From the Blog

Island in the sun

Christina

Christina Divigard learning the track

Yes, I know I have used the title before but it was apropriate then and it still is.

Firstly, my apologies for not updating during the weekend but internet speed on Phillip Island is appalling and the only way I was able to upload my interviews to the MotoPod FTP server was to get up at 0300 each morning and do it and, even then, the speeds were barely acceptable. Updating the blog just didn’t happen so, bear with me now and I’ll try and hit the highlights of what was another wonderful weekend at the Island.

After a 1000km drive, a peek behind the scenes into my car racing past life and an unofficial practice day, things really kicked into gear with official practice on Friday. And, after not being able to do any media work on the Thursday (PI Management had banned all media work because they didn’t have enough staff on the ground to supervise photographers – how that affected me I don’t know, but I fell into line and just used Thursday to line up interviews and schmooze) I hustled into the job that I was there to do, getting interviews with riders and others for the MotoPod web site.

As usual, getting permission to do the interviews was a piece of cake. If I didn’t know it before (I did, actually) I’d know it after doing this job for a few years. You can get anything you want as long as you ask nicely. And are prepared to fit in with other peoples’ timetables. And so I was able to talk to all the top riders, some of the “lesser lights” and also some “behind the scenes people” as well. As always I found them to be charming, candid, entertaining, interesting and often funny.

Friday dawned grey, overcast that turned quickly to rain. “You see,” said some, “You jinxed us with your post about the weather always being good when you come down here.” People were rushing around like chickens with their heads cut off and even some of the top teams were panicking as they hadn’t brought “wets”. I bit my tongue but asked myself how, in heaven’s name, you can come to PI and not be prepared for it to rain? Bizarre.  My answer to the rain question was simple and constant throughout the morning. The predicted temperature was 29 degrees and it simply can’t rain and be cold when the temperature mitigates against it. So the first sessions were run in wet conditions and I doubt anybody learned much, but, just as I predicted, the rain cleared at lunch time to a sparkling, sunny and hot PI day.

Friday was also disaster day for some. After building up a killer Katana, Ottis Lance saw the bike last just three laps in his first session before he missed a gear going into T12, zinged the motor up to about 12000RPM and it went “bang” End of section, end of journey. The bike was parked and Otter spent the rest of the afternoon sitting in the pit garage looking suitably glum. It wasn’t a much better story for the second member of the 3 amigos. Deano Swims, who was slated to share K2 of the Sunset Racing bikes with Roger Gunn’s son, Jeremy. Jeremy crashed heavily in his first session, trashing the bike and sending himself for a helicopter ride to the hospital in Doncaster with multiple fractures. Jeremy returned to the track late on Sunday looking very battered and bruised and with his arm in a sling, to remain that way for the next two months according to the orthos.

K2 was repaired and was ridden for the rest of the weekend by Otter, Deano having give up the fight against a stubborn head cold that had gotten steadily worse throughout the preceding week. Apart from doing some “colour” commentary in the box, he spent the rest of the weekend walking the track as Margaret took photos. I got the feeling that, even though he is racer through and through, he wasn’t that unhappy with not riding as it gave him more time to spend with his lovely wife who he hasn’t seen since she flew to the States to marry him in May last year.

It was also a disaster day for Paul Borg, or “Spooky” as he is affectionately known. After taking provisional pole on is Honda 125, he had a ferocious high-side in T12 and had to be airlifted to hospital with multiple injuries including, as it turned out, a fractured spine. No paralysis but an extended recuperation is in order for a thoroughly likeable guy who really didn’t deserve suck bad luck.

Saturday dawned cold and bleak with the threat of rain in the air. But, as for Friday, the predicted max was 29 so it plainly would clear at some stage and, by mid-morning, it was all back to sparkling sunshine and perfect racing weather. After being very out of sorts with his new bike, and having a minor slip-off late on Friday afternoon, Australian hero, Robbie Phillis, bit the big one later in the day. Pushing a little too hard on a cold tyre (why no warm-up lap?) he baled at Lukey Heights. The bike hit the gravel trap and barreled rolled to a stop, doing ferocious amounts of damage to itself. Robbie was pinballed across the gravel behind it, the visor of his helmet tearing off and his face was peppered with gravel. Returning from the Medical Centre he looked like he had done 10 rounds with Muhamed Ali and lost. Bruised, and incredibly sore, he toughed it out for the rest of the day and Sunday as well, finally admitting to me late in the day that, “I probably should go and see the doc.” The man is made of steel but he is 57 years old and sooner, hopefully, rather than later he is going to have to stop abusing his body.

A highlight of the day was meeting up with Bob Rosenthal. If you have read my story about his amazing win in the King of the Weir in 1979, on a TZ750 in the streaming rain, you will know why I rate this ride as one of the five all-time great rides that I have ever seen. It surely was a privilege to see him and talk to him after over 30 years since seeing him last.

Bob Rosenthal

Bob Rosenthal – love the t-shirt.

 

Saturday morning was final qualifying and then, mid-morning, the racing started. Now here I must apologise that I can’t tell you too much about the actual races, I didn’t get to see many of them at all, being busy with my media commitments.

