In blistering heat, Australia has kicked off the defence of their International Challenge crown at the 2019 Visit Phillip Island International Island Classic in good shape at the grand prix circuit, topping qualifying for the weekend’s four historic bike races against formidable outfits from the Team USA and New Zealand.
Newcastle’s 26-year-old Aaron Morris, a newcomer to Team Australia, nailed pole position with a 1m37.341s lap on his 1982 Suzuki Katana – but on his heels was a fired up Jason Pridmore from the USA with a 1m37.642s time. The duo were the only two racers to break into the 1m37s in the searing heat that saw the track temperature near 60 degrees around midday.
The International Challenge field of world class riders representing Australia, New Zealand and the USA, will face four, six lap races over the weekend, and is the headline event of the 26th International Island Classic.
As defending champion, Australia ended the day with seven riders in the top 10 including Paul Byrne on the Suzuki, defending champion David Johnson and 2016 winner, Jed Metcher. Team USA flexed its muscle and landed three in the top 10 – Pridmore, the four times AMA Superbike champion Josh Hayes and the super experienced Larry Pegram.
New Zealand’s best performer was Alex Phillis who came in 11th, immediately followed by Jay Lawrence and John Reynolds on the Carl Cox prepared Suzukis. It is Morris’s first time with the Australian team, and despite only doing a few laps in both qualifying sessions, dominated with blistering times in extreme conditions.
The first qualifying session was held in stifling conditions at the apex of the day’s heat. Thankfully, for the life of many motorcycles, conditions improved for the afternoon with the air and track temperature dropping considerably to allow faster lap times.
Jason Pridmore who is making his second visit to Phillip Island, is in fine form and after his experience in 2018 now knows what is needed to take out the International Challenge. Happy with second fastest Pridmore, like Morris, only did three laps in the second qualifying session before parking his bike – saving his machine for what counts in racing tomorrow.
Holder of the 2018 Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy, Adelaide’s David Johnson qualified fourth. He is in threatening form, and looked in a good position to snatch pole, before a mistake in the third last corner curtailed his charge.
The 26th International Island Classic presented by Visit Phillip Island is one of the worlds’ great historic bike meets, attracting over 450 bikes and riders from across the globe, competing in 56 races over the weekend.