Australia's biggest vintage motorcycle race festival moved up a gear for its 25th anniversary, Jan. 26-28, 2018. Retired World Superbike heroes Troy Corser and Colin Edwards lined up for their respective teams in the International Challenge showdown between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. for some spectacular racing, with the Aussies finally winning the trophy back from Team U.K. after three years.
The International Challenge is run over four six-lap sprints of Phillip Island's 2.8-mile, 12-turn MotoGP circuit. The field is dominated by Forgotten Era (pre-1983) machines, but the bike that usually wins is based on Suzuki's XR69 Formula One racer of the early 1980s. Team U.K. brings out Harris-framed XR69s, mainly powered by Yamaha FJ1200 engines and raced by top U.K. racers like Jeremy McWilliams, Peter Hickman and Michael Rutter.
Corser boosted Australia's chances with some brilliant dices, but Aussie David "Davo" Johnson, who raced for Norton the past two IOM TTs, was top point scorer on a Suzuki-powered XR69.
Team USA fielded its strongest team yet, with Jake Zemke, Jason Pridmore and Barrett Long joining Edwards. Pridmore was heading for a top-five finish in the points table when his CMR-framed Yamaha expired. Edwards was the top U.S. scorer, in eighth place.
Edwards teamed up with Hyper-Cycle's Carry Andrew, who built up a Yamaha-powered XR69 replica using a frame built by CMR Racing Products. "I don't do things half-assed," Andrew said. He came to the Island Classic three years ago to race his Kawasaki Z1, and was bitterly disappointed that Team USA wasn't challenging the front-runners. "I knew if I built the best bike I could and got the best rider I could, things could change," he said. A planned major test at Willow Springs before the Australian trip lasted just two laps before the engine broke. "All we need is one good hour of testing on an empty race track and we'd be properly dialed in," Edwards said at the end of a hectic week.
Team USA was looking like a title contender before both Pridmore and Zemke's machines broke down. Meanwhile, Long's TZ750 expired early, but he gathered solid points for the team on a borrowed Harris-framed 1,260cc Kawasaki.
Americans competed in several support classes to the main event. NYC Norton's Kenny Cummings summed up the attraction of Phillip Island after racing his 1968 Seeley G50 500cc all weekend. "I came to Phillip Island a couple of years back, and ever since then it's been inflated in my mind as some kind of magical place. Now I'm back, and I'm happy to say it's still magical." It was Cummings' first race since a monster crash at Barber in 2016.
Held on the annual Australia Day weekend, the Island Classic is an excuse for a winter break in the hot, dry sun Down Under. See you there next year. MC