Going all the way over to Western Australia to race motorbikes in the early days seemed like another country that you only ever read about once a year in the magazines when they reported the results of the Australian Championship round.
The pictures always showed how much sand there was everywhere at Barbagallo and that the bikes stayed upright in the sand when they ran off the track, even when the riders were no longer on board! My first experience over there was in 1994 for the round of the Shell Oils Australian Road Race Championships.
The only viable option expenses-wise was for a whole group of riders to get together and crate all the bikes up in a pantec truck and get someone to drive them over and back via Mallala for their round of the Championship.
Chris Taylor’s Dad, Alf, was the driver so he didn’t have to pay as driving was considered a pretty good contribution. A certain Troy Bayliss had his ZZR600 in the truck, too! This allowed the rest of us to fly over and see our bikes again at the racetrack. Everyone seemed to be on the same Qantas flight over from Sydney with all the factory Superbike riders of the day stationed up the back of the plane conducting the party.
We were staying at the Wanneroo Tavern with Phil Harper and his dad Bob and the Buckmasters – Malcolm and Damon. Phil knew the Buckmasters pretty well from the NSW Central Coast and they had advised us to stay there as it was pretty close to the track but could get a little noisy and rowdy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night.
That didn’t worry Malcolm though because he would just get up and go and sort them out. As a 17 year old I hadn’t had many nights out or seen too many things out of the ordinary such as topless waitresses on Thursday nights around the pool tables and a pub rocking all night, but the Wanneroo Tavern gave me all of those things.
After dinner in the bistro on Thursday night, the old boys decided they needed a beer or two so we riders accompanied them in for a squash before official practice started the next day only to be greeted by naked ladies everywhere. Needless to say we probably drank all the squash in the joint before getting off to bed to get some sleep.
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The Saturday topped it all though when the general pub noise was getting louder and louder and I was sleeping like a log until woken yelling just outside our window. Dad was awake so we got up to see what was going on.
Phil and Bob were up too with their door open and Malcolm was definitely up. Apparently one of the drunks had wandered over, obviously lost and had tried to get into their room through the window and Malcolm had come straight out ready to have this bloke. Upon seeing big Malcolm, the bloke shit himself. Realising he had made a big mistake on his room choice, he skipped up onto a car and then onto the motel roof to get away from Malcolm.
What we had heard was Malcolm telling this bloke to get down and accept his punishment and the bloke pleading with Malcolm to be let go in one piece. A good old-fashioned stalemate was what we had but it all ended peacefully and became a good story to tell about the Wanneroo Tavern.
The track surface was very abrasive but also very grippy especially in the wet which I suppose it had to be considering when the wind came up the sand blew onto the track. The track goes clockwise so right, right, right most of the time, which I liked.
As the years went on, dad and I did it together in a Hiace bus that went over on the train and we drove it back across the Nullarbor picking up Craig McMartin’s trailer after their vehicle had broken down in a race to get to Mallala for the next round. Needless to say the fuel economy went out the window towing the trailer across the desert coupled with the fuel prices out there. The year after, Peter Doyle agreed to throw our private ZX-6R in their truck and dad and I managed to get two third places against all the factory teams and that weekend probably got me started with Doyley and crew. At the very next round, the latest model I had been waiting for was ready and prepared by TKA and it led to second in the championship that year behind Damon Buckmaster.
The pit facilities were always good with competitors side by side in the carports in the early days, to the more upmarket lockable sheds that were generally privately owned and made available for the bigger teams over the weekend.
The Supersport bike was all about corner speed and maintaining momentum while the Superbike was all about getting it up and managing the wheel spin and hence tyre life. I have to say though, the Superbike was by far the most fun around there especially getting out of the bowl out the back.
The accommodation changed from the Wanneroo Tavern to Hillary’s Boat Harbour as things got better but it was always the round that everyone looked forward to all year – from the welcoming club and fans over there to the Sunday night parties in the clubhouse at the track. There was always the core group of workers headed by Denise that put on a great weekend and made everyone welcome and nothing had changed when I went back in 2009 for the Kings of Wanneroo.
