Organisers of the annual ‘Island Classic’ have announced a star studded international field to take part in the event this January.
The teams event is sure to be a big drawcard in 2014, featuring Aussie riders Steve Martin, Shawn Giles, Rob Phillis, Cam Donald, Malcolm Campbell and Beau Beaton.
Steve Martin is confident that Australia will more than meet the threat of a strengthened United Kingdom outfit – and against a backdrop of visitor-friendly rule changes – when the International Challenge teams’ trophy is held at the 2014 Australian Motorcycle News International Island Classic in Phillip Island from January 24-26.
Squads were announced today for the marquee event of the Classic, the Tahbilk International Challenge, featuring teams from Australia, the UK, the USA and New Zealand.
But it wasn’t only the top-tier practitioners who helped Australia continue its unbeaten run in the 2013 Challenge – its extraordinary depth also played a vital role, as it has since the trophy was inaugurated back in 2005.
That ‘loophole’ has now been closed in 2014, with the winning country to be determined according to points accumulated by the top five riders in each country across the four six-lap races. Previously, points – or a lack thereof – were awarded to all 10 riders in the team.
The rule changes will give the visiting teams, the United Kingdom, the Dave Crussell led US team and New Zealand under the helm of Kevin Grey, a real chance of winning in 2014. This is especially true for the UK outfit which has been fortified with the inclusion of Isle of Man legend John McGuinness to compete alongside Jeremy McWilliams, the individual winner in two of the last three years, and fellow blue-chip talent Gary Johnson, Mike Edwards and Steve Brogan. McGuinness is a 20-time winner at the Isle of Man, second only to the incomparable Joey Dunlop.
Martin senses a UK storm is brewing, but he still believes the Aussies have too much class.
“The Poms keep on changing the rules until they win, so they’ll have to win eventually,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’m all for it. Bring them over, they can have the strongest team they want. We’ve still got a great depth of riders.
“It’s great news to hear that John McGuinness is coming out next year. They may have the big names, but they have still got to put down the lap times. One thing’s for sure: I am not gonna let McGuinness beat me!”
Melbourne’s Cam Donald will race a Suzuki XR69 in the International Challenge and is looking forward to taking on his Isle of Man sparring partner, the UK’s John McGuinness.
“I won’t underestimate John because he’s a great rider and has been doing lots of short circuit racing over the last few years in world endurance events, so racing at Phillip Island isn’t going to be such a surprise for him,” said Donald, who will race a Suzuki XR69 in the International Challenge.
“We’ve had some great battles, but it will be good to take on John in my own backyard for a change.
“John is definitely going to make it a lot harder for Australia to win. McWilliams is also brilliant and Brogan is an exceptional rider as well.”
McGuinness will be making his first appearance at Phillip Island, having been forced to sit out the Australian round of the world supersport title in 2002 with injury when he was a full-time campaigner. Since then his career has blossomed, particular on the heart-in-mouth Isle of Man circuit, where he has 20 TT victories to his name. In one of those – the Senior TT in 2008 – McGuinness was gifted victory after the blindingly fast Donald ran into mechanical problems.
Last year, Australia’s Shawn Giles won the individual component of the 2013 International Challenge, ahead of McWilliams, Donald and another Aussie, Michael Dibb. The icing on the cake for Giles was a new historic lap record of 1:36.920 – tearing strips off Martin’s former mark of 1:38.666, set in 2012.
The searing pace in 2013 was aided and abetted by the recently resurfaced Phillip Island layout, with the historics the first major class to get a taste of the new bump-free 4.45km layout.
The 12-rider Australian squad for the 2014 Tahbilk International Challenge will eventually be trimmed to 10 for the races by Aussie captain Rex Wolfenden. The same number of pilots will also compete for the UK, New Zealand and American teams.