Unsurprisingly I slept most of yesterday (Monday) but I woke feeling refreshed this morning and ready to start becoming normal again. As usual, the Island Classic was a buzz and, despite all the media hype around Agostini and Colin Edwards, the racing proceeded pretty much as it usually does with champagne racing on the track right through the classes and champagne bench racing in the pits no matter what your class. So, let’s get down to the summary, halfofmylife-style.
With the Irish team not being invited this year (a very poor decision on PI Operations part I must say) it was down to four teams only, GB, USA, New Zealand and Australia. Of the four, Team GB looked to be the most stable with a few of their previous IC “regulars” being replaced with some pretty handy peddlers like Dan Linfoot and Michael Rutter, for example. Pit personnel were pretty much unchanged and stability was the name of the game. Everything in the Team GB pit functions smoothly and without fuss, even when a fuss would be more than justified. McWilliams was fast and looking untouchable right out of the box with the team looking like continuing heir usual tradition of sending McW out to break up the opposition with the rest of the riders stacking up the points by picking up as many minor positions as possible, denying the opposition teams valuable points.
It nearly worked and, were it not for a couple of stellar rides by two of our own boys and a Team GB-like mastery of picking up the minors, it would have. McWilliams was awesome, nearly always getting away a little slow but running through a class field to be in, or near the lead all the time. The man is over 50, he looks as fit as a fiddle and he has his head together in a way that must be very depressing for his opposition.
Team GB had its usual share of minor mechanical glitches but the staff know the bikes and know the “fixes” so well that nothing really takes them by surprise. What they DID have and this hurt their chances badly, was several big crashes and this did dent the team’s ability to fight as hard as they would have liked. Lee Johnson, Michael Rutter and Glenn Richards all tasted the tarmac and, with the competition so fierce, any little slip-up is going to be punished. The team’s usual emphasis of picking up points was still there but this didn’t help and what didn’t help also was another team taking valuable points from THEM, a most unusual situation.
He says it every year, but it really does look like this year may have been the last year for team principal and majority bike-owner, Roger Winfield. You can say what you like about eligibility but the fact is that he has carried the team almost singlehandedly for years and no-one would blame him if he said that this is enough. The IC owes him deeply.
Team USA arrived with a very revamped team. Firstly, the addition of WSBK champion, Colin Edwards gave them a big psychological advantage. Suddenly the team had a “name” rider and expectations were high. Some found the media hoopla surrounding his appearance a little jarring but that’s the way they do it in “Murica” and there’s no doubt that his appearance got people talking about the IC a whole lot more.
What the circus conveniently overlooked was that he was riding a totally new and unproven bike. A great specification bike, built by a hugely respected owner but nowhere near a race winner. Only a few laps of a track in California had been possible before it was loaded into the shipping container in November and every session from Thursday morning onwards was a matter of dialling in the myriad of aspects that are evident in a new bike. Of most concern was the suspension and the help of local Suzuki techo-wizard, Phil Tainton, certainly helped there. What didn’t help was that, half of the time, CEII’s pit crew were falling over each other trying to get things done. There were simply too many people in the crew for a relatively simple operation. Needless to say, they persevered and, come race days, Colin was smiling a lot more. The bike WAS fast and it DID handle, but, basically, it was still just too short on development time and that hurt Colin’s effort more than anything.
Team USA also recruited another two, high profile American riders. Jake Zemke, Daytona winner and AMA hard man was riding the Yamaha that had been ridden for the last two years by Pat Mooney and ex-AMA regular, BSB regular and WEC champion, Jason Pridmore was riding Ralph Hudson’s CMR Yamaha. Miami’s Barrett Long was back to ride one of Dave Crussell’s TZ750’s but they both failed terminally before race day and Barrett ended up riding one of the two Identical Kawasaki-engined Harris bikes of Victorian privateer, Robbie Ruwoldt. Robbie had already been named in the Team USA squad and acquitted himself well, but Barrett was amazing on the totally unfamiliar bike, coming to grips with it quickly and pulling wheelies out of T12 just to drive home the point.
Team Boss, Dave Crussell had a much easier time of it, recovering from being dive-bombed by another competitor in T12 to finish well in his races. However, even Dave’s loyalty to the aging two stroke is surely being tested now with the bike’s reliability being an issue and its lack of speed against the current top running bikes becoming a major cause for concern. The rest of Team USA was made up of enthusiastic amateurs whose skill level is unquestioned but whose equipment is aging and slow compared to their fellow competitors.
Jason Pridmore was the star of the weekend, overall. Three 4th places and a lap record is not to be sneezed at and he was pushing for 2nd place in Race 4 when the engine let go, obviously unable to take the flogging that this incredibly tough and skillful rider was able to give it. For a man in his mid-40’s his performance was astounding. And this on a bike that he hadn’t even SEEN before he rode it for the first time on Thursday. Team USA may have finished 3rd (again) but they were vastly closer to the front in points than they have been before and they contributed massively to Australia’s overall win by taking large amounts of points from Team GB by their excellent performances.
