IENATSCH TUESDAY (ON FRIDAY): Phillip Island Classic 2016 - Part 2

High effort and higher drama in Australia for the American Classic Team: MORE Inside reports from the men on the front lines!

Our man Nick Ienatsch compiled more of these first-hand accounts from the Team USA riders taking part in The Phillip Island Classic at the track of the same name.

Ralph Hudson, CMR FJ1200:

Ralph Hudson Phillip Island race action

Third time back to the Island is the charm, and Hudson guaranteed it by packing a mean punch: Yamaha FJ power a CMR chassis.

The 2016 Island Classic was the best-ever from most accounts. The paid attendance was up, the list of competing riders reads like a who’s-who of recent champions and the racing equipment was better than ever.

I travelled down as part of the US team. We had 13 riders eligible for the International Challenge race, but only eight riders per team are allowed to participate. The grid size is limited to 40 riders. It’s important to learn the track quickly, get your bike set up and put in some good lap times. Dave Crussell, the American team captain, would have to make the decision on who would ride for the US in the challenge race.

One of big keys to success at an event like this is preparation. I decided to put together a new race bike for 2016: a replica XR69 Harris chassis by CMR with a Yamaha FJ1200 engine, very similar to the bikes that the UK team used to win the Challenge last year. The bike was finished in time to get loaded into the container going to Phillip Island, but not in time to even do a track day with it! But, I was committed to going and determined to make the best of it. If you don't qualify for the International Challenge races, you still get to ride two races each day, in the class that your bike qualifies for, so there would still be the opportunity to get on the grid at least four times, over the weekend.

The best thing that I did to prepare myself was enroll in the Yamaha Champions Riding School. I figured I could use some instruction and track time a week before getting on the track with a new bike. Nick Ienatsch, one of the instructors was also heading down to be part of Team USA. Nick is an excellent critic and coach. He is able to explain and teach key techniques, used by successful riders, to improve smoothness, speed and above all, safety. A quick example: lean angle equals risk. That's why racers hang off the side of the bike, this reduces the lean angle of the bike itself, improving corner speed and stability. The school isn't just for racers, the fundamentals apply to street and track day riders as well. It was great having Nick at the event, he was always happy to answer questions and quick to remind me of the things that I needed to keep in mind. On the track, there is so much to think about, analyze and act upon; it's easy to fall back into old habits. As in most sports, there are fundamentals that you always need to practice, until they become good habits.  From my experience, I can highly recommend the YCRS. You will improve!

I had been to the Island Classic twice before, once in 2013 and again in 2015. My first trip was with a Suzuki GS1000. It had a good engine but the frame and suspension were really just warmed over street bike parts. I was outclassed in every way. On the second trip, I rode a bike provided by an Australian racer. The bike was advertised as "race ready"; The clutch wasn't disengaging, but being the eternal optimist, I decided to take it out in practice to see how the handling felt, we could look at the clutch later. This turned out to be a bad idea. I ran into trouble with too much compression braking going into MG corner, the slowest part of the track. The corner has a downhill approach; I apparently downshifted a little too aggressively and got the rear wheel sliding. Imagine my surprise when I pulled in the clutch lever and nothing happened. Plan B was riding off the track, keep the bike upright and get back onto the track. Instead, my trip onto the wet grass resulted in a broken collarbone, on my second lap of practice. Reflecting on that whole situation, I decided to build a new bike, using the Team UK bikes as inspiration. The UK beat the Aussie's that year, for the first time, after trying for 10 years!

Several of the other riders and I decided to buy Harris replica frames from CMR in Canada. I knew I would be too busy with land-speed projects to finish the bike in time and asked Vicious Cycle, in Portland, Oregon, to assemble the bike for me. He was also building two others for Eirik Neilsen and Jon Munns. Dave Moss helped with suspension tuning and I’m happy to report, all the bikes arrived ready to race.

There was a practice day on Thursday to get familiar with the track. I was quite pleased to beat my previous best lap time on the old GS1000, by six seconds! It was good for me, but nowhere near what the top riders were doing. It was just good enough to make the US team, I was happy with that, but determined to do even better.

