A Global Classic
Everyone knows the Australian MotoGP is the biggest bike event on the annual racing calendar, but what comes second? It may come as a surprise that the Phillip Island Classic, now in its 24th year, holds that distinction, and has done for some time. Every January Australia Day weekend, a huge international contingent arrives on the island, bringing with them containers full of rare and expensive historic racing motorcycles.
Heat two of the International Challenge blasts off with McWilliams, Alex Phillis (20) and Ireland’s Paul Byrne (52) best away.
For 2017, multiple British Superbike Championship race winner Peter Hickman was lured into the fold, further strengthening the UK team. Not that the locals are short of talent; triple Australian Superbike Champion Shawn Giles, Isle of Man TT winner Cameron Donald, and former World Endurance Champion Steve Martin are just three of the big names. And while the machines are limited to Pre 1984 (or replicas thereof), they are anything but slow. The fastest riders lap in the low 1 minute 30 second mark – good enough to qualify mid-field to the World Superbike Championship, held on the same circuit each February! With rules permitting engines of up to 1300cc, most of the top bikes are putting out just shy of 200 horsepower.
Northern Irishman Jeremy McWilliams was once again top scorer in the International Classic.
And so to the event itself. Australia’s hopes literally evaporated in the opening race when both the Melbourne-built Irving Vincents of Beau Beaton and Cam Donald suffered engine failures which put them out for the weekend. McWilliams, now 52 years of age, showed he is as fast as ever by winning the first three heats. Sunday’s final encounter restored some honour to the local side when Alex Phillis, son of veteran Superbike star Robbie, claimed a narrow victory over McWilliams, with team mates Shawn Giles, Jed Metcher and Steve Martin storming home in a finish that just fell short of the required points tally for Australia.
Frantic opening lap in the first heat of the International Classic as Beau Beaton (186), Jed Metcher (22) and Chas Hern (2) lock horns over Lukey Heights.
And so, for the third year in succession, the UK squad claimed the International Challenge, with the impressive Irish team third ahead of USA and New Zealand. It is clear that the pressure of this competition, with the top riders turning in laps in the mid 1 minute thirties (times that would qualify them for the World Superbike grid at the same track in February) places an enormous strain on the machinery, and wrecked engines are not uncommon. But there’s also no doubting that the event format is tremendously popular with fans; the circuit is bedecked with national flags and placards urging the teams onwards. If Australia is to regain its place at the top for 2018, a dash of reliability is needed, to compliment the obvious speed.
The New Zealand-built Britten V1000, one of the world’s rarest racers, made several demonstration runs at the Island Classic in the hands of former NZ Superbike star Andrew Stroud.
(Photo by Damir Ivka)