Australia is desperate to win back the International Challenge from the United Kingdom when the 24th International Island Classic for historic bikes is held at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, January 27-29.
The new faces in the Australian International Challenge team for 2017 are Alex Phillis, the son of ‘Mr Superbike’ Rob Phillis, and Chas Hern.
Alex will ride the 1982 Suzuki XR69 that his dad crashed spectacularly at the 2014 International Challenge, but which has since been meticulously returned to its former glory.
“I am really excited to be racing at the Island Classic,” said Phillis. “I have been going to the event for about 10 years now without throwing on the leathers, so it’s all going to be a unique experience.
“My dad was fast on the XR69 with the few laps he had on it in 2014, so I’d like to think I can be competitive. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my Aussie teammates and hopefully bringing the International Challenge trophy back Down Under.”
Melburnian Jed Metcher, who finished equal first alongside UK stalwart Jeremy McWilliams in the 2016 International Challenge individual standings, will be joined in the Australian team by former national superbike champions Steve Martin and Shawn Giles, Isle of Man winner Cameron Donald, Beau Beaton, John Allen and Scott Webster.
Phillis’ last appearance on local shores was actually at Phillip Island’s World Supersport round in February 2016 when he finished in a point-scoring 14th position.
Save for the two-stroke mounted Allen, who will ride a 1978 Yamaha TZ750, the balance of the Aussie team will join Phillis on four-stroke machinery, with Martin and Giles on 1982 Suzuki Katanas, Metcher and Hern on 1982 Honda Harris F1s, Webster on a 1982 XR69, and Beaton and Donald aboard the rapid-fire 1978 Irving Vincents.
The International Challenge is held over four races on the Island Classic weekend, reserved for machines manufactured between 1973 and 1984. Australia and the four other teams – the UK, Ireland, America and New Zealand – are allowed to field eight riders each to make up a maximum grid of 40.
The secret to International Challenge success is both speed and consistency, which were the UK’s trumps cards in 2016 as it filled seven of the top spots in the individual standings, while the likes of Giles, Donald and Marty Craggill failed to land any real blows after a slew of mechanical problems.
As a result, the ruthless UK outfit retained the International Challenge trophy ahead of Australia, impressive first-timer Ireland, America and New Zealand.
In the individual standings, Metcher’s two third and two wins produced the same number of points as McWilliams’ brace of second places to produce the second tie in the prestigious Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy over the last five years.
The full squads for the other International Challenge will be announced shortly, but McWilliams will definitely be joined by long-time running mates Conor Cummins and John McGuinness, as well as extra star power in the form of a British superbike-winning rider making his first foray Down Under.
Meanwhile, Aussie-based expatriate Paul Byrne will return for his second tilt at the International Challenge with Ireland, Dave Crussell will captain the US team, while the New Zealanders will have Duncan Coutts at the helm. The Aussie captain is Rex Wolfenden, and for Ireland the head honcho is Mike Meskell.
The International Challenge forms just a small part of the overall Island Classic event, with 56 races to be held in total, all between four and six laps and catering for bikes from pre-WW1 bikes through to Vintage (1920-1945), Classic and Post Classic (from 1946 to 1972), and the more recent Forgotten Era and New Era classes.
But for many punters the chance to get up close with the machinery in the pits is just as magical as the on-track action, which is why the event is akin to a pilgrimage for so many.
As well as the Japanese Big Four, other manufacturers on the Island Classic grids will include BSA, Triumph, Harley-Davidson, Ducati, Matchless, Norton, Vincent, Ariel, Indian, Aermacchi, Bultaco and Adler, as well as a bevy of chassis specialists.
Tickets are on now sale at www.islandclassic.com.au, with an advance three-day adult pass for $80* and children 15 and under free. Add on-circuit camping for four nights for $75* per person, purchased in advance.
VIP options are available in the Club Classic Hospitality suite above pit lane. Club Classic offers the flexibility of a single day starting from $150* or weekend package from $235*.
Gates will open at 8:00am each day with qualifying and racing from 9:00am.