On Friday, we had to qualify for grid positions in the support races. It rained all day. Fortunately, I had a spare set of wheels, with rain tires mounted. I was able qualify pretty well, 24th out of 40. That was better than I could have done on a dry track. I ran Michelin tires and found them to be excellent!

The weather was still rainy on Saturday morning and the early races ran in the wet, but the track had dried before the time my races were called. Unfortunately, my bike was starting to have shifting problems that were getting progressively worse. I struggled with it in the first two races, but posted DNFs for the last two races of the day. I pulled the clutch cover and clutch off to get to the shift mechanism and actually found the problem! The internal shift lever was slipping past the side of the shift drum and rubbing on the back of the clutch. Because the clutch was rotating, it would not allow the lever to return. The bike would lock in whatever gear it was in, or sometimes in a false neutral, but when I would return to the pits, it would shift fine. It was gratifying to actually find a problem, I was afraid it might remain a mystery.

Not having to worry about the shifter, being able to concentrate on my YCRS fundamentals made a huge difference! My lap times dropped another five seconds, into the 1:51s, which is approaching respectable for my end of the grid! I was hoping to break into the 1:50s, but that will have to wait for another day. In my last race, I took 30th place out of 40 entries, not great, but not last!

All in all, it was a great trip! No one on our team got hurt. Everyone got to race and I think we all made new friends from other countries. We shared tools and parts with other teams, there was a great sense of camaraderie. It was a most excellent experience! I think most of us are already starting to plan next year’s trip and how to make it even better!

American Team photo

The smarty-assiness never ends with this group…Hudson in the red hat.

Roger Baker, KZ1000:

Roger Baker Phillip Island race action

Roger Baker spends time on a TZ250 with the AFM (see how he “covers” the clutch lever?), but when Team USA regular Ed Haazar offered his tasty KZ1000, Baker was in. (Photo by Phillip Veneris Photography)

My first trip to the Island Classic was really one of those experiences that will stand out as a highlight of a lifetime. It all started when I saw one of my racer buddy’s pictures from Phillip Island and asked how he got to go ride there. Turned out he couldn't make it this year so he offered to let me ride in his place! That was an easy decision! Now I'm back home and the inner monologue keeps saying “I can't believe I just did that! I can't believe I raced at Phillip Island!”

I expected the on-track experience to be incredible, and it was even better than I expected. What I wasn't expecting was the amount of truly wonderful people I would meet there and share the experience with. One of the best things about racing is the people you meet and at this event it was tenfold. The most friendly, enthusiastic, generous, helpful and good humored people I've ever encountered.

And our team, I can't say enough about the team. We all faced problems. some big, some small, but never did anyone give up. When the going was tough the tough got going! What an honor to be involved with this team. Everyone was ready and willing to jump in and help out any way they could (and they did) and I was inspired by all that positive energy.

Thanks to Ed Haazer for making it all possible, to Dave and Lorraine Crussel for leading the team and giving me a shot, to Peter Minahan and Opie Schuts for their hospitality and help, to Ian Stacey for being my crew chief, to David Hirsch, Paul Schaeffer and Andy Freeman for letting me bunk and travel with them, to Roger Gunn for picking me up at the airport and giving me the lowdown on how to ride this track, to Murray for getting me to the airport, to Brad Phelan and Peter Minahan and Anthony "trophy husband" Bann for all your help with the bike and to everyone on the team, and to you, Nick for the great riding tips and all the enthusiasm for what we all love to do: RIDE FAST!

Carry Andrew, 1977 Kawasaki KZ1000:

Carry Andrew Phillip Island race action

Carry Andrew quit racing for business and family priorities 35 years ago, “…but I wasn’t really done racing.” He made a mark with Hypercycle, won AMA championships as a tuner and now he’s back in the wars on his KZ1000 while riding a Kawi ZX6R for track-day practice.

My first trip to Phillip Island just ended and I'm already suffering major withdrawal symptoms. More so than usual because I feel I left so much on the table.

A hundred year mechanical (something that never breaks, broke) kept me from getting anywhere near the practice time I needed. While I can pick up tracks easily and quickly, this one was harder. It’s a very high-speed track with very few reference points.

