Features 21 Mar 2024

Q&A: What we learned from Wonthaggi

Dissecting results following the opening round of ProMX 2024.

Words: Simon Makker

In unusually fine, warm conditions, the 2024 Penrite ProMX Championship got off to an intriguing start at Wonthaggi on Sunday. MotoOnline answers some of the key questions that arose from an action-packed day of racing in this edition of Q&A.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Was Kyle Webster as good as his 1-1 results showed?

A: Every time the ProMX begins its eight-round championship at the dark, loamy Wonthaggi circuit, Boost Mobile Honda Racing’s Kyle Webster enters as the favourite. Not only is he known as a soft-terrain master, but he’s also put in more laps around Wonthaggi than practically every other racer. This year was the year he finally put it together, with two deserving wins, including a start-to-finish victory – thanks in no small part to a monster holeshot – in the opening moto. Webster was deserving of his perfect day, but let’s not take anything away from Jed Beaton, who signalled he’s primed and ready to fight for the number-one plate this year. The new CDR Yamaha Monster Energy recruit (who’s also done plenty of pre-season laps at Wonthaggi) set a searing Top 10 Pole Shootout time that was almost two seconds faster than the rest of the field. Beaton also passed his team-mate Dean Ferris for the second-moto lead and was looking good for the win, but a small error late in the race was enough for Webster to smell blood and make a great pass for the lead. If Beaton had held on, he would’ve secured the round win on countback, having finished runner-up to Webster in the opening moto.

Q: Will Ferris be happy starting his championship with a third overall?

A: Every rider wants to start the championship on the perfect note, but at the same time, there’s a balance to strike if they’re not in the groove. There were plenty of positives for Ferris at Wonthaggi, including leading about half of moto two before washing his front wheel in a corner and dropping to third. The CDR Yamaha Monster Energy signing’s 4-3 scorecard is probably an accurate reflection of where he stacked up around a track that he’s traditionally not his strongest, but Ferris will be happy to bank a very handy points’ haul. The defending champion knows how to play the long game, and there’re plenty of circuits on the calendar that he’s had success on. He’ll be content with his performance and will be eagerly awaiting the likes of the next hard-pack round at Horsham where he can potentially make up ground on Beaton and Webster.

Q: Who would be most disappointed with their performance?

A: While there weren’t any real horror performances at Wonthaggi this year, a few riders will have left the venue feeling like they’ve got a bit of extra work to do before Horsham on 7 April. In MX1, the ever-experienced Kirk Gibbs and Todd Waters both wanted more from their opening hit-out, although Waters is trying to overcome a niggling neck injury. In the final wash-up, Raceline Husqvarna Racing Team’s Waters finished the day 6-9 for seventh overall, while the always-consistent Gibbs went 8-8 for ninth overall on his new GasGas Racing Team ride. In MX2, one of the class favourites, Rhys Budd went 9-5 for fifth overall. In itself that’s not terrible, but the new Raceline Husqvarna Racing Team rider got two decent starts, but went backwards in both motos. Further back was KTM Racing Team’s Kayden Minear, who ended the day seventh overall. A bad start in the opening moto saw him struggle to make any headway and he finished 11, but an improved second outing saw him take P6.

Image: Foremost Media.

Q: Honda’s Connolly and Ferguson split MX2 race wins, but who was actually faster?

A: There were two great battles between Polyflor Honda Racing’s Brodie Connolly and Boost Mobile Honda Racing’s Noah Ferguson all day, and if Wonthaggi was any indication, Honda could be in the box seat to claim yet another MX2 ProMX title. While there was little to separate the team-mates after punching out their two motos, on paper Connolly consistently had the edge. In qualifying, the Kiwi qualified second to the Queenslander’s ninth, and 1.5s quicker. Then, in the opening race – which Ferguson won – Connolly posted a lap-time that was again about 1.5s faster than Ferguson’s 1m49.287s on lap three to 1m50.727s on lap four. In the final hit-out, Connolly’s fastest lap was about half a second quicker as he rode to the win and overall.

Q: Who performed better than expected?

A: There’s never a shortage of pre-season form-guessing and bench-racing, but it’s all hypothetical until the riders hit the track. In the opening MX1 moto, Terrafirma Honda Racing’s Wilson Todd put in an encouraging – if not lonely – podium performance. A great start saw him placed on the rear wheel of Webster for the first lap, before Beaton edged past him. From there, Todd stayed steady, finishing a distant third, but still more than five seconds ahead of defending champ Ferris. Another good performance in the second moto saw him catch and pass Brett Metcalfe (Penrite GO24 Racing), Gibbs and Luke Clout (Empire Kawasaki) on his way to P5 and fourth overall. In MX2, Byron Dennis was a real revelation in his first national race professional race. A fourth-fastest qualifying time raised eyebrows, but it was the GasGas Racing Team rookie’s opening race, where he finished an impressive third, that saw his championship stocks rise. It all came undone on the opening lap of the second moto though, when he suffered a mechanical DNF. Yamalube Yamaha Racing’s Ryder Kingsford also deserves a mention here – he topped qualifying and featured near the front of the field early in the opening race on his way to P4, then made a couple of great passes early in moto two to cement himself in P2 for the race, and end the day on the podium.

Q: Whose results on paper didn’t tell the full story of how well they rode?

A: The obvious candidate here is KTM Racing Team’s Nathan Crawford. After a small crash on the opening lap, Crawford quickly pulled into the pits and re-entered the fray near the back end of the field. He went deep into the zone for the rest of the race, slicing his way through the pack and making a tonne of passes in the early laps then continuing to work his way forward as the riders spread out. Remarkably, he finished that race in seventh, and potentially would have found a way past Waters with more time on the clock. In MX2, Alex Larwood looked great in his opening race. A lightning-fast start saw him almost go down when he went wide into the first turn, but he was quick to recover, working his way from outside the top 10 to P5 by the race’s end. Even more impressive – and disappointing – was that the Froth Honda Racing rider sustained a spiral fracture to his left fibula on the final lap when he twisted his foot. The injury-prone Larwood was taken to hospital and missed the second moto, and is in a race against the clock to be ready for Horsham in three weeks’ time.