WORLD CLASS ISLAND CLASSIC
If you think classic racing is a minority interest that’s characterised by parades rather than actual racing then you need to get to the 2015 AMCN International Island Classic. Based on this year’s crowds, it might be an idea to start planning now.
Competitors and spectators alike were stunned by the scale and calibre of the event that, after 21 years, has emerged as an international event of major significance.
The vast pit complex, where spectators can wander at will, was bursting at the seams as 340 riders took the reins of 490 motorcycles in classes ranging from pre-war to period 6 (up to 1990).
Australia retained the International Trophy but it was a victory that wasn’t won without a real fight. Our local heroes worked up serious sweat against great rival UK to keep our unblemished record in the International Challenge intact. Australia eventually finished the event with 692 points, ahead of the United Kingdom (617), New Zealand (367) and the US (341).
The Tahbilk International Challenge wrapped up in the most stunning circumstances when South Australian Brendan Roberts (Suzuki Katana) pipped UK star Jeremy McWilliams (Harris F1) by 0.004 seconds in a photo finish to claim second behind multiple Australian Superbike champion Shawn Giles (Katana) in race four.
The result meant that both Giles and McWilliams finished the four, six-lap International Challenge races with 155 points apiece, and were subsequently declared joint winners – the first time it’s happened since the International Challenge began in 2005.
It was a stirring performance by Giles, who was only third in the individual standings after race three behind Motorcycle Trader’s own Cameron Donald (Suzuki XR69) and McWilliams. Cam’s bike then expired on lap two of race four – “it vibrated and then went pop” – leaving only Giles and McWilliams in a two-way hunt for top honours.
Giles and McWilliams now ‘share’ the Ken Wootton Trophy as the highest individual point scorers in the International Challenge, with the former winning it for the second time and McWilliams the third.
McWilliams said: “In my whole career, I don’t think I’ve ridden harder than I did in that last race. I was trying to get away, but when I saw Gilesy beating his chest on the grid I knew it was going to be game on.”
Despite his final race DNF, Cam still finished in eighth place overall by virtue of his impressive 2-2-1 results in the opening three races. Roberts set the fastest lap of the weekend – a stunning 1:37.104 – in race two.
The laconic John McGuinness was making his first appearance in the International Challenge, and was suitably impressed.
“I underestimated how fast the racing is around here, doing [1 minute] 37s on bikes that are 30 years old,” he said. “I was crunching my plums in that last race trying to keep up, and it was mega enjoyable.
“I’ve been welcomed by everyone, the atmosphere has been superb, and it just has been an amazing experience all round. I certainly hope to return in 2015.”
The highest-placed overall finisher for the New Zealand team was Damien Kavney (XR69) in 15th overall, and for the US it was Rob Mesa (Yamaha TZ750) in 16th.
Australia’s depth was again its trump card in the International Challenge, although its defence got off to a shaky start in race one when three of its top liners struck trouble: MT-sponsored ‘Mr Superbike’ Rob Phillis (XR69) crashed at the hayshed (turn seven); Malcolm Campbell (Honda RS) laboured into 28th with a slipping clutch; and 2011 top point-scorer Steve Martin (Katana) retired at mid-point with ignition problems.
Phillis’ crash was terminal, with his machine too badly damaged to be wheeled back into the pits, let alone repaired. Martin and Campbell regrouped to complete the final three races, as Australia’s depth eventually told the story.
The winner of the Phil Irving Perpetual Trophy, awarded to the rider who accumulates the highest amount of points outside of the International Challenge, was Murray Seabrook who clean swept the 250cc Classic and 250cc Post Classic classes. It is Seabrook’s first Phil Irving Trophy, joining illustrious names such as Cam Donald and Wayne Gardner.
The event isn’t just about international stars on costly top-line bikes, focussed on victory. It attracts many competitors riding more humble bikes who are there for the joy of competing in the event on the fabulous flowing Phillip Island circuit , looking to score a personal best rather than chasing a place on the podium. During a thorough search of the pit garages MT’s Bike Detective, Hamish Cooper, unearthed four worthy examples from this category among the 490 bikes entered. Enjoy the lowdown on the bikes and riders in the breakouts.
