Last weekend was the annual Bridgestone Festival of Speed at Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway. It’s what used to be called the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed before Barry’s family got greedy and licensed his name so that people had to PAY to use it. Barry must be turning in his grave at what his family is doing.
Still, the PCRA-run event soldiers on and still attracts the attention it should, though it isn’t really how it used to be. For a start the fields are more and more dominated by what are called Pre-Modern bikes (late 80s and 90s machines) and the look and feel is now much more like a modern race meeting and less like an historic one. And herein lies a problem that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
Since the dates for eligibility for each category move according to how old the bike is, the categories for the older bikes, what used to be called P3 and P4 remain the same but the number of entries in these categories are dwindling. This is due to the increasing age of the machinery AND the increasing age of the entrants in these categories as well. This is now so critical that P3 and P4 bikes are now rolled into existing categories and compete against each other on a class basis rather than having stand-alone races for each. This lessens the interest in the races from a spectator’s point of view and makes it necessary for them to have a pretty intimate knowledge of the class structure to be able to follow the race-within-a-race format.
Then there is P5. P5 used to be the banner class with upwards of 100 entries being received for this category alone. To many, myself included, this was the golden time for Post-Classic racing. “Name” riders competing on old GSX1100 Suzukis and CB1100R Hondas evoked the memories of that great era of Australian racing.
BUT, then came the Island Classic. Historic bikes racing against similar historic bikes from Great Britain, the USA, New Zealand and the rest of the world. And the racing was astonishing with name riders thrashing their machines around the iconic Phillip Island circuit. The bikes looked great and the sights and sounds were wonderful.
Except for the fact that the bikes weren’t really P5 bikes any more. Sure, they looked like them and they sounded like them and the entry list was still huge but, strip away the fake Katana bodywork and they were just modern bikes, far removed from their illustrious predecessors. Then they allowed the Yamaha FJ1200 engine in, on the basis that it was available as an engine in the P5 time period. And it was. But it also remained a catalogue Yamaha model until well into the 90s, way PAST the P5 cut-off date.
Once the wedge had been put into the door, all bets were off. Wider rims to accommodate modern race tyres, Modern carburettors, trick gearboxes and the exotic Irving Vincent, marvellous engineering but not an historic bike. Of course, it could be said that the bikes against which it is competing are hardly historic either and that is correct, but somehow it rankles all the same.
P5 entries started to decline as owners, faced with the prospect and the expense of running their legal P5 machines against the thinly-disguised modern bikes and competing for 12th place as a consequence, pulled out.
Then came the creation of P6, what is now known as Pre-Modern. Administrators who realised that there were sheds full of FZR Yamahas, Fireblades and Gixxers that could easily be made into race bikes, framed the category so that there was vastly less opportunity for the jiggery-pokery that had ruined P5 and the class grew. It’s still growing which shows that they were on the right track.
BUT, a quick perusal of the pits last Saturday and looking at the entry through slitted eyes, you could have been forgiven for thinking that this was a modern race meeting. Sure there lots of old bikes still but the majority and the INCREASING majority of the bikes were 90’s bikes.
Once out on the track the problem is exacerbated. They LOOK like modern bikes, the SOUND like modern bikes and they ARE modern bikes, forget the Pre nonsense. What made historic racing attractive was seeing and hearing the old bikes out on the tracks still and P6 fails the test. And, God help us, soon someone is going to ask for the creation of a P7 class to allow even newer bikes a chance to run.
If I wanted to see fully-faired bikes racing, I’d go the Superbike races. It’s that simple.
“But, hang on a minute,” someone is going to say, “Just because these bikes aren’t historic to you (they’re not), it doesn’t mean that the younger generation doesn’t regard them as historic.” Fair call, but a race bike with a solo seat and a fairing is a race bike with a solo seat and a fairing. You have to be a real anorak to tell which of the multitude of GSX-R Suzukis a bike is and kitting it out with race gear makes it even harder to do so.
To all intents and purposes the racing that I saw on Saturday could have been from 10 years ago, old, but not historic.
What is the answer? I don’t know. From the late 80s onwards all sports bikes looked like race bikes and nothing is going to change there. P6 and soon P7 grids are going to be filled with near-identical bikes and the attraction of seeing DIFFERENT bikes competing is going to dwindle, indeed, it already has if the entry list on the weekend is any indication. Likewise the spectator attendance will continue to dwindle along with it (this despite PCRA’s paltry and VERY welcome gold coin admission price.)
So, did I enjoy the day? Hell, yes. A day at the races beats mowing the lawn even IF the temperatures are in the 40s. I got to see so many great friends and catch up with many who I haven’t seen since the last Island Classic several years ago. I’m sure I missed a few people who were there but you can never see them all.
Would I go again? Of course I would, but these days I go more for the people than the racing and that’s one of the reasons (apart from the heat) that I didn’t go back on Sunday.
Catch you next time.