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From a crash that nearly ended his career to a championship win 18 months later, three-time ASBK champ Troy Herfoss reveals just how deep he had to dig.

“I’m f***ing not.” That was the answer ASBK champ Troy Herfoss gave crew chief Paul Free when he asked his Penrite Honda Racing rider if he was okay, in tears and lying in a Darwin hospital after a horrific crash into a concrete barrier in 2021. 

The long breaks that typically punctuate the ASBK season were now an ally, with Herfoss enduring seemingly endless rehabilitation to claw his way back into race-winning form by the end of 2022. But he was far from convinced he could challenge for a title in 2023.

Herfoss started the season like everyone else; trapped in the wake of the McMartin Ducati V4 R ridden by its new signing, three-time champion Josh Waters. Waters, who had sensationally pulled the pin on a ride with NextGen Motorsports BMW midway through 2022, had found a way back to the paddock with Craig McMartin on the Ducati. The team gelled instantly, with Waters casually breaking Wayne Maxwell’s lap record while blitzing the MotoGP support races. It was an ominous warning. Mike Jones and his factory Yamaha had tamed the McMartin beast in 2022 – but Waters looked unstoppable after the opening two rounds. 

Not only was the normally impeccably fit Herfoss dealing with a huge physical recovery, other teams had further developed their package while the Honda remained stagnant. Free pulled no punches assessing the situation, giving a little more insight into the challenges Penrite Honda faced. 

“No one will ever know, besides the people in the team, just how that season unfolded. It started off pretty f***ing rough, I’ll give you the tip,” he told AMCN. “For Troy to go from where it was at the start of the year – and people will recall some of the comments in interviews – he was not in a good place.

“It was quite difficult, we were walking on eggshells working with him in the garage.”

But there was the inevitable turnaround and Herfoss, Free and team owner Deon Coote all acknowledged a different direction was needed with the Honda if they were to break through and challenge for victory. In Free’s opinion, the change came from within Herfoss himself as much as to the Fireblade. 

“Troy mentally made a massive shift within a number of days. Something changed within him – I don’t know what – but he arrived at Queensland Raceway for a test and we spoke about the whole situation. He had never really been open to change before, especially technically, but his openness to work with us as a team of people had shifted. He allowed us in to himself, once that happened that’s when things really started to go forward.” 

The crash in 2021 that nearly ended Troy’s career (Pic: Fox Sports)

After the success at Queensland Raceway, tensions reached boiling point in Darwin. Rumours about the McMartin Ducati cheating its way to the top had been circulating around the paddock since Wayne Maxwell first threw a leg over the V4 R in 2020, a product of their dominance. Those rumours finally got the better of McMartin at Hidden Valley and he called the other teams out, launching an official protest – ironically – against Penrite Honda. McMartin wasn’t one for speculation around the paddock and took the view that if you thought someone was operating outside the rules, there is a process that needs to be followed. In the aftermath of that ordeal – where both Honda and Ducati were found to be completely legal – Herfoss himself admitted a mental turning point occurred when he simply accepted that the Ducati was fast and that the McMartin Racing team were doing a better job. 

“It’s hard to admit that to yourself sometimes, but I had to,” he told AMCN.

However, the protest saga lit a fuse inside the team. The personality that was emerging during the year was reminiscent of the Herfoss prior to his second championship win in 2018. Hungry, hard edged and desperate for success.

His mid-year results were peerless and by the penultimate round at Phillip Island, the Waters juggernaut was looking shaky at best, even though he was racing at his and the team’s favoured track. A second and first for Waters meant the McMartin team was tied on points at the top of the championship leading into the final round for the first time ever. Mike Jones was unable to replicate the magic of 2022, with the main challenge over that weekend coming from the second factory Yamaha of Cru Halliday. 

Herfoss debriefs with crew chief Paul Free

Herfoss and the Honda produced another twist, with technical problems creeping in. 

“The Honda is very sensitive to how you down change, particularly with how gearbox selection responds when the back wheel is loaded through to the motor,” Free explained. “We asked Troy to try spacing his downshifts out more – normally he punches down the gears – but that ultimately didn’t work. His way was better.”

The finale at The Bend will go down as the fairytale finish, the culmination of 18 months of perseverance by not only Herfoss, but the entire Penrite Honda team. Two race wins, a lap record and pole position – a fitting way to end this chapter of his ASBK career by a man that is self-described as ‘not the fastest racer, but with plenty of grit and determination.’  

Herfoss celebrates his third ASBK title, finishing the year with two wins at The Bend


Round 1 Phillip Island, Vic

Result 2-4-5 | Championship position 3rd

“I wasn’t convinced that my win in Tailem Bend (at the final round of 2022) meant I was ‘back’. When you get a win from the third row of the grid there are always questions. I knew it was a good step forward, but it was really hard to start the year with any confidence, really. We went to the test at Sydney and Josh Waters was on a different planet to everyone else. I’m walking around the paddock at Phillip Island telling everyone I want to race for a championship and I’m not within a second and a half a lap of the main guy. Phillip Island was just hard, I was limiting my losses really.”

Championship deficit 23pts to Josh Waters

Josh Waters (centre) was unstoppable at Rd2 at SMSP; Cru Halliday and Herfoss shared the podium in both race

Round 2 Sydney Motorsport Park, NSW

Result 3-2 | Championship position 2nd

“The first two rounds I felt like I was on my limit the whole time. I felt like I was lying to myself that I could race for a championship, Josh was that much faster. They were so much faster than us it was ridiculous. Things came to a head inside the team as well and some hard conversations were had. We established that we needed to change our way of thinking with the bike and my approach to riding the bike as well. This is also when I started changing my training and getting on the motocross bike. This period was a turning point since the Darwin crash – I’d gone with the approach that I was good enough and the bike should work for me – and if it doesn’t it’s not my fault. After all, I was good enough before the crash. But I realised after round two that I wasn’t going to do anything in the championship if I didn’t change what I was doing.” 

