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Australia has successfully defended the International Challenge winning the three-nation battle for historic bikes at the Island Classic

Albury’s Alex Phillis was the star performer – claiming two wins, a second and a third across the four six lap races – to lead the Australian effort and be awarded the best individual performer on the grid aboard his Suzuki 1260.  He won the Ken Wootton trophy with his 157 point haul (2-1-1-3), an early birthday present for the racer who turns 26 tomorrow.

Just behind was Melbourne polesitter Jed Metcher who produced four podium places (3-2-2-2) on his Yamaha FJ to amass 155 points, racing at the front of the pack throughout the meet to make a major contribution to the Australian victory.

But it was far from an easy Australia Day victory, with the Americans taking it to the Aussies in every race.  Their major nemesis was Californian ace Josh Hayes – a multi AMA champ – who at 43, still possesses the speed and competitive grit that has seen him amass 83 career wins across many classes over a brilliant motorcycling career.
Hayes had his work cut out from him for the literal start – thanks to engine issues in qualifying relegating him to grid position 7 for each race and a testing third row start.

It was only his second visit to Phillip Island, but he came out fighting early to win the first race and capped off the weekend with victory in the fourth battle.   In race two and three, he campaigned at the front and returned a 5th and a 3rd to be the top performing American and finish with an individual tally of 154 points.

Phillis, son of multiple Australian champ, Robbie Phillis was thrilled with his Individual Ken Wootton win, as well as the national victory for the Rex Wolfenden led team.

“It’s a huge privilege to win it.  I remember Ken at the track from when I was running around as a 4 year old, he would always be there. It’s crazy to come away with something like this!,” said Phillis.

“I’ve been to this event every single year since 2006 since dad was riding, I’ve only ridden three times and every year we’ve had a chance at the overall, and last year we came close with 3rd, but honestly I wanted it really bad and it showed in my riding. It’s awesome to come here and win such a prize.”

While the Australians took the win at their home circuit, congratulations also went to the Dave Crussell captained Americans.  Some had never experienced the demanding Australian track and were learning its high speed demands and fast-flowing corners as the weekend went on.

Backing Hayes aboard the Mojo Yamahas were the impressive efforts of Californian road tester Michael Gilbert (7-6-7-4), Ohio racer Larry Pegram (4-3-6-14), Canadian champion Jordan Szoke (11-8-10-5) and Alabama’s Taylor Knapp (8-9-9-8).    They consistently raced in the top ten and filled positions fifth to eight in the Ken Wootton tally.
On either side sat Australians, 2019 winner Steve Martin on his Katana who took fourth overall (5-4-4-7), and rounding out the top ten Vincent Irving rider Beau Beaton and veteran Shawn Giles on the Suzuki Katana.

Australian David Johnson, the 2018 winner, had a weekend he would prefer to forget and only completed the first race with a 6th, before mechanical problems produced DNF’s in race two and three and no start in race four.

The best performer for the Tony Hart captained UK squad was Brendan Wilson (Suzuki Harris) who finished the weekend in 12th overall, with Damien Kavney 15th and Roger Gunn in 16th both on Suzukis.

Race three
Saturday’s front-runners continued to dominate with Australia’s Alex Phillis winning race three on his Suzuki ahead of Jed Metcher, with America’s Josh Hayes in third.

Polesitter Metcher won the start and while struggling somewhat with the front end of his Yamaha, led for the first four laps, while the melee settled behind him.

Phillis on the other hand, had a lousy start off the front-row and was pushed back to sixth by the end of the first lap.

In front of him lay Metcher, former enduro champ Steve Martin  and the formidable American trio of Larry Pegram, Josh Hayes and Michael Gilbert on their Mojo Yamahas.

Despite gearbox problems and some light rain mid-race Phillis slowly ticked them off, and by the end of lap three it was a Metcher/Phillis battle at the front with Hayes in pursuit.   Phillis took the lead going into turn three, with Metcher biting back to once again take control.   Phillis though had the top speed advantage, and took the lead on Gardner Straight to head the final laps to the flag and cross .077 in front of Metcher and seize 40 points for the Australians .

“We got a false neutral off the start and our gearbox isn’t too bad but every half the race I was jumping out of gear out of turn four and we struggled a bit,” said Phillis.

“But to have the guys in front…. it sort of put a target on their back and gave me the edge I needed to find the pace fast and early in the race.

“So we came from far back.  If you want to win, you got to have the motivation to get there,” said Phillis.

Race four
With no sign of rain, race four was an epic final battle in the sun.   Metcher won the start and led at the end of lap one.  Rather than Phillis who was struggling with gearbox issues, it was Metcher and Hayes that set the pace.  Hayes took the lead on lap two, and despite the badgering of Metcher and Phillis, added the race four victory to his race one win and to finish the weekend with two victories, a third and a fifth.

