Troy Corser and Colin Edwards were the headline act at the 25th anniversary of the International Island Classic, but Aussie Davo Johnso on stole centre stage and the party’s silverw ware. He e tore the heart out of Team UK with four giant-killing rides to put Australia back on to op after three years in the wilderness. Th en he prised Jeremy Mcwilliams’ grip off th he Ken Wootton trophy he has made his ow wn in recent years to top the individual rider’s s tally by a point. Aus stralia’s 31-point victory was welldeserv ved after a gut-wrenching 11-point loss last yea ar. Even Team UK chief Roger Winfield describ bed the result as: “Good for the event. “Dav vo was magic,” said Winfield: “He rode a blinde er.” MCW Williams, Team UK’S rock of stability, gave a brutally honest assessment of Johnson’s performance: “He made us look silly in Race Three.” Johnson’s four-second runaway win was the biggest margin in an International Challenge race for several years. And this was on a lower-spec race bike than any of Team UK’S frontrunners. Johnson’s bike was a seven-year-old XR69 Suzuki while Mcwilliams’ Yamaha Fj1200-powered version was one of Team UK’S most recent machines. Backing up Johnson’s dominance was some heroic rides from former World Superbike champion Corser. Despite qualifying down the grid Corser stormed through in all four races to end up equal third with fellow team rider Paul Byrne in the individual riders points tally. Meanwhile American World Superbike champion and former Motogp racer Edwards overcame minor machine issues to finish strongly in all four races and bag eighth in the points.
His effort catapulted Team USA to 465 points and into third place ahead of Team New Zealand. The Americans finished 189 points behind Team UK but this doesn’t tell the true story. If not for two major engine blow-ups from star riders Jason Pridmore and Zake Zemke, they would have been right up there in the final showdown. With just four six-lap races and minimum practice and qualifying sessions, the International Challenge is motorcycling’s equivalent of cricket’s T20 competition. Success relies on talent, a fearless belief that you can win and a little bit of luck. Davo Johnson, the ‘gun for hire’ who helped turned Norton’s under-performing Isle of Man TT effort into a genuine 131mph contender, brought his complete set of skills to Phillip Island. Here’s how the weekend unfolded.
The two stars of the show arrived at this poker game with not a lot of cards up their sleeves. “The first time I’d even heard this bike running was yesterday,” said Corser as he prepared for Friday’s two short qualifying sessions on Rex Wolfenden’s Honda-powered Harris F1. “My only testing was two laps at Willow Springs,” said Edwards of the aborted attempt to get acquainted with his Hyper-cycle-built, Yamaha Fj1200-powered XR69 replica. He’d flown from Texas to California for nothing when the bike failed. Neither was comfortable on their machines and suffered the same issues: a stiff throttle action and difficulty with a notchy gear change linkage on bulky, unfamiliar machines built for hobby racing. Welcome to classic racing. While Corser and Edwards struggled, Team UK circulated in groups, dragging their new star members Dan Linfoot, Michael Rutter and Lee Johnston up to pace. None of this trio had ever seen Phillip Island before. Meanwhile Davo Johnson cleverly left them alone and found an empty space on the track, quietly building up speed until a last lap lunge pushed Jeremy Mcwilliams off his accustomed pole position. Afterwards Corser was offered a Plan B by Wolfenden, who managed to get rival teams to allow his star to update to a later Period 6 FJ1200 Yamaha. They agreed because it had no more power than their Forgotten Era machines, which run similar engines. Edwards had no such option available but soldiered on with his typical sense of optimism. “It is what it is,” he drawled. The stage was set.
Race by race
You could feel the adrenalin from the pit wall as Saturday’s first race grid formed. The front row of Johnson, Mcwilliams and Davo’s Tom Dermody Motorsport team-mate Paul Byrne hunkered down behind their fairings. Behind them were Team UK’S Glen Richards, last year’s sensation Peter Hickman, and Colin Edwards. The third row was Team USA’S Pridmore and Team UK’S Linfoot and Rutter. The fourth row was Irving Vincent racer Beau Beaton, Team USA’S Zemke and Corser. In a perfect start Davo appeared to clear off but Mcwilliams did his usual around-theoutside move at Turn One. But he hadn’t reckoned on Corser, who shot through the grid into second. “Troy came through like a ballistic missile,” he said later. “I thought he’d go straight through and we’d meet up again on the other side of Turn Two.” It took two laps for Mcwilliams to slipstream Corser down the main straight at 171.5mph, who was then overtaken by Hickman. Sadly for Team UK, Hickman struck gearchange issues that at one stage had him riding through the Turn Four hairpin in fourth gear. He was lucky to finish the race in ninth, bringing home valuable points. Pridmore was also a man on a mission, slicing his way up through to the front trio, setting the fastest lap in the process. As Corser slipped back to fifth, Mcwilliams tried to repeat his main-straight mugging act on Johnson, but the South Australian held him off. It wasn’t until Lukey Heights that Mcwilliams could get the advantage and he held the lead to the chequered flag. Later Johnson revealed that tyre pressure issues had slowed him at the vital time, a problem that also blighted Corser, who came home in sixth place. Third was Glen Richards, who had survived a scary loss of brakes to limp home. Fourth was Pridmore, shaping as a real threat to the frontrunners, and Byrne was fifth. Edwards finished back in 13th after showing early speed. So it was Team UK and Australia tied on points with Team USA suddenly looking capable of bringing the fight to both. Race Two soon turned into the Davo and Jezza show, a game of bluff, block passes and balls-out slipstreaming. Behind them came one of those good old Nineties Superbike freight trains, with Corser running in third and Edwards in sixth looking for a way through. Five bikes together suddenly became seven, while up front Mcwilliams very nearly ended his perfect history of race finishes on the exit from Turn Four on the final lap. Slowed by his potential highside and an engine that suddenly lost power at Siberia but chimed back into life at the Hayshed, Mcwilliams was eventually overtaken for second by Richards. When the smoke cleared from the freight train the finishing order was Pridmore, Edwards and Corser, with Beaton farther back followed by Zemke, Steve Martin and Linfoot. Australia were only six points ahead of Team UK with Team USA just 47 points adrift. There would be no plain sailing for the three top teams in Race Three. Another day, another set of challenges dawned on Sunday. Relatively mild weather was quickly turning to furnace-like heat for the final day’s racing. As the track temperatures soared, the teams formed for Race Three. Corser’s temperature hit the redline as he was forced to start from pitlane, despite arriving at the exit as the rest of the grid was still in sight around the Southern Loop. When the race started he swept through the cones onto the main straight, risking major retribution from the officials. “It was way too dangerous and bumpy to go full noise down the full length of pit exit so I did what I thought was right for the circumstances,” he said later. Corser fine-tuned his anger into controlled race aggression, carving his way up to thirteenth within two laps and eventually finished an amazing eighth place and recording the second fastest lap of the race.