Sunday it got ever so much more serious. It was apparent that the Team D&D Katanas of Shaun Giles, Steve Martin and new recruit, Brendan Roberts, were going to have  huge fight on their hands defending Australia’s continuing dominance in the International Challenge. Team GB, courtesy of Roger Winfield, were flying the Union Jack on a fleet of XR69 replicas that were very fast, especially the #99 bike of returning star, Jeremy McWilliams. JMc’s bike was the subject of a deal of controversy over the weekend but it seems that the organisers were determined to give Team GB the best chance of winning by allowing him to run a hot-rod Yamaha FJ1200 engine instead of the usual Suzuki GSX1100 engines that the Harris race bikes usually have. Since the regulations for Period 5 specify the cut-off date of 1982 it seems odd to some that he was allowed to run an engine that didn’t make it into production till 1984.

Anyway, the cream always rises to the top and the International Challenge races featured McWilliams, Giles, Roberts, Martin as well as Cam Donald, John McGuiness, Ryan Farquhar and Mike Edwards. A pretty star-studded line-up I think you’ll agree. By the time the last race of the day, the last IC race, rolled around, excitement was at fever pitch. Team GB could win the whole ball game and JMc stood to lift the individual try as well. At the drop of the green the field screamed away, everyone chasing Aussie international, Cam Donald. But Cam over-cooked it it early and fell, so it was left to the D&D riders and Beau Beaton on the Irving Vincent to decide the issue. Beaton as awesome, the twin cylinder bike making up for its lack of top end speed with handling and agility in the twisty stuff. Watching Beau pass McWilliams around the OUTSIDE in T11 was surely a highlight of the weekend. Indeed, it was probably Beau’s harassing of the GB riders throughout the race that allowed Giles to get away to what became a race-winning lead. But behind all hell broke loose in the final lap. McWilliams looked safe in 2nd place which would have been enough to see him get the individual trophy, but Roberts had other ideas and slingshotted the Katana out of the slipstream in the run to the flag to beat JmC by 0.0494 of a second. It needed a photo to determine who had finished 2nd and JmC’s third place meant that he fell to equal in points with Giles. However since Giles had more wins for the weekend, the trophy went to him and the Aussie team secured yet another International Trophy win.

But there was a postscript. On examining the Supplementary Regulations for the meeting the MA Steward discovered that they did not include regulations on how to resolve the issue if two riders finished on equal points. So, it was decided, with the cooperation of both riders, that the trophy would be shared between them, and I have to say that it was probably a fair call.

Outside of the ferocity of the big races, mention must be made of the other events, especially the sidecars. Team USA brought 4 sidecars, the hot-rod Susuki of defending sidecar champions Wade Boyd and Christine Blunk and three historic sidecars, two powered by 1970’s BMW motors and one by a Vincent V-twin. Interestingly, all four outfits featured female passengers and included the delightful Christina Divigard whose picture appears that the top of this article. It was Christina who provided one of the two great quotes of the weekend. Asked how she had managed to coordinate the East Coast contingent of Team USA and get their bikes and equipment into the shipping container and onto the boat by October last year, she replied, “It was like herding cats – indifferent cats.” The American sidecar teams had a blast at the Island and they, along with all of their compatriots, want to come back in 2015, finances permitting. Boyd and Blunk won the sidecar challenge yet again.

As for my MotoPod duties, I was a little hog-tied, as recorded above, by not being able to work on Thursday, but I achieved pretty much what I set out to do. 19 extended interviews will air on the broadcast over the next couple of weeks and I hope you enjoy them. It was Team GB rider, Mike Edwards who provided, in interview, the quote of the weekend. When asked what it was like to race an XR69 Suzuki around PI, Edwards said, “Well, it’s somewhat like trying to dance with a fat lady in a phone booth.” Gold, absolute gold.

The car park/bike park is always worth a look at IC weekend and it didn’t disappoint with all manner of exotica on show. At the end of the article I will provide links to my 5 albums on Facebook that you can look at for yourself. You do not have to be a Facebook member to look.

I met all manner of wonderful people, many Facebook friends and some who I haven’t ever met though I speak to them regularly online. Dave Milligan was there with his Get Routed display and he is always good for a laugh. It was also great to see Alan Kempster again. This inspirational man, a double amputee who continues to race despite his disability is always worth the time.

The trip home was punishing. The delightful run up the Midland Highway gave way to the boredom and glare of the Hume Highway for mile after boring mile. 1000kms in 11 hours sounds impressive but it was hard work.

For the record, my car used 52 litres to do 721kms on the run home; that’s 7.3l per 100kms. (over 35mpg in the old money) And the average speed for that tankful was 99km/h!

I’m sure I have left lots of stuff out but that might have to do, oh, except for these couple of photos, of which I am ver proud.

At rest

Lying in wait. Brian Filo’s historic Yamaha XS and Dave Crussell’s TZ750

 

Jimi Mac

Reno, Nevada’s, Jimi Mac, top pointscorer for Team USA.

 

Oddly both of these photos, the first of Brain Filo’s XS650 Special and one of Dave Crussell’s TZ750 and the second of Jimi Mac surveying the race track from the pit garage, were taken under conditions that most would regard as far from ideal; in the darkness looking out into the light. But somehow they both work so I am happy.

Here are the links to my Island Classic albums

Album 1 Wednesday

Album 2 Thursday

Album 3 Friday

Album 4 Saturday

Album 5 Sunday

Am I ready to go again? Of course. Unfortunately I do not have the funds to go to World Supers in 3 weeks time which is hugely disappointing but it was a great week and, as usual, provided me with some fabulous memories. And I hope that I have been able to convey some of that excitement and fun to you in these reports.