Unfortunately, my participation in the Classic race depended on my performance on practice day, resulting with me getting the first alternate assignment. This meant I could concentrate on the Period 5 race, but was not going to be in the Challenge. The Period 5 race was closest (except for the displacement limits) to the AHRMA-rules Heavyweight Superbike that I brought to the event. I was warned I was bringing a knife to a gunfight as the displacement limits were 1300cc when my Yancey (I name all my rides, this one way back in the ’70s) was only a 1015. This class was the basis for the original “Classic” but was later modified to include the current format of bikes.

There were over 80 entries in P5 and it was divided into the “Major” and the “Minor” races with the Minor essentially being the Consolation race. 41 bikes were to start the Major race and the rest were in the Minor. It rained all day Friday so to get on the grid, you had to go out in the rain. There are no 18 inch rain tires any more so I was stuck with the street tires that were on there. After the first Qualifying session, I managed a 6th place in the minor which I improved (running on three cylinders) to 2nd in the second qualifying session (water in the mag). On a whim, I asked the Race Director if he would consider promoting me to the main, seeing how I was so close. Surprisingly, he agreed.

The rain influenced qualifying for the Challenge, which was not allowed to run in the rain as the most serious contenders were on slicks only.

On Saturday, more mayhem: there were oil spills and crashes due to oil, and in a way, I was glad I was not in the Challenge. But the time it took to clean up the mess resulted in shortening all the races by a lap, further depriving me of needed track time and in particular, my charge forward.

First Race

Could not find designated rows, so I just waited for everyone to form up and took the last grid position (42). The lights went off and I blasted forward, passing 10 or so off the line, had an opportunity to get by more but thought I'd just see what the pace was before I got “assertive.” Got by a few more on that first lap and up and then down the front straight I went. This is where my not-so-completely-healed shoulder hampered me as I was not able to tuck as I normally do (left hand on the left fork, just below the lower triple clamp), and was almost sitting up hurting my top speed and forcing my head back almost to the blacking-out point.

Surprisingly, the bikes around me had nothing on Yancey, in fact I was pulling on the F1 1200 Kawasaki in front of me and passed him at the end of the front straight. But soon I realized how wimpy my pace was as the fellow riding that F1 worked his way around me going into turn 2. I repassed on the brakes going into 4 and stayed ahead for that lap but got repassed in the last left hander series of turns before the straight. By now my right forearm pumped up as I must have been compensating for my wimpy left shoulder and did not focus on relaxing the arm. So I backed off a bit to regain my arm strength. On the last lap I got passed by two riders, l countered and managed to repass the one, finishing 21st.

Race 2

Got a decent start and managed by a few more in 1 and 2. I finished the same as the first race, but right behind the pack that had gotten away in the first race, so I was encouraged. Also the lap times had dropped about 2.5 seconds lower than in the first race.

Race 3

Sunday morning, cold and raining on and off. Did not start.

Race 4

The field had thinned itself and off the start it seemed that I passed less bikes, but found myself farther forward. I caught that pack that had been in front of me but ran out of time to do much with them, finishing 15th and dropping another 2.5 seconds off my lap time.

I was starting to find a rhythm and knew where I needed to improve: 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 14! Haha…just about everywhere. The only way to improve is to go back.

I was joined on this trip by Patric Cunliff, a friend from the Ebsco and Corona teams that both of us participated on. We stayed in a two bedroom bungalow 1.3 miles from the track. Our neighbor was a sidecar racer with a world-famous cousin and Geof, Eric and Angela's company made for some very enjoyable evenings. We also spent some pleasant time visiting with our teammates in the spacious house they had rented. Those guys can cook!

We found the locals friendly and helpful. We had trouble with our transformer and cooked a set of tire warmers and a Makita battery charger. The host team loaned us a set of tire warmers for Thursday and we ended up buying a set for the rest of the event. I spent time in the British garages, where I made new friends, along with the host team and the Irish team. Spent time in the Kiwi garage, but found no familiar faces. Our garages were buzzing constantly with everyone getting along nicely. They were all a great group of guys and gals.

Carry Andrew wearing a hairnet

Race face? Check. Hairnet? Check. Andrew prepares for Monday’s traditional karting celebration with the entire American team.

