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Island Classic Newbies Ready To Rumble | EVENTS

Ireland is throwing itself into the deep end at Phillip Island for the 23rd AMCN Island Classic held Australia Day weekend January 22-24, 2016.

Despite rookie status in the International Challenge teams’ event, the Paddies are ready to rumble with the best of them.

Ireland becomes the fifth nation to field a team in the ultra-competitive International Challenge, joining Australia, reigning champion United Kingdom, New Zealand and America, and captain Mike Meskell is calling on all those of Irish descent to “pull those dusty Irish flags out of the attic and get them waving around the circuit”.

“Remember, we are the Classic Irish virgins, so be gentle,” joked Meskell, who competed at the Island Classic last year. “The fact is though we’re not coming all the way from the emerald isle to make up the numbers, but we do have to be realistic.

“We have a steep learning curve ahead of us for sure. The Thursday practice day will see us learning the track, getting to know the bikes, finding the right gearing, suspension settings, jetting, etc. All doable though, provided we hit no major obstacles. I hope and expect all the guys to get to grips with the place in time for qualifying and racing.”

Meskell knows Ireland has little chance of getting anywhere near the Oz or UK teams, but it’s the others his team is gunning for.

“The depth of talent, the quality of machinery and the bloody-minded competitiveness of Australia and the UK is on another level and takes years of trying and huge budgets to achieve.
“Third place is our goal and a realistic one I believe. Rumour has it that the New Zealand and American teams have upped their game, but I’m hoping if we can ride to the best of our ability and be consistent we can achieve that third place. If we don’t then it won’t be for the want of trying or lack of determination.”

Cormac Conroy

Meskell and expatriate Paul Byrne (who moved to Australia in 2010) are the only riders in the nine-rider Irish squad with previous Phillip Island experience, but Meskell says “the team’s best riders are on the best bikes” despite a small pool of Period 5 bikes in Ireland to call upon.

“Byrne is riding a Macintosh Suzuki and it should be good,” says Meskell. “Hilton Hincks is riding a rare Macintosh Kawasaki which has battled at the front in an Island Classic some years ago, we have a Harris F1 Kawasaki for Cormac Conroy, a Nico Bakker Kawasaki for Mark O’Byrne, and our Aussie wildcard Trevor Manley — as well as our suspension guru and circuit specialist — will be riding an immaculately prepared Honda CBX.”

Manley is a former Australian 125 GP champion, 44-year-old Hincks is an 11-time Irish champion, and Conroy won two British classic titles in 2014. Locally, 30-year-old Byrne has made his mark, winning the Formula Oz class in the 2015 Australasian Superbike Championship. He competed in the 2011 Australian Endurance Championship at Phillip Island, but the Island Classic will be his first outing on an historic bike.

Meskell will be riding a Suzuki Katana, while the balance of the squad is Chris Campbell (Kawasaki z1100), Pat Griffin (Katana) and John Walsh (Suzuki XR69).

Hilton Hincks

“The horsepower war between the Aussies and Pommies has moved steadily along and we’re probably down at least 30-50hp on the gun riders,” said Meskell, “but we’ll make do.

“Personally I guess I should be the slowest of the team. There was no point in me choosing slow guys to come and take on the other four teams. The downside is I could be the team captain ‘on the bench’ as we have nine riders and only eight get to race. I’ll be doing my best though for that not to be the case!”

Nothing could have prepared Meskell for his first Phillip Island outing at the 23rd AMCN International Island Classic.

“I had looked at the YouTube vids, watched the old GP races, tried to memorise the track but none of it comes close or anywhere near the reality of actually riding this amazing, fast, flowing mecca of motorcycle racing.

“Truth is the only other track I’ve raced on since coming out of a 20-year retirement two years ago is Mondello Park just outside Dublin. The average speeds of Mondello and Phillip Island are, err, a little bit different you could say.

“The commitment needed to take turns like one and 12 takes some getting used to. I know the rest of my team will feel the same when they hit the track for the first time on January 21.”