“Thankfully an Australian Championship round has returned there because it was simply criminal they lost it and it’s not a real Australian Championship without going to Wanneroo.”
I told you I would finish the story of the rental car going around the adjacent motocross track so here are a few more details. Now I won’t mention any names and it was a few years before my time so maybe it’s just myth but as I said a rental car was rumoured to be taken around the motocross track and by the end it would only go in fifth gear and reverse. To make matters worse, it was bent through the middle and the doors wouldn’t open so when it was finally returned to the airport all occupants had to get out through the windows.
Summing up Wanneroo there is no doubt it always provides great racing and passionate spectators but by week’s end there will always be a few new stories to tell.
It has a pretty short front straight and depending on gearing, fifth gear was about as high as you would ever get (and sometimes only fourth). Normally you’re grabbing the brakes well past the end of the pit wall (around the pit lane exit), going back to third and running in really fast. It wasn’t a key overtaking spot but it could be done, you had to block the other rider a little, stopping yourself and trying to prevent running those couple of bike lengths wide allowing your competitor straight back past you on the inside.
Third gear seemed generally a little tall on the entry but it made you keep it rolling around the long right to keep the corner speed up for the exit which ended up being a quick run up to the uphill left. Getting it up onto the fatter part of the tyre was important on the exit because it was very easy to lose that jump off the turn while it was spinning
TURN TWO & THREE
These two weren’t really turns for me just flicks left and right as quick as possible before getting into the fast uphill Turn Four. Although, through the right flick you had to be very careful not to touch the inside kerb with the engine case and then not touch the drain on the inside of the entry to Turn Four.
Was the only real left hand turn on the track but it was long and allowed you to easily get the tyres scrubbed and enough heat into them. It was third gear on all bikes and was uphill so I always found myself running in really fast but still thinking maybe I could have pushed a little more going in. Once the bike was settled it was straight back on the gas to keep the speed building. It was critical to keep it tight all the way around the uphill left but circuit knowledge was also critical because you couldn’t see the next right!
Until you knew exactly when to flick it right you were guessing, which meant sometimes doing it too early and heading for the inside kerb and sometimes too late and getting out into the sand on the exit. During that flick to the right there was also a gear change up to fourth and then another one to fifth at the crest of the hill as you were touching the outside kerb on the exit to keep the front wheel down before heading down into the bowl.
This is still one of my all-time favourite corners because of how much fun you can have on the exit with wheel spinning and tyre smoking, especially on a bike with some horsepower. It was downhill braking, back to third and also a really good overtaking opportunity if you had gotten over the top of the hill before well. It was a matter of getting it in there and hitting your apex, getting it pointed in the right direction and then start opening the throttle and let the fun begin. It really was dirt-tracking skills at their best. The exit just opened up and there was so much room heading back up the hill with the tyre spinning while you were grabbing gears. All the talk at the end of the races between riders was how much smoke was coming off your tyre and how much smoke we were riding through.
This was the last overtaking chance and probably where all the races were settled. I won battles there but also lost a few, too. Getting the bike over the hill in top gear without flipping it was the first issue, well before the braking duels started but once you touched down it was about going in as deep as possible. The middle part of the braking zone starts going uphill after the steep downhill run and this was the first time I have ever felt front forks bottoming-out under brakes.
After sneaking up the inside of someone you had to hold your line or they would be back up the inside on the exit and beat you to the line while you were trying to stay off the big high kerb on the exit. That kerb is also where it can all come unstuck trying to jump it, or if you get the rear over the crown, it lets go really quick (as happened to Crusty one year). The key was to just use the inside part of it as a bit of a berm. This was where all the spectators were and generally there was plenty for the marshals to clean up in the sand after some of the moves didn’t stick.