009 season saw him score points in every race, a fifth at Assen his best result. He finished what was to be his final MotoGP season in 12th place, with 106 points.
The final years
In 2010 he returned to the SBK paddock with Kawasaki Racing and the ZX-10R. The season was characterised by a series of crashes, a knee injury and a subsequent operation that ruled him out of the last four rounds. He concluded 2010 in 20th place with just 10 points to his name.
He did ‘slightly’ better in 2011. The first part of the season was nothing to write home about, with zero points scored in four races. Chris then missed the US round to return for Misano and Aragon. He only scored points in the final two rounds, taking 14 points in four races to round out the season 21st overall.
2012 saw him return to MotoGP with team Forward, as a stand-in for injured Colin Edwards. Chris finished the Le Mans race in 17th place.
Translated by Heather Watson