Team Australia finally stood on the top step of the presentation after being a victim of a Team GB hat trick for the last three years. The locals also recruited well. More than matching the Americans for a banner rider, Rex Wolfenden hired two-times WSBK title winner, Troy Corser, and gave him a choice of two Harris Hondas to ride. Both bikes had previous form in the hands of Jed Metcher and Michael Dibb so they looked the goods. Unfortunately, they weren’t. One was sidelined almost immediately with a serious engine issue and the second bike, the one that Troy though would be the better of the two, survived a minor gear selection issue to take Troy through practice and qualifying. Sadly, though, it was still too slow and a quick trip to Melbourne overnight on Friday night saw the Harris Yamaha bike from last year, in the pits and all stickered up for race day. It was much faster; still not fast enough to be a front runner, but with the legendary skill of Corser, it consistently recovered from positions outside the top 10 early in the races to be a top five finisher or thereabouts each time. Valuable points again for the locals.
The big surprise for the Aussies was the two Team Dermody bikes in the hands of Davo Johnson and Paul Byrne. Interestingly, both bikes bucked the current trend by running Suzuki engines and Davo rewarded his fans with two outright wins and two 2nd places behind McWilliams each time. Byrne also podiumed and added a huge points haul for the Aussies.
Beau Beaton also got amongst the points and the two Birrell Katanas, which are now really showing their age, were in and around the top ten each race in the hands of the perennial favourites, Steve Martin and Shaun Giles.
All in all, it was a weekend to be proud of for the Aussies. For the first time our team of stars rode like a star team and they carried the show to the tune of a 31 points win over Team GB. Am I proud to be an Aussie? You bet the hell I am.
Now a few general observations. Firstly, it was hot, and I mean DAMN hot. 37 degrees ambient and around 53 track temperature. Hot for the riders and hot for everyone else. The crowds were good, as they always are, but I have no doubt that some were deterred by the prospect of baking in the PI sun.
The entry list was assuredly down. Especially amongst the older bikes, the fields were markedly thin. The reasons for this are almost entirely financial. The cost of mounting a serious challenge is now huge. Robbie Phillis pulled his team out of the event before the meeting citing expense as his major reason, around $7000 all up. Way out of the reach of the average historic bike racer. As a spectacle the IC is without peer but the organisers may be killing the goose that has laid the golden egg for them for many years and this issue needs addressing urgently.
Eligibility is still an issue. Hands up if you remember a 1982 bike that had flat slide carburettors, a slipper clutch, petal rotor disk brakes with four spot calipers and a motor out of a bike that was discontinued in 1994. The current level of contempt for the rules is unsustainable.
One of the many bright spots that helps to take our attention away from what’s wrong is seeing what’s right. John Imrie, from Sydney, won his class again this year on his little old Bultaco. John is over 80 years old and still gets the job done. Bruce Lind, from Team USA, brought his 1974 TZ750 out to race. Apart from uprated forks and swingarm, the bike is substantially the same as it was when Bruce parked it in his garage after an illustrious racing career over 30 years ago. Bruce is 70 and is celebrating his 55th year of road racing. “Am I slow? Yes. Am I having fun? Oh yeah.” I asked Bruce’s wife if he would be returning in 2019. She rolled her eyes and said, “I guess so; he’s already retired twice, you know.” 🙂
My hero, Ralphie Hudson was there again, what a pleasure it was to sit down and interview him for MotoPod. 45 minutes of solid gold. Ralphie rode his TD2 250 in the Classic 250 races and finished 2nd in all four races behind the rocketship bike of Murray Seabrook (exactly as he had done in 2017)
Ex-Aussie superbike champion, Marty Cragill, again rode Phil Andrea’s brand new TZ750 in the Unlimited Forgotten Era races. Three wins and a 3rd place and smiles all round.
And, lastly a few non-racing observations. We stayed at the Tropicana Motel in Cowes. $200 a night and continental breakfast included. Bargain. My Disabled Parking sticker allowed us to park just in front of the Medical Centre each day and the PI staff were most anxious to accommodate me. Top points. And, as usual, the PI staff in the office were fabulous, making sure that media were well looked-after all weekend and doing so with a constant smile. Will I be going back? Of course I will.
POSTSCRIPT #1 My very astute readers will have noticed that I totally failed to mention the 4th International team, that of New Zealand. The Kiwis finished 4th and last again this year as usual. This is not due to lack of talent, desire or commitment. It IS due to the fact that the NZ team consistently and religiously enters a team of bikes that ARE compliant with P5 rules and have never gotten onto the “cheater” wagon. For this they deserve the maximum amount of approval that it is possible to give. There should be a “spirit of the rules” prize and it should be awarded without any discussion whatsoever to Team New Zealand.
POSTSCRIPT #2 There is always a “Quote of the weekend” prize awarded by me and for this year’s prize we needed to wait until late on Sunday afternoon. Team USA’s Bruce Lind’s old TZ had run pretty much flawlessly all weekend but, just as he went to go out for his last race of the weekend, it failed to fire. Time spent on the roller starters didn’t help at all and, with the field heading out on their warm-up lap, Bruce was forced to park the bike. As is so often the case in these situations, the reason became clear just a little too late. The petcock had been left on and the engine had flooded. Lorraine Crussell offered her condolences and Bruce, with typical American humour, smiled and said, “Well, sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.” Solid gold!!