Congratulations to everyone concerned and we’ll see you there in 2015.
No.13 1981 YAMAHA XV1000
Rider-owner: Craig Hunter
Queenslander Craig Hunter has created a beautiful racer from an ugly duckling. Never a big seller for Yamaha, the XV1000 seems an unlikely racer. However, its 75-degree, V-twin layout makes for a compact wheelbase and its torquey engine responds to some modest tuning. The engine is also a stressed part of the frame, similar to the Vincent layout.
“I kept the engine and petrol tank and started from scratch,” Hunter says. “The swingarm is from a 1980 IT465 dirt bike and I made up my own subframe and alloy tailpiece.”
The front forks, yokes and discs are standard but an XS650 hub has been laced into an Excel rim. The engine has been massaged with forged Venolia pistons, Tighe cams and 40mm Dellorto carbs. It runs a European IgniTech ignition, which replaces the weighty alternator.
“It’s a bit like flying a Tiger Moth,” Hunter says of the torquey riding experience.
No.38 1988 YAMAHA FZR750R
Rider-owner: Brian Gray
Racer-tuner Rex Wolfenden reckons a Yamaha FZR is the cheap and easy way to get into the burgeoning Period 6 classes. Brian Gray’s FZR is the proof.
“This bike was a Hartwell Club racer and I got it for $6000 and spent maybe $3000 to $4000 to prepare it for the track,” Gray says. “I think they only made 200 of this model per year [for racing homologation].”
The other option of buying a road model, perhaps for $3000, and converting it to racing specs would work out the same.
“Mine had all the work done to the engine and suspension,” says Gray, who was competing at his 11th Island Classic. He was also racing a 1938 BSA Empire Star and a 1971 Honda CB750. “There were just 10 entries in Period 6 when I first ran the Yamaha in 2012,” he says. “Now there are around 64 in the various classes.”
No.30 1965 DUCATI MONZA 250
Rider-owner: Denise Talabach
“I’m an expensive date,” laughs Denise Talabach about the fact she swings in a Vincent sidecar outfit. Talabach was busy all weekend, swapping from being a “sidecar monkey” to riding her little, battle-scarred Ducati.
She was part of the huge American contingent that also included classic racing legend Dave Roper.
“The duckling has an awesome 25 horsepower,” she says, pointing to a sticker on the tailpiece that reads: “I’m so far behind I think I’m first”.
Talabach was right out of her comfort zone at Phillip Island. Her local New Hampshire track is just 2.0 kilometres long.
She has competed for more than 15 years and is one of the characters of the New England racing scene.
Asked about the Coyote sign on her leathers, she says: “I’m a Micmac [north-east woodlands Mi’kmiq nation] and my native name means ‘contrary woman’.”
“Reckon I’m a brave man to have married her,” says husband Pete, owner and builder of the Vincent sidecar. “Don’t listen to him,” Talabach replies, “He suffers from Vincent depression.”
No.93 1958 HARLEY-DAVIDSON KR750TT
Rider: Craig Hemsworth. Owner-tuner: Lewis McEwen.
Lewis McEwen’s flathead racer was a common sight at Victorian vintage H-D rallies until he converted back to track spec a few months ago.
In road form it had a distinctive primrose yellow fuel tank. Now it has the evocative H-D racing livery.
The KR750TT may be powered by a flathead engine that dates back to the 1930s but don’t let that fool you. These factory production racers were still winning in the late 1960s.
A lot of this was due to the Wixom wind-tunnel-designed fairings, which helped these old sluggers hit crazy speeds. Cal Rayborn became the first rider to average 100mph (161km/h) during the 200-mile feature race at Daytona on a flathead in 1968. McEwen is sourcing a similar fairing for his KR.
Craig Hemsworth, meanwhile, was thoroughly enjoying his ride. “It’s fairly docile until you hit 4200rpm,” he says. “Then it revs out quickly to 6800rpm.”
“I’ve jazzed it up a bit for the track,” McEwen says. “It’s got Period 3 Ceriani forks and 36mm Mikunis on the original Tillotson manifold.”