Most everyone ended up with some trouble, from minor get offs to engine trouble but they all handled their issues and were able to correct and continue. Formed new and promising friendships with some of my teammates and we were welcomed and helped by Deano Swimms, a member of the 1988 Dutchman race team that fielded Kevin Rentzell as well, a team we battled for the AMA Three-Hour endurance championship that my team ended up winning that year. Deano moved to Melbourne a year and a half ago and found himself a fine mate, Margaret, who is now his wife. Deano and Ottis Lance were members of the original PI US team.

Margaret was trying to tell me about some Vincent and literally had to drag me to their garage, where I was treated to some jaw dropping race porn. I was envisioning some historic beauty but the Irving Vincent turned out to be a flyer and led every race (yes the Challenge) until it broke. There were some truly awesome examples of clever and ingenious builds of older bikes with a fresh approach that helped me understand why the Classic was so important here!

In a way, I see similar interest at the AHRMA events and am not surprised.

David Hirsch, 1983 Suzuki GS750ES:

David Hirsch Phillip Island race action

Love seeing industry insiders enjoying the sport: David Hirsch runs a Michelin distributorship in Texas. He rode Ottis Lance’s weapon and Ottis Lance shirts were everywhere in the paddock this year. Lance was injured and we all hope he makes the Island next year.

“Taking a knife to a gunfight.”

Last year I grabbed Ottis Lance’s 1983 AMA Suzuki GS750 (ignoring his objections) and decided to rebuild and upgrade her to compete at the 2016 International Classic at Phillip Island. After checking the rule book I found it would be legal for the Forgotten Era P5 750 class. Upon arrival I was told that the 750 class would not be run, only the Unlimited class: hence the knife to a gunfight.

The bike ran well but nowhere near as well as a 1000cc-plus bike runs. My weekend was all about getting good starts and hanging into and through the corners only to be annihilated coming out of the turns and down the straights. Oh well, having never had delusions of winning, I settled down to have a great time with the team and international competitors.

Having raced at many tracks around the world I have to say this is one of the finest. The people of Australia were never anything but gracious and accommodating. Thanks to Ottis for the bike and to Motul, Performance Friction Brakes, Traxxion Dynamics, Scorpion Helmets and Michelin for the support.

Daniel “Joe” Weir, 1982 Suzuki Katana:

Joe Weir Phillip Island race action

Joe Weir gets the big Kat pointed off Honda corner. He was relegated to his ultra-clean backup bike after his amazingly-clean XR69 replica lunched its top end in practice. Weir saved the day for many of the American competitors with his seemingly endless supply of tools, trick bits and knowledge.

Phillip Island is an extremely finicky, fun, fast, world-class, smooth (put adjective here) track. Along with its indecisive weather and engine failures, it keeps luring me back each year! This year my high-horsepower bike had a dropout on cylinder Number 1 resulting in shrapnel in the intake that was clearly beyond repair. Luckily with the help of Larry Cook we got the back-up AHRMA (lower hp because of displacement rules) Katana going and had an excellent time out there of playing "catch the big boys!"

I learn a lot each time I go to PI and bring a little of that back to the States with me. This time it was about consistency and staying in the game. Each individual of the team has four races to finish. You can do extremely well in the first three races and drop out in the fourth race and your ranking drops like a lead weight. Luckily, I finished all four and had a pretty good showing out there with world-class riders like Giles, McGuiness and McWilliams. The USA team is pretty much a coalition of older club racers who love wrenching and racing their own machines on their own dime with little or no sponsorship. Eventually, some famous U.S. racers will join the team and recognize this race in Australia is one of the premier events that will be remembered for all times. Soon the day will come when the UK and Aussies look up and say, "Here come those bloody Yanks again!!"

Brian Filo, Three-time PI Veteran, Crussell Crew Chief:

Brian Filo unloading motorcycles

This picture of Brian Filo unloading bikes says it all: From the moment we arrived at the track, Filo was on the gas, helping with every facet of Dave Crussel’s four-bike program (Moss and Mooney were also on Crussell machines). Filo also helped pack the bikes back in San Francisco, and will undoubtedly unpack them in a month’s time. Oh, he drives a go-kart pretty good too.

This year was my fourth year to the Island and the first year I didn't race my XS650 (Bumblebee) in P4 and Dave's P&M Kawasaki in the Challenge. I had a great time being a part of the team this year and helping as much as I could wrenching on the bikes, but I would still rather be racing!

