For the last weekend in January the penguins, koalas and kangaroos have to take a back seat as Australia’s largest historic motorcycle race event and the third largest motorcycling event on the Australian calendar behind the MotoGP and World Superbike events rolls into town, it’s the International Island Classic!
This event has everything – there is kick arse action on track and off track it’s almost as exciting! Things such as free pit access where the fans get to rub shoulders with some of the best riders in the world and check out some serious bike porn in the pits too. Not only is bike porn in the pits, it’s also in the parking area as well, where fans gets to park their pre 1990 non-competition motorcycle pride and joy close to the pit area and turn it into a ‘showroom like parking lot’.
On the Sunday afternoon they even get to do a demonstration lap in the Shannons Parade Lap show as well and a welcome return was trade alley in the back of the paddock where you could buy official Island Classic merchandise.
Another big-ticket item is the Saturday night welcome dinner with Sir Alan Cathcart interviewing all the main players including UK’s new star recruit, John McGuiness. Even Alan Cathcart thinks this event is amazing, saying, “I have been coming to the Island Classic on and off for the past ten years. It’s been fantastic to see how it has grown. Having the International Challenge was a brilliant idea. The whole event is a great success.”
In regards to the International Teams Challenge, if you’re wondering what that is all about, well, in simple terms it is a fiercely contested weekend which sees Australia V the Yanks V the Kiwis V the Poms, all going hammer and tongs to score top points to win for their country. For individual honours, riders were all battling it out to win the Ken Wootton memorial trophy and the famous Karen ‘Nurse’ Wootton’s homemade chocolate brownies.
2014 saw UK’s best line up of riders that were ready to rock and roll and go toe-to-toe with the Aussie riders and the other two teams. They brought an army of their best riders such as ex 250/500cc GP star Jeremy McWilliams, Gary Johnson and Mike ‘Spike’. At the eleventh hour, Irishman Ryan Farquhar was called in to replace Steve Brogan because of family commitments. But the biggest name to make the headline act was without a doubt, the man from Morecambe, Lancashire, 41-year old John McGuinness.
The 26-race victor at the Isle of Man TT and an accomplished endurance racer was glad to be back on Australia soil. But when he asked what it was going to be like to race his IOM TT rival Cam Donald, he said, “It’s going to be hard to deal with Cam around here that’s for sure.” “He passed me yesterday and showed me who was the ‘boss’ around Phillip Island. But we will slowly catch up and hopefully towards the end of the weekend we won’t be a million miles away.
“But the likes of Shawn Giles, Steve Martin Robbie Phillis are superfast around here. Even Brendan Roberts. I have experience racing against him in BSB Superstock and he is lighting fast as well. I have a load of respect for all of these guys.”
The English team may have had their strongest line up of riders, but quite frankly the Aussie team did too… Riders such as the 1999 Australian Superbike and 2009 World Endurance champion Steve Martin, Martin’s teammate Shawn Giles. ‘Mr Superbike’ Robbie Phillis, Tasmania’s Malcolm ‘Wally’ Campbell, Current Australian Superbike racer Beau Beaton, Brendan Roberts and another IOM TT legend, Cam Donald just to name a few.
On track action, well it started off with an Aussie blitz from Donald. From the word go he was the early pace setter in qualifying one and looked like he was going to be the man to catch for the whole weekend. Donald steered his Manta Engineering Suzuki XR69 to a 1:38.368 in the 15-minute opening qualifying session, just 0.403s faster than countryman Beau Beaton on the K.H. Equipment/Austart Air Starters Irving Vincent.
In qualifying two however it was McWilliams (Team Winfield) who got the upper hand snaring pole position over Donald by .017sec! Giles rounded out the front row. McWilliams kept his form going in the two opening racers on Saturday beating Donald who played second fiddle to him in both racers. Race two was nothing short of a bell ringer! McWilliams, Donald, Giles and Roberts all battled it out for the whole six laps, and at the end of the race the time difference was just .272 between the four riders!
Race three belonged to Donald as he led from start to finish but it was not made easy as Giles gave chase the whole way. Giles’s team-mate, Roberts finished third while McWilliams had to settle for fourth,with his bike cutting out down the main straight on the first two laps which cost him any chance of victory. With this result it set the stage for an epic battle for the final race of the weekend. Donald was just one slender point ahead of McWilliams with Giles just three points off Donald.
In the most stunning outcomes, Roberts pipped McWilliams by the smallest of margins (.004s) to claim second spot behind Giles in race four. The result meant that both Giles and McWilliams finished the International Challenge races on 155-points apiece, and were subsequently declared joint winners – the first time it’s happened since the International Challenge began in 2005. Giles and McWilliams now ‘share’ the Ken Wootton Trophy as the highest individual point scorers in the International Challenge.
Third place went to Roberts with a 6-4-3-2 result while Beaton was fourth with a 4-6-7-4. Rounding out the top five was McGuinness on the Harris F1 after he strung a 7-8-8-7 result. A pretty impressive result seeing McGuinness did not even sit on the bike till the Thursday at the Island Classic!
As Australia celebrated Australia Day on Sunday the 26th of January it was quite fitting that Australia retained the International Trophy for the teams challenge award winning it with 692 points on the board from the United Kingdom on 617. New Zealand was third with 367 and America in fourth with 341.
The final word should go to the circuit’s Managing Director, Fergus Cameron. “It’s been a fantastic weekend. The Island Classic took another step forward this year. It was always going to be hard to follow on from last year when Giacomo Agostini came out. But the International Challenge and the other entire racing certainly served it up. The level of competition is a whole lot fiercer. To have John McGuinness out here this year has been great, he has already told me that he will be back again next year for sure. This event is magnetic. People, who want to get involved, want to stay in involved. And believe me the American’s will come back next year a whole lot stronger as well.”