World champ gives track thumbs up
ALL eyes were on former world supersport champion Chris Vermeulen at the opening of Whitsunday Raceway and Driver Education Training Facility in Proserpine on Sunday.
Vermeulen made history at the opening as the first person to ride a motorcycle around the new track.
Having raced on some of the best tracks around the world, his expectations were high but the Whitsunday track didn't disappoint.
"I was pleasantly surprised," he told the Whitsunday Times after his ride.
"The track offered a lot of grip. It's definitely a fun track to ride."
Having made his way through the Australian ranks before heading off shore to compete on an international scale, Vermeulen said the Proserpine raceway would bring great things to the sport.
"They are going to hold state championships here and I can't see why they wouldn't hold rounds of Australian championships here too," he said.
"It's exciting for Queensland, North Queensland and this area in particular. There's not a lot of these tracks in the country."
For most of the morning before his ride, Vermeulen was seen to have a scrum of people around him - spending as much time with the 2003 world supersports champion and 2005 world superbike runner-up. Many of them were young riders who idolise the likes of Vermeulen and other Australian riders paving their way to motorsport glory like Casey Stoner in the MotoGP.
Vermeulen said it was for this reason the new track would be of great use to young riders in the region.
"For me the more tracks we get, the more we can promote the sport and race in a safe environment," he said. "The more places like this, the brighter the future is for the kids. "This is going to be a breeding ground."
Vermeulen said having the young kids approaching him and asking all sorts of things reminded him of the days when he was growing up. He said he remembered the days when he was growing up on the Sunshine Coast watching the likes of Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner make their way around the motor sports track.
"The sport has evolved since then," he said.
"You dream about racing motorbikes at that level."
But as the former world champion left the Whitsundays, he had these final words. "I can't wait to get back up there and get back on the track again."