Championship deficit 35pts behind Josh Waters

Herfoss took two wins at Queensland Raceway in hard-fought battles with Mike Jones

Round 3 Queensland Raceway, Qld

Result 1-1 | Championship position 2nd

“Our philosophy was always to find as much grip as possible – entry grip and exit – always to put as much (mechanical) load on the rear as possible, but it wasn’t getting us anywhere. I would complain that the bike was aggressive to ride and that the power delivery was aggressive. Instead, we started to dial in the strengths of the Honda, which is how well it turns. 

“We stopped focusing on grip, instead using the electronics to control the bike and the amount of wheel spin we had. As soon as we did that, the bike got easier and easier to ride. The rivalry against Mike Jones picked up here, we race each other so often and so close – you run out of tricks pretty quick. He was starting to get more and more aggressive – but I knew I had to beat him, there’s no point in finishing second or third – the points are too close. Josh and Mike are two different riders, really. Josh would avoid any sort of confrontation on or off the track, whether it would be qualifying or practice. Even in the races, I didn’t feel like he was wanting to get too involved in a fight – whereas Mike was willing to fight in every corner. It was a very different dynamic racing the two of them.” 

Championship deficit 18pts behind Josh Waters

Herfoss took 2-1-1 results at Hidden Valley

Round 4 Hidden Valley, NT

Result 2-1-1 | Championship position 2nd

“This was probably the first point I felt the strongest between the three of us. When I led the whole of the third race and didn’t cop any fight from either Josh or Mike, I knew I could win the championship from that point. I knew I just had to get myself in the battle and the outcome would be similar to that. I also made the comment at the time that I felt Josh’s team lost it for him that weekend. The whole protest situation only served to fire our team up – it really was a red flag to a bull. In my mind, I felt like I needed to be in a battle with Josh. The closer the battle, the better chance I had of coming out on top. Josh is one of those riders that if he has clear air, he is so fast and hard to beat. I just had the feeling I needed to do whatever I could to be in the front of his mind.”

Championship deficit 8pts behind Josh Waters

In deep discussion with Penrite Honda team owner Deon Coote

Round 5 Morgan Park, Qld

Result 1-1 | Championship position 1st

“I had been training a lot on the motocross bike and I had the intention of racing in the ProMX round at Brisbane. I broke three ribs two weeks out from Morgan Park and I was too scared to tell anyone. I was the second fastest at Morgan Park – and that’s why I’m so proud of this championship. At Darwin I shouldn’t have won, at Morgan Park I shouldn’t have won – but I found a way to get to the front. The reality is, you can’t pick who was the stronger rider between Mike and I in the middle of the year. After Morgan Park I had another crash on the motocross bike, breaking somewhere between five and eight ribs plus my collar bone. The ProMX round was definitely out of the question!”

Championship lead 14pts in front of Josh Waters

The focus at the start of the season was on grip, but that changed as the year progressed to the Honda’s cornering strength

Round 6 Phillip Island, Vic

Result 7-4 | Championship position Equal 1st

“Our results at Phillip Island were nowhere near where they should have been. The bike was better but I thought we would be a lot stronger. We also had massive gearshift issues with the bike. Tipping into Turn 1, I didn’t know if I was going to hit a false neutral or not. I had to limit my losses. The shifting issues weren’t limited to that round and I should of spoken up more during testing. 

At Phillip Island, we hadn’t spoken about these false neutrals and it came across as a surprise in the race. It was my fault in a way for not mentioning it more often. I crashed at the end of qualifying because of it. We tested at Tailem Bend the week after Phillip Island – assessing our result like we normally would – comparing tyres and different setup options. We were really happy with our speed, we were very quick, but we should have been paying more attention to the shifting problem. I did a race run there, hit a false neutral and ran off the track, losing five or six seconds. We got away with it, but we learnt a lot from that. We went into the decider with a fresh bike and a tied championship.”

Championship tied

Glenn Allerton tries in vain to hang on to Herfoss at Morgan Park

Round 7 The Bend, SA

Result 1-1 | Championship position: 1st

“Leading into this round was the most pressure I’ve ever been under. After making the announcement to leave Honda (and potentially ASBK) a few weeks earlier, I left myself with no option other than to get the job done. We had such a good test there my confidence on the bike was high, at no part of the weekend did I see myself losing. Signing off with a perfect weekend was the best way to leave no doubt about who had won that year. 

I invested a lot into 2022 – I knew I needed to do something different in 2023 if I was to win – but if I stayed with the same team under similar circumstances in 2024 I didn’t know if I would have had the same motivation. 

“That’s got nothing to do with the people – it’s just that I’d been in the same place for 10 years and I’d been wanting to go overseas for a long time. Back in 2018 when I won the championship I was on a two-year contract, then in 2019 there was no opportunity. Then all of a sudden Covid came along, then there was the Darwin crash and now we’ve come back to where we are now. What better way to get out of my comfort zone than to quit my job and look for a new challenge? 

“I wanted to leave on my own terms, with some success, and hopefully repay everybody for the hard work they’ve put in with me – especially dealing with the injury. I literally wanted to go out while things were

good. Why not? I almost got pushed out of the sport with an injury, it’s not often you get to leave on your own terms. 

“This is my time to do something different – it’s been a great 10 years. I know there were rumours flying around but I had no idea Honda would pull out if I stopped racing – hopefully that’s a short-term decision.” 

Championship victory 20pts in front of Josh Waters