Now that I’m home from the Island and have had a bit of a chance to recover, I thought I’d set down some things that struck me about the experience, both good and bad.
- Phillip Island is a LONG way away. I know others and many competitors travel further but 1000kms each way is getting harder to do. Yes, I’m getting old, but it is harder to do the drive than what it used to be. Flying, of course, would make it so much easier and not much dearer given the Minibago’s fuel consumption. Somehow, given my last experience, I don’t think it’s going to happen. Taking the bed in the back of the van does help; I’m sure my 90 minutes or so of sleep on the way home helped enormously. In the words of bugs Bunny, “Why did they put the south so far south?” Having someone to travel with and who could share the driving and the fuel costs would mean it could be done straight through and with both parties arriving and getting home fresher. Next year.
- The Island Classic has probably reached critical mass. In point of fact, it probably did some years ago, but the shortening of race distances to fit the programme in began almost immediately on Saturday, indicating that the organisers’ projected programme was always going to be optimistic at best and disastrous at worst. Fate dealt them a better hand than what they probably deserved. There were no serious accidents, no helicopter evacuations and fewer than normal retrievals of dead and crashed bikes at the end of each race. As well, there were fewer races red-flagged because of oil on the track or accidents so this also saved a heap of time each day. There was one red flag which turned out to be a false alarm but to be fair to the organisers, they couldn’t have known until the bike was back in scrutineering. If a bike goes by blowing a cloud of blue smoke the assumption is oil; they would never have suspected a broken rear shock absorber making the rear tyre rub on the subframe. Fact is that 500+ bikes and 350+ riders is just too much for a 3 day meeting (one day Practice and Qualifying and two days racing) Somehow they must find a way to satisfy all parties, God knows how they are going to do that. Dropping P3 and P4 would do it, but disenfranchising half of the entrants is not an option. As it stands, anyone who enters can ride; maybe some sort of qualifying system like they used to have at Bathurst could be used? Making the race a 4 day event could also help but, with so many people who work right up to the weekend, they struggle to even get the Friday off, let alone the Thursday as well. I don’t know what the answer is, but something has to be done.
- The International Challenge is becoming the tail that wags the dog and it is causing a great deal of angst amongst the other competitors. Let me give you an example. The race organisers liaised at length with the captains of the International teams to try and determine the fairest means of qualifying for the big races. They didn’t want to have 40 big bikes out on the track at the same time (why the hell not, every other class had to?) in case it produced an odd grid for the 4 IC races. You can see where I am heading here, can’t you? Come Qualifying day (Friday) and it was raining and looking like continuing. More meetings throughout the day finally saw Qualifying being cancelled for the IC races altogether, postponed until Saturday morning first thing. Saturday morning 0900, all 40 bikes headed out for a 15 minute session to determine the grid for Race 1 (grids for the other three races were to be progressive). 5 minutes into the session on a not-dry track, there was an engine blow-up in Ryan Farquhar’s bike and the session was red-flagged.
Plan F was now put in place that said that the Team Captains would pick the grid for Race 1 based on performance and practice times and that it would then be the qualifying race that set the fixed grids for the remaining 3 races (points from Race 1 would also count). And that is FINALLY how it was done….BUT, it begs the question, why weren’t the IC competitors made to qualify IN THE RAIN, like everyone else had to? Are they some sort of protected species? Evidently the answer is yes. I always thought that racing consisted of playing the cards you were dealt and making the best of it. I was not impressed.
And….speaking of rules, the eligibility issue raised its head again. Out of the 40 bikes in the International challenge barely a handful of them qualified as a genuine P5 bike. “Well, that’s OK,” say the powers that be, “We have modified the rules for P5 so that overseas competitors can run the bikes that they race overseas that DON’T meet P5 Tech Specs.” Was the racing good because of it? Of course it was, the IC races, all four of them, were great. Was the SPIRIT of the regulations observed? By not even the vaguest understanding of them. So the vast majority of P5 competitors in this country have to be content with being a sideshow at their own, blue riband event simply because they have invested time and money in building a bike that DOES satisfy P5 regulations. I walk a fine line here. On the one hand it burns me that this situation has been allowed to develop, but, on the other hand, I have to respect the couple of dozen overseas competitors who have spent good money building a bike JUST for this event. What the answer is, I do not know, but the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” is growing wider each year and I can’t see it being good for the sport.
Canteen food. “OK, here we go, he’s going to launch into a tirade about cost and quality.” someone is saying. Well, no, I’m not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The cost and the quality of food from the PI canteen is better than at most tracks that I have attended and, added to that, the staff are unfailingly friendly and polite and are still smiling as the sun is going down. PI has done a super job hiring and keeping them. Coffee is also excellent with limited choices of sizes and types available so that large numbers of people can be served quickly. Also full marks. AND, if you don’t want to stand up and wait and sit outside with the crowd to eat, the Buffet indoors serves an excellent breakfast and lunch at a cost that is only fractionally more than the take-away fare served outside. Highly recommended, in this scribe’s opinion.
And speaking of PI staff. Again, top marks. Fox and his company have hired and KEPT a staff that knows their jobs well, do them well and are still smiling and obliging at the end of the day. When one of the top men walks by and stops and says, “Hey, Phil, how are you going?” you know you’re doing something right.
Is it any wonder that the Island Classic is top on my list of race meetings? Now, let’s have a look at that 2017 calendar.