Tuesday, June 30

AUS CHAMPS: MERRIMAN BACK TO HIS BEST


Ballard's Wellard Yamaha's Stefan Merriman displays the skill and determination that has delivered him four career world endurance titles as he easily claimed victory at rounds 5 and 6 of the Yamaha Australian Off Road Championship (AORC) at Murray Bridge on the weekend.

Ballard's Wellard Yamaha's Stefan Merriman displayed the skill and determination that has delivered him four career world endurance titles as he easily claimed victory at rounds 5 and 6 of the Yamaha Australian Off Road Championship (AORC) at Murray Bridge on the weekend.

The result marks his second clean sweep of a dual-round weekend - he won rounds 1 and 2 at the beginning of the season.

A niggling shoulder injury was the only factor threatening to slow his charge on the WR450F, but he fought through the discomfort and relished the challenge of racing a sand-based track in the sprint format.

Merriman made a slow start to the weekend, admittedly struggling early on Saturday morning.

He stayed with the leader and found a rhythm which would help him make back significant ground in the closing stages.

A sub nine-minute lap, some 13 seconds quicker than the second-placed rider, helped to secure the outright round 5 and Pro E2 class wins.

Riding the momentum from Saturday afternoon, Merriman charged away in the opening heat and was never challenged.

He set the quickest time in each of the 8 sprint laps and secured his fourth outright victory of the year by a margin of over a minute.

"I started pretty slowly on Saturday and left myself with a lot of work to do to make up ground," said Merriman. "The bike was awesome, I pushed as hard as I could and found the rhythm to take back the lead before the day was out.

"The sprint format was tough and it was hard work to line up for another 8 laps on Sunday.

"I felt good and got away to a better start, it was then all about keeping the other guys behind me and being consistent.

"Everything worked well this weekend and I'm happy to come away and extend my championship lead."

Another maximum points weekend sees the 35-year-old make solid ground over his closest competition in the race for the 2009 title.

Merriman is now 21 points clear of second place in outright terms, and maintains a similar comfortable lead in the Pro E2 class on his WR450F.

Teammate and fellow Pro E2 frontrunner, Jarrod Bewley endured an uncharacteristic weekend, finishing fifth and sixth outright on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

Bewley enjoyed solid speed and was laying down laps comparable with the top 3, but when a few small mistakes crept in he lost touch with the leaders.

A consistent season to date ensures the New South Welshman is still strongly-placed in the championship standings.

He is now third, with 116 points to his name, and just a single point shy of second place.

"It's disappointing to drop a place but there's still four rounds to go and a lot of racing ahead of us," said Bewley.

"I felt pretty good but wasn't at my fastest on the sand, the WR450F worked well and kept me in the hunt with some good laps along the way.

"I'm looking forward to the next round up in Queensland, it's good to have another new track on the calendar."

Pro E1 class contender, the WR250F-mounted Kirk Hutton delivered two solid second place finishes to retain his position in the championship.

He was quick off the mark on Saturday morning and stayed with class leader Ben Kearney for the opening laps before opting for a more consistent approach to hold down second.

He scored similar results on Sunday to record his fifth consecutive second-place of the season.

The Queenslander is just 12 points off the lead with four rounds remaining.

Josh Ballard was a major improver over the course of the Murray Bridge weekend, coming to grips with the challenging sandy surface and challenging within the Pro E3 top 5 as the event came to a close.

On Saturday he placed eighth, with a few small mistakes putting pay to a potential top 5.

He bounced back on Sunday, charging back up the timesheets on his WR480F to finish a comfortable fifth, a position he maintains on the championship ladder.

After six rounds of competition Ballard has amassed 91 points, and is just 5 points off fourth place with two more weekends remaining.

Geoff Ballard maintained his unbeaten run in the Masters class, clearing out with a series of quick early laps each morning to cruise home for victory.

The majority of his laps were over a minute-and-a-half clear of his closest class rivals, resulting in round wins by over 5 minutes and 8 minutes on Saturday and Sunday respectively.

He has claimed every possible point to date in 2009 and moves to a perfect 150 after round 6.

Ben Burrell's domination of the Junior classes looked set to continue after he took another convincing win on Saturday and another maximum points haul for the round.

A rare mechanical problem saw his run come to an end on Sunday, only able to complete 4 of the 5 laps.

Burrell is still strongly-placed in the outright standings by virtue of his five round wins from six outings.

He is second, just 8 points off the leader with 100 points still up for grabs across the remainder of the season.

Liam Robertson recorded his best dual-round finish of the season, scoring fourth on Saturday and fifth on Sunday.

He is sixth in the Expert outright championship and only single figures shy of the top 4.

Yamaha's domination of the Women's championship continued at Murray Bridge, however it was Jemma Wilson who took the spoils ahead of Alison Parker.

The pairing of WR250F riders have enjoyed an evenly-matched battle to date.

Parker took two from two at the opening event, with Wilson a close runner-up.

Round wins were split at Blayney, and this weekend it was Wilson's turn to stand atop the podium.

Both riders have 141 points after six rounds, with AWED's Jacqui Jones placed third on 120 points.

Dimity Duke recorded another two equal-best round finishes, placing fourth on Saturday and Sunday to move into fourth on the championship ladder.

The next two rounds of the Yamaha AORC will be contested at Cherrabah Resort near Warwick in Queensland on August 15 and 16.

Yamaha AORC Round 5 Outright

1. Stefan Merriman (Yamaha WR450F)
2. Toby Price
3. Peter Boyle
4. AJ Roberts
5. Jarrod Bewley (Yamaha WR450F)
6. Chris Hollis
7. Ben Kearney
8. Ben Grabham
9. Geoff Braico
10. Jehi Willis

Yamaha AORC Round 6 Outright

1. Stefan Merriman (Yamaha WR450F)
2. Toby Price
3. Peter Boyle
4. AJ Roberts
5. Ben Kearney
6. Jarrod Bewley (Yamaha WR450F)
7. Geoff Braico
8. Ben Grabham
9. Chris Hollis
10. Blake Hore

Yamaha AORC Championship Outright

1. Stefan Merriman, 138 (Yamaha WR450F)
2. AJ Roberts, 117
3. Jarrod Bewley, 116 (Yamaha WR450F)
4. Toby Price, 114
5. Ben Grabham, 94
6. Chris Hollis, 90
7. Ben Kearney, 85
8. Peter Boyle, 79
9. Kirk Hutton, 67 (Yamaha WR250F)
10. Geoff Braico, 60

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