You might have noticed another Australian accent if you caught the ‘undercard’ of the Japanese GP last week…
Who was it? If you don’t follow racing in Australia, you could be forgiven for not knowing…
The phone rang with the opportunity to speak with Tom shortly before his wildcard was announced, I thought it would make a great story. You’ve heard the champion’s tale told a thousand times, but a young man in his second year of road racing, well those stories you don’t hear all that often.
Soon after organising the interview, the announcement comes that Tom is getting the chance to pit himself against some of the world’s best.
When we spoke initially I thought about aiming the interview toward the past, finding out more about where Tom has come from, but as it turns out, that story is quite literally still forming. Speaking about the future is very exciting.
Tom grew up in a racing family a few hours south of Sydney. His father, Richard raced bikes. So do his brothers.
It wasn’t long before Toparis took up the discipline himself, racing club motocross from a young age until he was about 14 years old and it’s where it begins.
It took a nasty broken leg which Tom said “scared a bit”, and he began to see the light…
Tom went to the Phillip Island GP in 2015 with one of his mates, still nursing a broken leg from the motocross accident. He was watching the races, Moto3 specifically, when his friend said to him, “you’ll race one of these,” as mates do…
Not many of them end up being right.
The next year Tom took up road racing on a Kawasaki Ninja 300 and offered a simple explanation for his talent which saw him start winning races by the end of the year.
“I took it up quicker than most,” he said.
Tom spent most weekends of 2016 road racing. He competed in both the Formula Xtreme Ninja 300 Championship and the ASBK’s Production 300 class, now known as Supersport 300.
Tom finished fifth overall in the Ninja 300 Cup that and second in the ASBK 300 class.
Impressively, in 2017 Tom moved up to compete in the ASBK Supersport class, where his learning curve has continued. He has won Supersport 600 races, won rounds even, ultimately finishing third in the championship in his first year.
In September, it was announced that Toparis would receive a Moto3 wildcard for two races in Japan and Australia.
I asked him, “so you’ve essentially gone from the Ninja 300 Cup, Aussie Supersport to get a Moto3 wildcard in two years?”
Tom said (modestly, mind you…) “it’s probably been a bit less than that…”
Wow! Who does that?
Having realistic expectations
Tom spoke about his first year of riding a supersport machine. It’s been impressive, but he’s kept himself grounded.
“You can’t expect, in your rookie year to win a championship. But we won Round 2 (Wakefield Park) and that fully changed the mentality for me. We just had so much this year, every round we went to something went wrong or we should’ve got maximum points or whatever.
“It was my fault in some cases but in some cases it also wasn’t my fault and it was out of our control.”
“To finish third is a massive achievement in itself considering where we’ve come from. We’ve won a few races and been pretty consistent. After two years of racing I’ve learnt all the tracks, we should go there next year with plenty of data. We should be pretty strong coming into next year.”
How do you juggle learning and being in the hunt for a Supersport 600 title, whilst gaining valuable experience on a Moto3 bike?
“Obviously the difference between a Grand Prix bike and a 600 is massive! I did two days on a Moto3 bike at Wakefield Park and Eastern Creek, then I went to yesterday and got back on the 600. It honestly felt like the weirdest thing (laughs). It just felt like I was riding a Harley-Davidson or something!”
“It takes a bit to adapt and I think that’s important especially considering I’ve got to go to Japan, to a track I’ve never been to, on a bike I’ve never ridden. I’ve been training for that massive change now and I’m going to make it as easy as possible for myself.”
“Being six-foot and riding a Moto3 bike I’ve got to lose as much weight as I possibly can and I’m getting towards where I should be. Moto3 is a different ball game and aerodynamics are massive. I’ve definitely got to work on my aerodynamic efficiency, especially at Phillip Island, considering it’s so fast.”
It’s quite a unique situation to speak with someone about their learning curve whilst still being somewhere in the middle of it. While Tom’s trajectory has been somewhat fast-tracked compared to other racers I asked about the challenges along the way.