Meanwhile up front Johnson was equally impressive. He turned a dream start into dominance of the entire race after setting the fastest lap on his second circuit. Mcwilliams was navigating unchartered waters. First he had to shake off Edwards, who had a flier of a start. Then he was faced with the dilemma of trying to catch and overtake Johnson or settle for second and bag valuable team points. “Davo put the hammer down,” he said later. “Then Colin came past riding the wheels off that thing. I’m not lying when I say I had to use everything I knew about this circuit to get past him. “Then I had to weigh up the differences with Davo. I really needed it to be a 12-lap race to give me options.” It was a spooky ride for Johnson. “I kept hearing noise behind me and was thinking Jeremy was catching me,” he said. “I looked over my shoulder and could see he was way back but I could still hear that noise.” As Johnson blasted home over four seconds ahead of Mcwilliams all hell broke loose behind them. Pridmore was running in third when his engine blew on the final lap. He covered the following riders in oil, including Edwards, who had now completed his baptism of vintage racing. Byrne finished third, ahead of Richards, Linfoot and a hard-charging Beaton. Australia were leading Team UK by seven points but Team USA had dropped right out of contention with Zemke also retiring with a broken engine. Race Four was held in a cauldron with track
temperatures over 60C, as hot as it gets on the island. Officials pushed Corser back another two rows on the grid as punishment for his track shortcut in the previous race. This only inspired him to greater heights, carving his way up to fourth on lap three, then third. Eventually he finished fifth. “If I feel comfortable on a motorcycle I can go okay,” he said later with a wry smile and sweat pouring off him. Up front it became another Johnson-jezza duel. Davo led for the first three laps before Mcwilliams caught him. But getting past was another matter. Unable to pressure him into a mistake at Siberia or Lukey Heights, Mcwilliams blasted past down the main straight in yet another slipstream effort on a bike with a 6mph speed advantage. Hickman was a lonely third with Linfoot dispatching Corser for third. Aussies Byrnes and Shawn Giles followed ahead of Rutter. Had the Aussies done enough to win the Challenge back? An anxious wait while officials did their sums resulted in the news that the Aussies were back on top.
Fire in the eyes as Davo Johnson clears off in Race Three to win by over four seconds.
The Team UK brains trust of Jeremy Mcwilliams and Roger Winfield in consultation with Dan Linfoot. Some teams burnt the midnight oil on engine rebuilds. Paul Byrne reflects on a solid weekend where he helped Australia to victory by tying on points with Troy Corser.
Ross Gra aham (wearing cap) has bougght Kiwi legend Trevor Diiscombe’s TZ350 to give it annother lease on life in classic c racing.
Australia Day tyre barbecue by Troy Corser (No 11), Davo Johnson and Paul Byrne (No 52). Below: No 99 Jeremy Mcwilliams on a charge. No 60 Peter Hickman rode this hard all weekend.
Davo Johnson (No 3) leads a freight train of riders including Mcwilliams (No 99), Glen Richards (No 75) and Beau Beaton (No 186). Colin Edwards (No 5) had a brutal baptism in classic racing. Romano Colombo demonstrates the John Surtees winning MV 500/4 (No 5/42).
Sidecar No 88 Americans Wade Boyd and Christine Blunck raced a rare Norton Rotary.
It’s a demo, not a race, but Ago gets involved in an MV duel.
Fans also flocked to the island to see the most successful GP motorcycle racer of all time, Giacomo Agostini, who travelled from Italy with four famous MV Agustas. The 75-year-old legend paraded his favourite MV, the original four-cylinder 350cc machine of his 1972 and 73 titles. “I like people to hear the music of the engine,” he said. No 16 Hasse Gustafson gave Brook Henry’s new Ritorno its track debut; No 16 in pitlane with Brook Henry and Gustafson; Ago enjoyed the meeting; Sidecar No 4 Bruce Collins and Peter Deangelis on their LCR Honda; No 186 Beau Beaton took the awesome Irving Vincent to 7th in the points; No 43 Jason Pridmore was simply stunning; No 5 Texas Tornado Colin Edwards; No 99 Mcwilliams; No 24 Mick Johnston 1987 Ducati TTF1 984cc.