International Challenge - Phillip Island
Australia - 25th - 27th January 2014

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At the end of last season, out of the blue I had an invite from Roger Winfield owner of several Suzuki XR69s to ask if I would like to take part in the 2014 Phillip Island Classic races. I had heard of the event and understood it was one of the largest classic events in the world, the fact that it was the other side of the world only made it more attractive.

The timing however comes right in the middle of my winter maintenance contract which forms the bulk of my 'proper job' income over the winter, so I had to take some time making sure I had cover for my time away. When I called Roger a week later he agreed to supply a machine and run in the British International Team.

 

I've been to events all over the world and often only seen the airport, hotel, track and then home so this time we decided to take the whole of January leaving on the 30th December and returning 4th February and see some of the country while we were there.

After booking our flights to Melbourne I thought as we were so close we would go and visit my sister and Auntie in New Zealand it would be rude not to, how we were going to do it was all guess work at this point.

I'd ridden one of Roger's bikes briefly a few years ago, just a few laps of Mallory, testing some new forks before it was taken to the TT for Ryan Farquhar to ride; so I was really treating it like I hadn't ridden an XR69 before.

 

Also the fact that it was my first time at Phillip Island we planned a track day prior on a hire bike to familiarize myself with the track. So, at least when the when testing started I could focus on the set up of the bike rather than trying to work out which way the track went!

The track day was fantastic, I booked myself in the medium/fast group as you couldn't book a hire bike in the fast group. I didn't want to pull the 'I'm a racer' card just in case they wouldn't hire me a machine, so we were in stealth mode.

 

Starting off steady and putting sections together before turning up the wick in the second session. Unfortunately I passed a group of slower riders going into Honda a little close and got flag jabbed at me as I next crossed the line. Pitting just to see if it really was me, knowing it was anyway, I took a verbal telling off and sat out the rest of that session.

The remainder of the day all fell into place, I found a good line in most of the corners and also knew where I needed to find more time. It's a fast track with long turns with multi apex corners, apart from the main straight the bike is never upright sweeping from corner to corner, side to side, not dissimilar to Thruxton in its nature.

Very grippy with few bumps it's a real big balls kind of place.

 

From there we went to New Zealand for 12 days to visit family and friends but that's a whole other story...

 

Back in Aus on the 20th we made our way back to Phillip Island and found the house where the team was staying for 10 days. Wednesday was set to one side to unpack the shipping container of all the machines, tyres, tools etc.

My team mates Ryan Farquhar and Jeremy McWilliams had not yet landed but John McGuinness, Gary Johnson and Mick Godfrey were on hand to help, but arriving at the circuit it was baking hot and no one fancied the idea of walking in and out of the shipping container all afternoon so we dug in and quickly emptied it.

 

Time for a little work on the bikes, numbers, screens etc and then ran them up before returning back to the house for a team meal.

There was a track day on Thursday for all the competitors to familiarise themselves with the circuit before qualifying on Friday; many had not been there before so it was very welcome having some time to rumble round without too much pressure.

I was allocated the bike Jeremy rode the year before, it had a fresh engine that needed a little running in but other than that it was set up and good to go. I decided to run round for a few laps and then pit to do a 'nut and bolt check' before finishing the first session, however when I came in the motor sounded like a bag of spanners.

Roger was convinced it had run a big end or similar but there was not vibration to indicate to me anything really serious.

We noticed the number 3 cylinder was much cooler than the others and after cleaning the carbs out and changing the plugs the bike sounded like new again - thank god, I thought it might all have been over before we started.

I quickly found my feet and started lapping reasonably catching some of the quicker Aussie guys and ended up 5th quickest at the end of the day. I was pleased as I hadn't touched the bike even though it wasn't quite how I would have liked it I was going faster and faster and knew there was more to come from me than the bike at this point.

Friday brought a weather change, heavy rain in the morning meant none of the British team could go out, as we didn't have any wet weather tyres to use; but the forecast was sun for the afternoon, so we weren't panicking.

It gave me a chance to have a wander around the pits and say hello to some people. I bumped into Steve Martin who was very complimentary about my riding, as I'd passed him on Thursday afternoon.


Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

There were some fabulous machines including the Irving Vincent, T Rex Hondas with Malcolm Campbell and Michael Dibbs riding them, Cameron Donald on his XR69 and the Katanas of Shawn Giles and Steve Martin running in our race. All top guys on top machines.

 

On Friday after the rain, it was important to find some space on track to put a reasonable lap together. At first I couldn't get the bike to feel like it was on Thursday, the wind had changed direction but I couldn't believe how much this affected the bike and really struggled lapping nearly 3 seconds slower than Thursday's times.

After fitting fresh rubber I hoped it would come together, thankfully it did and I posted a good time putting me 5th on the provisional grid.

I had a recurring issue with the throttle sticking open and had a couple of 'moments' plus the carburration was poor coming out of slow corners - both issues proved incurable so it was simply a matter of dealing with what I had at this point.

