Island Classic - Phillip Island - International Challenge
23rd - 25th January 2015 - Australia

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Back to Phillip Island to kick off my 33rd consecutive race season - I was looking forward to the 22nd running of the Island Classic Challenge; returning after my 2014 debut.

 

Rodger Winfield had invited me back in October to complete his team of Ryan Farquhar, Jeremy McWilliams, John McGuinness, Glen Richards and new boy to PI, Connor Cummins.

 

All the bikes and gear went out by container/ship early in November so it was just a case of jetting out there ready for the event. As before we flew out a week or so before hand to acclimatise ourselves and have chance to recover from the jet lag. After a couple of days in Melbourne we collected our groovy hire car from Wicked Campers and drove down to the Island straight to the house.

We were the first there as most of the rest of the team were arriving later that night so we went shopping to buy in some basic provisions ready for their arrival.

It was great to see everyone again and it was a real family style reunion when they rolled in just after midnight.

 

The container hadn't made it there yet as it was held up in customs so there wasn't mush to do on the first day other than a bit of sight seeing, eating and drinking...

 

Yes it's a hard life this racing job!

Wednesday the container arrived so after unpacking everything, sorting stands, benches, tool boxes etc then fitting race screens, stickers and generally setting the bikes up we were ready for the test day booked on Thursday.

I was riding the same bike as last year and it hadn't been used since I raced it last, other than an engine rebuild so I was confident I had a good package for the weekend.

However as soon as I went out for the first practice session I was struggling for grip from the rear end, session after session adjusting the suspension, ride high test the grip and stability just wasn't there, in fact it got worse and worse!


Action photos: Howard Shearing

Eventually we ran out of time, so returning to a similar setting as we started with we readied ourselves for the qualifying the next day.

 

There were two sessions for qualifying so I played safe in the first to make sure I had a 'banker' then used the second session to push and see where I ended up on the grid; but being a team event it was important that we all finished and finished up as high in the points as possible.

 

So I didn't go mad and settled for a place, 12th overall - I was a bit disappointed.

Frustratingly I was over 1.5 seconds slower than I'd lapped the previous year and no real idea how to find the time.

 

In the second session I ran into loads of traffic and couldn't seem to find any clear track to put a good lap together. As I ended the last lap the bike started stuttering under full throttle.

 

Back in the pits it looked like a partly blocked fuel filter that was the problem, we replaced it and then made a big mistake by not testing it out for a few laps in another session, thinking it would be OK for the first race on Saturday.

Race one: We warmed the bike up and everything seemed to be fine, but on the warm up lap the engine spluttered under load and wouldn't clear!

There was nothing I could do and returned the to pits to see if there was anything obvious that could be done however there was nothing to be seen and the race started without me, frustratingly having to sit out the race and importantly loose valuable points. Closer inspection revealed a flat battery only having 7.2 volts in it, the charging system wasn't working so we fitted a new fully charged battery and crossed our fingers for the next race.

Glen's bike also packed up and all the Yamaha's were suffering from engine breather issues and clutch slip so the UK team was running second after the first leg.

 

Race two: with a DNS I was now on the back foot, and as the way the points scoring system works, only the first 5 top points scorers results are taken in to account. If I finished in front of any of the team riders I would in fact be taking points from the team. So even after a great start I sat on the back of John, Connor and Ryan and followed them home.

Jeremy stalled his motor on the start and finished a lowly 18th but the rest of us had a great combined points score plus the fact a few of the Aussie riders engines failed we closed the gab in the overall points score.

 

Race three: another good start and I was once again following John and Connor round until on the second lap going into MG, I crashed on Steve Martin's oil, about 6 riders went down in total and I was one of those who was caught out.

 

The race was stopped and rescheduled giving us some time to get the bike sorted for the restart.

 

The team really pulled together and rushed around pulling broken components off, taping up and repairing other parts while I went to the medical centre to get checked out.

Amazingly the bike although battered was ready for the restart and we all roared away again, but I was now riding for points and a finish and feeling how the bike was going.

 

I was once again following John round but the last couple of laps the engine felt a bit flat coming out of the slower corners but all I wanted at the stage was to finish which I did.

 

Glen crashed while fighting for the lead but the rest of the UK team put in some strong point scores and we closed the gap on the Aussie team who had a couple of DNF's so it was going to be all down to the last race to see if we could win.

 

We all gathered in the garage before the last race and discussed what we needed to do for the last race, there were two options - go flat out and push for some top points but risk some DNF's or ride on as a team putting in some solid points scores - and that's how it worked out.

Race four: Right from the off I knew I was in trouble because although the engine would rev, it was flat throughout the rev range.

I hung on to the back of the group for as long as I could but they slowly pulled a gap on me, looking back a had a huge gap on the chasing group so I decided to ease right back, short shift and keep the revs down to make sure I got the old girl home.

I did and was Uber relieved to cross the line.

Back in the pits the atmosphere was electric had we done enough? One points tally had us behind the Aussie's and one, in front.

 

So there was an anxious time where we had to wait for ages for the organisers to confirm the final result.

Finally they did and we had done it by four points, close, yes but a win is a win in my book. Everyone went mad in the garage, Roger was overcome with all the stress and emotion and had a few tears but to be honest I think we all did!

A fabulous result for the team, riders and supporters alike a great reward for all the effort, finance and commitment that Roger and his team have put into the six years that he has been competing in the International Challenge.