Features 23 Jan 2018

Countdown: 25 years of the Island Classic

Six factors that make the Phillip Island event spectacular since 1994.

It’s the historic motorcycle race meeting that just keeps on giving, year after year. And just like that, the Island Classic will rack up a major milestone in 2018 when the event is held for a 25th time – well and truly usurping other iconic events in Australian road racing history for longevity. Over the past 24 years, the Island Classic has hosted some of the biggest names in motorcycle racing, none larger than 15-time world champion Giacomo Agostini, who has made the trek out from Italy three times. And he’s still not done, locked in to make it four appearances alongside a fleet of world title-winning MV Agustas, when the 2018 event takes place from 26-28 January. Tickets and on-circuit camping for the 25th International Island Classic at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit are on now sale at www.islandclassic.com.au.

Image: Russell Colvin.

6. Where it all began:
The Island Classic started from humble beginnings in 1994, but the real impetus for growth came the following year when Phillip Island Motor Sports (PIMS) – recognising the true potential of the brand – brought the event in-house. The wherewithal and professionalism of PIMS, alongside the unwavering support of then Australian Motorcycle News editor Ken Wootton, soon saw the event flourish. PIMS boss Fergus Cameron and ‘Woose’ worked tirelessly behind the scenes to increase the profile of the event and it showed with the sheer number of bikes, riders and spectators who soon made the event a yearly pilgrimage. Woose passed away in 2011, but his Island Classic legacy still lives on.

5. Recognising the greats:
For an event that celebrates motorcycle racing history in a big way, as well as the people who were intrinsically involved in making it happen, it’s fitting the Island Classic has recognised legendary Australian engineer Phil Irving from the get go. The Phil Irving Perpetual Trophy was inaugurated in 1994 and is awarded to the rider who scores the most points across the whole weekend. Past winners of the trophy include Australia’s 1987 500GP world champion Wayne Gardner and Isle of Man hero Cameron Donald. Irving was an engineering juggernaut, with his skills not only coming to the fore in a two-wheel capacity with the Vincent 1000cc V-twin, but he was also behind Jack Brabham’s F1-winning three-litre V-eight.

4. International Challenge spark:
Gardner’s appearance at the 2008 Island Classic saw him join the Australian team in the International Challenge against outfits from New Zealand the ‘Rest of World’. Three years earlier, the International Challenge was held for the first time and quickly become the piece de resistance of the Island Classic with its star power qualities. The who’s who of local road racing have competed in Australia’s International Challenge teams since 2005, including the aforementioned Gardner, as well as Malcolm Campbell, Rob Phillis, Steve Martin, Shawn Giles, Josh Brookes, Donald and Marty Craggill. Giles has won the Ken Wootton Memorial Trophy twice, which is awarded to the highest individual points scorer in the International Challenge. However, the most successful Ken Wootton Memorial Trophy winner is not Giles, but instead UK rider Jeremy McWilliams.

Image: Russell Colvin.

3. UK hits the scene:
The UK first entered the International Challenge in 2009, breaking free of the ‘Rest of World’ shackles, but was easy prey for Australia until McWilliams arrived on the scene in 2011. Australia continued to win, but it was no longer a walk in the park and in 2015 the UK finally broke through for its first International Challenge victory. It’s been undefeated ever since, something which Australia wants to address in 2018. And the Aussies are serious, with Troy Corser to make his first International Challenge appearance. Other big names which have ridden for the UK include John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar, Peter Hickman and Conor Cummins. Teams from America and Ireland also compete or have competed in the International Challenge, with the former drafting in former WorldSBK and MotoGP star Colin Edwards into its 2018 line-up.

2. Sheene tries his hand:
Another visitor to the Island Classic was the irrepressible Barry Sheene, who competed on a Manx Norton in the Classic 500 races in 2000 and 2001. Sheene, who transcended his sport and became a household name in the same vein as Agostini and more recently Valentino Rossi, was massively popular with his fellow competitors and spectators alike – the open pits at the Island Classic allowing enthusiasts to get up close and personal with the two-time 500GP world champion. Another rider with the same number of world 500GP championships, Italian Umberto Masetti also competed at the Island Classic in 2000.

1. Cavalcade of stars:
Off-track, the Island Classic has also welcomed a number of major guests over the years, including famed Aussie engineer Jeremy Burgess; garrulous New Zealander Graeme Crosby, who captained the New Zealand team in 2015; Paul Smart, famous for winning the Imola 200 in 1972 riding Ducati’s new 750cc racer; David Hailwood, the son of racing legend Mike Hailwood; chassis gurus Steve and Lester Harris, plus Arai Helmets founder Ferry Brouwer. And in 2017, the special guests were of the two-wheel persuasion – a fleet of Aprilia and Cagiva GP bikes, which are now permanently housed at the Philip Island Grand Prix Circuit’s History of Motorsport Museum.