Saturday morning the sun was out and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, 26 degrees and perfect for racing. Everyone was up for it and before we knew it we were rolling down the pit lane for our final qualifying. I was determined to improve my time but I had to keep in mind we couldn't afford a crash or engine trouble and as the motors were 30 years old at the end of the day, and needed treating with respect.

Plus the fact, remember it's a team event and we needed as many people in the top 10 as possible, to win it's more about consistency and getting all the team members home in all the 4 races.

After a good session I had gone quicker but ended up in 9th overall on the outside of the third row for the start. It was only at this point I had realized I hadn't done a start on the bike - so it would be race one that was going to be my first!

The race program was full so there was no warm up lap just a sighting lap and go, so watching the lights go out and off we roared down to turn one for the first time.

I made a reasonable start and was in 6th place on the first lap when the red flags came out. Rob Phyllis crashed very hard and stopped the race.

The restart didn't go as well for me and I fluffed the clutch making the bike wheelie and lost time, this time I was way back in 10th or 12th place coming out of turn one.

I pulled my finger out but as the races were only 6 laps I hadn't enough time to do much and only managed to get up to 9th place at the flag. I had a real ding dong with Malcolm Campbell and Michael Dibbs so, all in all, I had a good race in the end.

 

There wasn't much time before race two in the afternoon, so there was a lot of rushing around; new rear tyre and some fuel and we were ready again.

With only 15 minutes to go before our race someone noticed my rear tyre warmer was off and closer inspection the extension plug had been knocked and my tyres were stone cold.

 

This was a major issue as the Dunlop N Tech tyres needed to be really hot to work at their best, quickly plugging the warmers back in I knew they would be nowhere near as hot as I needed for the race.

 

As we ran down to turn one for the first time I had to be steady as I could feel there was little grip from the tyre, entering turn two and the rear came round as I tipped in. It did nothing for my confidence and I could see the lead group clearing off into the distance.

 

It's a balance between trying to get heat into the tyre slowly and not damaging the tyre at the same time, I used the first two laps to slowly build up my speed but even then I knew the tyre was damaged.

I pushed on and did the best I could but the bike was spinning up everywhere, looked good but when it's spinning you aren't going forward. Another 9th place with John McGuinness just up in front.

 

After the race we all pushed our machines up to the start line for the regular Phillip Island photo opportunity, it looked great all 6 of Roger's XR69s glinting in the Melbourne sunshine.

That evening the organisers laid on a fabulous meal for all the competitors, John was the guest of honour and together with the other team captains had a great Q&A with Alan Cathcart.

Sunday was another perfect day, "we could get used to this" we all agreed - especially as it was reported to be only 4 degrees back in the UK.

 

Race 3 was called and this time I decided to try revving the engine a bit higher off the line. The idea was sound, however the carburration was so poor at these revs I fluffed the start again.

Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

I couldn't believe it as I normally get away just fine but I couldn't seem to find the way to pull the Suzuki off the line.

 

I had a great race though, catching up to John towards the end and having a couple of lunges past him into Honda but the bike wouldn't pull cleanly out, letting him past again finishing once again in 9th place but I had lapped my quickest so far getting in to the 38's at last.

 

In fact I was only 2.1 seconds off the new lap record.

For the last race it was clear, from a team perspective, we all had to get our bikes home, Mick's and Ryan's engine gave up the ghost in race 3 so this left the team struggling for the last race to gather as many points as possible.

 

At this point we were not a long way behind the Aussie team but we need some luck for the last race.

 

Lights out and we were off for the last time, I had got used to the idea of crap starts and this one didn't disappoint.

Memo to self "get this sorted for next year if I get an invite back"... I felt I could run with the lead group but I had to be on their heels to stand any chance of mixing it with them.

Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

Exiting turn two I counted 8 bikes in front, similar tale I thought; but as we came out of Lukey heights Cameron Donald's machine had stopped, not good for him but good news for the British team and me too.

 

A couple of laps later Gary's engine expired so that evened up the points score again, good for the Aussies but bad for us.

Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

I caught John once again and had a terrific scrap for the last few laps but this time I was determined to finish ahead out braking him in to Honda for the last time and piping him over the line to take 6th place at the flag.

 

I bagged enough points to be 1st Phillip Island rookie, 3rd Brit and 6th International competitor overall.

It simply was a fantastic event, well run with great facilities. Everyone was really friendly and the competition was fast and furious, our team performed gallantly and although we ended up runner up again it was with a much reduced point disadvantage than the year before.

 

At the prize giving the overall points scorer was a joint decision between Jeremy and Shawn Giles - very fitting to be honest although we felt Jeremy did in fact win as he had more wins than Shawn but it didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.

A huge thanks to all involved making my first Phillip Island Classic Races so fabulous.


Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com


Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

 
Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com


Photo: Howard Shearing - redlinepix.com

Tyre slippage...