Tom began to answer, thought for a second, began to answer again, then stopped to think again.
“That’s a pretty hard question to be honest (laughs)!”
“This year I’ve had to learn how to make a tyre last. With the 300 production races it was all about race-craft and trying to position yourself for the last lap. With 600s you’ve really got to try and make the tyre last and I think that’s been one of the hardest things.”
“One PSI can make such a massive difference. This year, being able to go out on the bike, ride it, and come in and give feedback… That’s probably been one of the biggest things I’ve had to learn.
“Feedback that my mechanics can draw from and make proper decisions about.”
“I’d say I’m learning pretty well and my mechanics are pretty happy with how I’m giving them feedback on the bike. I think that’s probably showed in our results, too.”
“I’m still in Year 11, so I’ve spent plenty of time away from school which is pretty hard but I love bikes and my goal is to make a career out of it.”
“There is so much travel involved and this part of the year I’ve been living out of a suitcase, but it’s something you have to do and I’m getting used to it now. My family has also definitely had an impact, I only got my licence this year, last year they were driving me around everywhere, they’ve had to take work off and stuff like that.”
How does a Moto3 wildcard come about? Who are you riding for and how long has it been in the pipeline?
“Leda Nutrition is the main sponsor and Riki Lanyon, the owner of that company is in charge of everything. He’s been on it for ages and covered everything he possibly can to make it as best as he can in preparation so that it goes as best as it can for us.”
“For me, I only really fully figured-out that I was definitely, 100 per cent going to do it, in mid-September. I was at Eastern Creek when I found out.”
“It’s an opportunity to race on an international-level so I’m going to take the opportunity and try to do as best as I can with it.
“Hopefully it works out for us. I know we can’t expect anything big because I’ve got no experience in that class.”
“Riki has been in charge and he’s done a really good job with it. He’s found, hopefully, a good bike. We’ve put together a good team and everyone’s got experience in Australian Superbikes. Not only am I going to be learning but they’re also going to be as well.
“The data-factor in Grand Prix is massive compared to here. So much time is going to be spent overlaying laps from me compared to other riders out there. I’m going to have to pick that up as quickly as I possibly can, the earlier the better…
“I’m stoked to be able to be given this opportunity and hopefully I can do everybody that’s helped me proud. That’s really my goal. And realistically, I think for a wildcard to finish on the lead-lap, firstly qualify and then finish on the lead-lap is a great achievement.
“If I can make the bike go almost as fast as it did in 2014 when it was last raced, then that would be awesome as well, but the rider that was on it was super talented. It’ll be hard to fill those boots. We’ll see what happens…
A pissing-down Motegi weekend saw Tom struggle, although he managed to top the time sheets in the warm up. The session may have been red-flagged due to oil on the circuit before anyone else managed a lap! It didn’t matter, he was all smiles and took it all in his stride, receiving worldwide exposure and the interview provided further quality insight.
Here’s an interview courtesy of Fox Sports:
Over the course of the weekend, Tom improved his lap time by over three seconds, but the conditions would mar most data he could use to seriously improve his lap time.
Tom qualified, and finished the race on the lead lap, his fastest lap of the weekend was a 2’16.4, and the difference between his fastest and slowest lap (besides Lap 1) throughout the race was 2.04.
You must admit, it’s pretty good for a kid who can count the number of times he’s been on a Moto3-bike with two hands, and with less than two years’ road racing experience under his belt.
Tom will again race as a wildcard in the Moto3 Championship at Phillip Island this weekend, October 20-22.
He said he’s hoping for a dry weekend. So are we!
As of FP2 at Phillip Island, Toparis isn’t far from the tail-end of the group. His best time so far is a 1’42.854, slightly behind Kaito Toba (1’41.587). Joan Mir is currently atop the time-sheets with a 1’37.111.