The event is fabulous and I can't say enough about the people I've met and how many of them have become friends. Even though we've beaten the Kiwis the last two years, they would not even hesitate to loan me a part or a tool to help fix one of our bikes, and trust me, I was over in their pits a lot this year!

The track itself has a little bit of everything and I am usually grinning from ear to ear inside my helmet when I'm on course. It's a beautiful place but it can also bite you if you're not laser focused. Last year was the first time I've crashed (on my Yamaha) since the late 1990's. None of us could remember the last time I crashed but everyone in the pits who knew me was shocked–it made me ride harder.

Ever since I was a kid I've dreamed about going to Australia but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would race at Phillip Island because of classic motorcycles. And to do it three years in a row is incredible! I love our sport and the Aussies who are passionate about it. Many times I've had people come up to me in the pits, shake my hand, and genuinely say thank you for coming all this way to Australia to race with us.

Now on to the 4 hour endurance race in Spa in July with Dave Crussell as my teammate! (Never thought I would go to Belgium either.)

American Team go karting

Hand signals between the American kart competitors were very important. Here, Deano Swims is being told he’s #1. Filo leads the gang.

American Challenge team photo

This is the eight-rider American Challenge team. Only Joe Weir finished all four races, underlining the “quick consistency” needed over this four-race marathon. From left to right: Dave Crussell, Joe Weir, Pat Mooney, me, Eirik Nielsen, Dave Moss, Ralph Hudson, Roger Baker.

photographer Brad Schwab headshot with hairnet

Hairnet in place, ready to race karts: Our shooter Brad Schwab of etechphoto.com. Huge thanks to this guy for the effort and expertise. And why else do we love him? Nobody was black-flagged during the karting event as much as Schwab. “Why do you think they put bumpers on them?” Our hero.

Photo #1

Third time back to the Island is the charm, and Hudson guaranteed it by packing a mean punch: Yamaha FJ power a CMR chassis.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #2

The smarty-assiness never ends with this group?Hudson in the red hat.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #3

Roger Baker spends time on a TZ250 with the AFM (see how he ?covers? the clutch lever?), but when Team USA regular Ed Haazar offered his tasty KZ1000, Baker was in.Phillip Veneris Photography

Photo #4

Carry Andrew quit racing for business and family priorities 35 years ago, ??but I wasn?t really done racing.? He made a mark with Hypercycle, won AMA championships as a tuner and now he?s back in the wars on his KZ1000 while riding a Kawi ZX6R for track-day practice.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #5

Race face? Check. Hairnet? Check. Andrew prepares for Monday?s traditional karting celebration with the entire American team.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #6

Love seeing industry insiders enjoying the sport: David Hirsch runs a Michelin distributorship in Texas. He rode Ottis Lance?s weapon and Ottis Lance shirts were everywhere in the paddock this year. Lance was injured and we all hope he makes the Island next year.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #7

Joe Weir gets the big Kat pointed off Honda corner. He was relegated to his ultra-clean backup bike after his amazingly-clean XR69 replica lunched its top end in practice. Weir saved the day for many of the American competitors with his seemingly endless supply of tools, trick bits and knowledge.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #8

This picture of Brian Filo unloading bikes says it all: From the moment we arrived at the track, Filo was on the gas, helping with every facet of Dave Crussel?s four-bike program (Moss and Mooney were also on Crussell machines). Filo also helped pack the bikes back in San Francisco, and will undoubtedly unpack them in a month?s time. Oh?he drives a go-kart pretty good too.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #9

Hand signals between the American kart competitors were very important. Here, Deano Swims is being told he?s #1. Filo leads the gang.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #10

This is the eight-rider American Challenge team. Only Joe Weir finished all four races, underlining the ?quick consistency? needed over this four-race marathon. From left to right: Dave Crussell, Joe Weir, Pat Mooney, me, Eirik Nielsen, Dave Moss, Ralph Hudson, Roger Baker.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com

Photo #11

Hairnet in place, ready to race karts: Our shooter Brad Schwab of etechphoto.com. Huge thanks to this guy for the effort and expertise. And why else do we love him? Nobody was black-flagged during the karting event as much as Schwab. ?Why do you think they put bumpers on them?? Our hero.Brad Schwab at etechphoto.com