The QBE Insurance International Festival of Speed certainly lived up to its name.
It was supposed to be a parade of Superbikes and old two-stroke Grand Prix bikes but riders in the GP Legends clocked some of the fastest laps of this year’s InterFoS.
“I reckon Frankie Chili is easily doing 1min38s,” said ex-GP racer Jeremy McWilliams, towelling the sweat off his face after six hectic laps on their first Sunday outing. “With a bit more effort we have the potential to set the fastest lap of the meeting.”
Standing nearby, looking as cool as a movie star about to front Hollywood’s cameras was World Superbike legend Pierfrancesco Chili. When asked about his pace he just smiled and said: “I think I can go another three seconds faster, but….”
Last year Chili stunned the crowd with some committed riding in the parades. This year, he really ramped it up, dragging fellow legends Troy Corser, Troy Bayliss, Kevin Magee, Chris Vermeulen and Steve Parrish along for a rapid ride. Chili, long retired to Italy’s Adriatic coast, has lost little of the pace that took him to 17 race wins in World Superbikes.
When the legends weren’t battling it out, the meeting became a showcase for a new generation of racing talent. Aaron Morris was particularly impressive, making a clean sweep of both the QBE Superbike Shootout, on a Yamaha OWO1, and the Period 6 750 class, on an 888 Ducati. He won four of his five Period 6 Unlimited races on a Yamaha FZR1000. Along with the wins came new lap records.
Among the young riders who made their mark were Dan Mettam and Rogan Chandler, two of New Zealand’s rising stars.
Mettam took Peter Lodge’s ES2 Norton to a clean sweep of the Period 3 500cc class and a new lap record in combined races against the 750cc class. Now he heads off for a summer of roadracing in Ireland and the Isle of Man.
Chandler, riding the only Norton Commando at the meeting, finished second in the Period 4 750cc class. A 21-year-old in a hurry, the former NZ 125GP champion finished fourth in the recent Kiwi Supersport championship
Beau Beaton was one of the busiest riders. He wiped the floor of the P4 Unlimited class with the Irving Vincent twin. Then he won the P5 class of the Superbike Shootout while ending up on the podium twice in the overall result. In between these giant-killing efforts he combined with passenger Noel Beare to dominate the Sidecar races, including a new lap record.
The four-leg QBE Superbike Shootout was a new event. Mixing up the fastest riders from the P5, P6 and Pre-Modern F1 classes created some spectacular racing.
A lot of attention was on Troy Corser and Jeremy McWilliams. Still in Australia since his heroic efforts at the Island Classic in January, Corser was riding the Tom Dermody Suzuki XR69 that David Johnson had taken to victory in the International Challenge. McWilliams was on Roger Winfield’s Team UK Harris-framed Yamaha F1, which had been left in Australia especially for this meeting.
A damp track for the first of the four six-lap races saw McWilliams on slicks while Corser opted for wets. Aaron Morris pulled out a three-second lead on the second lap while Beaton brought the Irving Vincent through to second with some brave overtaking around the back of the circuit.
After running strongly, Corser faded to finish a disappointing seventh. McWilliams battled Beaton and young Kiwi Glen Skachill, on a Bimota YB8, to finish second. Beaton was third and Skachill fourth.
Huge delays to the program saw Race 2 on Saturday reduced to four laps. Stephen Kairl’s near vertical wheelstand off the startline on his Yamaha FZR1000 set the scene. McWilliams and Morris slugged it out with successive fastest laps until McWilliams’ XR69 suddenly lost power, later traced to a fuel delivery issue.
Morris won, with Beaton five seconds behind, and McWilliams just holding off Skachill for third.
Corser, who had finished sixth in Race 2, had a great start from the second row of the grid in leg three and within two laps was leading Skachill. Then everything changed. Morris swept into the lead, with Corser then shunted back to third and Skachill to fourth as McWilliams cemented himself into second place.
Morris won from McWilliams, followed by Skachill and Corser.
Race 4 saw a freight train of seven leading riders. Skachill led early, followed by Corser for two laps until his XR69 started vibrating so much he pulled out. His retirement pushed him from third back to fifth in the P5 class.
With the laps winding down, Morris and McWilliams catapulted themselves, as a pair, past Skachill to finish first and second. Afterwards Morris revealed he had executed a more strategic race this time.
“I thought I’d bide my time,” he said. “I knew I had good pace and I’ve got a lot of confidence in the front fork now I’ve overcome a rebound issue.”
The cheeky “Jim’s suspension” sticker on the fork sums up months of development Morris had spent on them (want to buy a franchise off him?).
McWilliams had another take on the confrontation. “It’s very physical,” he said of the sprint-race format. “On this track and in these short races you’ve just got to go for it.”
And so another year of Sydney’s biggest historic meeting ended. If you were looking for a moment to sum it all up go no father than the legends parade.
Circulating on two of the most innovative creations of four-stroke racing in the early 1980s were Mettam and Chandler on two generations of the Steve Roberts-framed Coleman Suzuki F1 racers.
One was the all-alloy version and the other the so-called Plastic Fantastic Kevlar version. Both were raced to great success in NZ, Australia and around the world by Dave Hiscock and Robert Holden. At Sydney Motorsport Park a new generation of future stars took the controls in an emotional changing of the guard.
report HAMISH COOPER PHOTOGRAPHY PHIL AYNSLEY