“I knew with the sun coming out it played a little bit of an advantage for tyres with us in the Dunlop’s, and finally I got a pretty decent run off line and didn’t let Jed just go.    I wasn’t trying to play catch-up for the whole race, being able to get up close to him right off the bat, I thought if I could push and pressure the pace for race distance, every lap works in my favour a little bit,” said Hayes after the final win.

“I made a few mistakes late in the race and they got back a little close to me, but I was just trying to be steady and just hit my marks and fortunately we had a clean race. We had four great races and I really enjoyed riding in them, with the boys (Alex & Jed) all of us together, all weekend, every race, it was so much fun! It’s good to leave on a high note!”

Historic racing across all eras
Honouring a century of motorcycling in three action-packed days, the 27th International Island Classic, is one of the world’s great historic bike meets.

In addition to the three-nation International Challenge battle over four races, the Island Classic featured 50 races with nearly 400 solo machines racing across the six historic categories: Veteran (up to 1919), Vintage (1920-1945), Classic (1946-1962), Post Classic (1963-1972), Forgotten Era (1973-1982) and New Era (1983-1990). Each class will compete in five races.

The winner of the Phil Irving Trophy was NSW racer, Keo Watson who returned a perfect score card 250 points –  five wins in the 500 Forgotten Era class on his 1981 Yamaha and 500 wins in the 250cc New Era Production class via his 1990 Honda.

International Challenge – National points

Australia                           704 points
America                            691 points
United Kingdom              423 points

Individual – Ken Wootton Memorial Trophy for highest Individual Point Scorer

1.       Alex Phillis – 1980 Suzuki 1260 XR69                      Australia             157 points

2.       Jed Metcher – 1984 Yamaha FJ1200                      Australia             155 points

3.       Joshua Hayes – 1983 Mojo Yamaha  CMRF5        America              154 points

4.       Steve Martin – 1982 Suzuki Katana                        Australia             144 points

5.       Michael Gilbert – 1983 Yamaha CMRFJ               America              140 points

6.       Larry Pegram – 1983 Yamaha CMRFJ1250            America              137 points

7.       Jordan Szoke – 1983 Mojo Yamaha CMR FJ          America              130 points

8.       Taylor Knapp – 1983 Mojo Yamaha CMR FJ         America              130 points

9.       Beau Beaton – 1982 Irving Vincent P5                   Australia             127 points

10.   Shawn Giles – 1982 Suzuki Katana                         Australia             121 points
Top scorer for the UK
12.  Brendan Wilson    Suzuki Harris F1                 UK         112 points

Race Four Results                                                                                   Racetime       Behind leader
1  4 Joshua HAYES (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250              9:47.879

2 22 Jed METCHER (AUS) 1984 Yamaha FJ1200                                9:49.293              1.414

3 20 Alexander PHILLIS (AUS)  1980 Suzuki XR691100                     9:51.171              3.292

4 55 Michael GILBERT (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250       9:54.417               6.538

5 101  Jordan SZOKE (America)   1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250        9:54.898              7.019

6  64 Aaron MORRIS (AUS) 1980 Suzuki Katana 1300                      9:55.004              7.125

Race Three Results                                                                                 Racetime       Behind leader
1 20 Alexander PHILLIS (AUS)  1980 Suzuki XR691100                     9:52.346

2 22 Jed METCHER (AUS) 1984 Yamaha FJ1200                                9:52.423           .077

3  4 Joshua HAYES (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250              9:53.050          .704

4 99 Steven MARTIN (AUS)1982 Suzuki Katana1294                       9:56.085         3.739

5  64 Aaron MORRIS (AUS) 1980 Suzuki Katana 1300                      9:56.522         4.176

6 72 Larry PEGRAM (America) 1983 Yamaha CMRFJ 1250             9:57.252         4.906

Race Two Results                                                                                    Racetime       Behind leader
1 20 Alexander PHILLIS (AUS)  1980 Suzuki XR691100                     9:50.712

2 22 Jed METCHER (AUS) 1984 Yamaha FJ1200                                9:51.099            .387

3 72 Larry PEGRAM (America) 1983 Yamaha CMRFJ 1250             9:55.651          4.939

4 99 Steven MARTIN (AUS)1982 Suzuki Katana1294                       9:55.832         5.120

5 4 Joshua HAYES (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250               9:58.012         7.300

6 55 Michael GILBERT (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250       9:59.204         8.492

Race One Results                                                                                   Race time              Behind leader
1 4 Joshua HAYES (America) 1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250                9:52.749
2 20 Alex PHILLIS (AUS)  1980 Suzuki XR69 1100                              9:52.914               .165
3 22 Jed METCHER (AUS)  1984 Yamaha FJ 1200                               9:52.964               .215
4 72 Larry PEGRAM (America)  1983 Yamaha CMR FJ 1250          9:56.488               3.739
5 99 Steven MARTIN (AUS)  1982 Sukuki Katana 1294                    9:57.154                     4.405
6 3 David JOHNSON (AUS)  1982 Suzuki Katana 1100                     10:01.207               8.458

Photography: Russell Colvin