Winning Team Australia member previews this weekend's Island Classic.
South Australian racer David Johnson has enjoyed some stellar moments in his motorcycle racing career, but being part of the victorious Australian team in the 2018 International Challenge at last year’s International Island Classic was a stand-out.
With the 2019 Island Classic, presented by Visit Phillip Island, set for this this weekend, Johnson is itching to return to the grid as Australia attempts to overcome super competitive teams from the USA and New Zealand with qualifying Friday morning, followed by racing Friday afternoon and all day Saturday and Sunday.
“The Aussie victory in 2018 is probably one of the greatest feelings I have had in my racing career, and I have won a lot of races in England and Europe,” said Johnson, who was the leading individual scorer in 2018 after winning two of the four races and finishing second in the others. He’ll campaign the same Suzuki XR69 F1 bike in 2019.
“In 2018 I just rode that XR69 and it was mint, which is a full credit to the guys who built the bike and prepared the suspension. The engine and chassis are just awesome.”
Johnson, who finished fourth in the Superbike TT at the 2018 Isle of Man, knows that winning the International Challenge isn’t just about one man’s effort – it’s a function of multiple riders finishing well inside the top 10.
His 2019 Australian team includes a batch of stars who are now International Challenge staples: Aussie superbike champions Steve Martin and Shawn Giles, Isle of Man winner Cameron Donald, Jed Metcher and Beau Beaton.
Paul Byrne, Aaron Morris, Matthew Fyffe, Craig Ditchburn, Justin Mellerick, Scott Webster and Dean Outghtred complete the 13-rider squad, with Byrne particularly impressive last year in finishing fourth in the individual standings (aka the Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy since 2013) behind Johnson, Jeremy McWilliams and Corser. Martin, Metcher and Giles have all won the Ken Wootton trophy, the latter on multiple occasions.
“Hopefully there will be a handful of us out in front with a chance of winning races,” he continued. “We just have to be smart about it, as we don’t want to take each other out.
“The young guys want to win pretty badly, as do I. However, if I feel that I’m not fast enough to win, I’m not going to do anything stupid to jeopardise another one of my team members from winning.” 12 of the Aussie riders are on booming four-strokes, with Ditchburn taking the two-stroke route on the blazing Yamaha TZ750.
All teams are allowed a maximum of 13 riders in the four six-lap International Challenge races, with New Zealand and Team USA boasting super competitive outfits in 2019. Suzuki-strong, the Kiwis have recruited gun rider, Alex Phillis and aligned with Taupo based Carl Cox Motorsport. The international DJ’s racing arm brings three-time British superbike champion John Reynolds, modern and classic racer Jay Lawrence and MCN road tester, Michael Neeves, into the silver fern fold.
“The Australian team is going to have to work together to get the job done,” warned Johnson. “The Kiws will have riders dicing for the race win, and Alex (Phillis) and John (Reynolds) will definitely be up there. Then the American team – Josh Hayes will be very hard to tame – he’s a four-time AMA Superbike champion. And Jason Pridmore was the fastest American rider last year, and I expect their bikes should be a lot more competitive this year.
“Looking at their fleet of Yamaha FJs is quite intimidating! Then with Larry Pegram, Dale Quarterley and Steve Rapp, and now my old team mate Mark Miller, the Americans will be very strong.”
Tickets for the International Island Classic are available from Friday to Sunday at the gate of the Phillip Island circuit from 8am. For more information, visit www.islandclassic.com.au.