With the 26th International Island Classic fast approaching, Bikesportnews.com tracked down Australia’s David Johnson, who was part of the winning team and the overall individual victor at the 2018 event, and this is what the 34-year-old had to say about the upcoming match races…
BSN: We’re only a few weeks away now from the International Island Classic. Tell us, how excited are you to get down to the ‘Island’ and get going for another year?
DJ: Yeah I can’t wait to get down to Phillip Island again for the Island Classic. I haven’t actually seen the bike since last year’s Island Classic. The bike is down at Trevor Birrell’s workshop in Adelaide and I’m heading there sometime this week to have a look at it and see if Troy Corser has changed anything on it, as he rode the bike at last year’s International Festival of Speed at Sydney Motorsport Park.
I’m hoping he has not changed any clickers, as I had it pretty dialled in. To be honest, I didn’t even change a click the whole time at the Island Classic last year. I just rode it and it was mint, which is a full credit to the guys who built the bike and Race Bike Services here in Adelaide who prepared the suspension. So, the bike won’t be any different to last year. I’m just going to have to ride my arse off and see how we go.
BSN: Reflecting back on 2018, you obviously took pole position and of course won the Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy with a 2-1-1-2 result, beating Jeremy McWilliams by one solid point. Did you ever think that you would have won overall last year?
DJ: No I didn’t, not at all. I know what it’s like at that meeting. If you are on a shit bike, you simply have no chance of winning. In 2017 I was on an old Suzuki Katana with a full steel frame, and I rode my absolute arse off and got eighteenth place overall. I thought that bike was not so bad. It’s just surprising when you get on a good bike just how much easier it makes.
At the start of the weekend last year I was so under the radar that Rex [Wolfenden] didn’t even put me in the faster qualifying group. He put me in the slower group as he didn’t think I was fast enough, then I went and scored pole position. Flying under the radar was a good thing.
I knew from after the first session that the DMR Motorsport Suzuki XR69 was going to be good. In the previous years gone by I was just banging my head against the brick wall. So to be on a good bike, I was pretty grateful for that. Thanks to Tom Dermody, Trevor Birrell and the team from Race Bike Services who put a fantastic bike underneath me. Straight away we were on the pace and we were there throughout the entire weekend.
BSN: So why was that XR69 so good?
DJ: It had a lot of development. I rode that bike when it was first built, which was back in 2005. I won my first race on it as well back then. Then we had a few issues, however we still got second at the Island Classic. After that, Cam [Donald] rode the bike and I was oust, which meant I had to ride other bikes and I was nowhere. Last year Tom gave me another opportunity to ride the bike again. That bike has a great overall package – the engine and chassis is just awesome!
BSN: For you, which race was the standout for you over the course of those four races?
DJ: Without a doubt the third race when I managed to win by 4.030 seconds. If I’m correct, that was the biggest ever winning margin in the history of the event. When I got out in front I just focused on doing consistent lap times.
I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it just went perfectly well. Last year was hard, as Jeremy [McWilliams] had more speed than what I did down the main straight and that was the only place he could pass me, which was down the start-finish straight. In races one and four which Jeremy won, he passed me on the start of the last lap down the main straight. From there on he just held his ground and won.
That was a bit frustrating. The engine will be exactly the same as last year, so I’m just going to have to ride the bike even harder this year. Another thing which didn’t play into our favour were the tyres, which went off quite early as we were running soft tyres. To get the best out of our bike we had to run the softer compound tyre. Hopefully this year will be a little bit cooler so it will be a little bit easier on the tyres.
BSN: And from a team’s point of view, just how nice was it to be a part of the Aussie team and reclaim back the International Challenge from Team UK?
DJ: It was an unreal feeling. I knew at the end of the last race I got the overall victory, as Jeremy got third in race two and I was never lower than second. However, it was just a waiting game to see if the Australian team won the International Challenge.
When we heard that we had won it, we had Fergus Cameron and Peter Mitchell from the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit come and all excited that we had done it. After that, Troy [Corser] and I were jumping around like we had just won a world championship. It was just an unreal feeling to be honest. Troy was third overall in the individual standings, so it had such a good feeling to it. In fact, the team victory last year is probably one of the greatest feelings I have had in my racing career, and I have won a lot of races in England and Europe.
Up against the field which were racing against was such a surreal feeling. To have the likes of Troy hugging me and having Colin Edwards coming up to me and congratulating me was one of the best feelings to date.
BSN: While Team UK won’t be heading down under in 2019, what’s your thoughts on the USA team and not forgetting the New Zealand team as well? You excited about the fact that Jason Pridmore is returning and Josh Hayes, who is set to make his Island Classic debut as well? Then in the Kiwi team, you have Alex Phillis, and probably the biggest recruit for that team is John Reynolds. What’s your thoughts?
DJ: Well, to start off with I believe the New Zealand team will definitely be contenders this year without a doubt. They need two riders dicing for the race win, and they have they that in Alex and John, who will definitely be up there. Then the American team, well Jason Pridmore will be hard to tame. He was the fastest U.S rider last year in that team. The USA team is very similar to last year from what I have seen, expect their bikes should be a lot better than last year as they know what they had to do to be even more competitive for 2019.
Looking at their fleet of Yamaha FJ’s is quite intimidating really and they look fast! Also, you can’t count out Larry Pegram either. So with Jason, Larry and now Josh, I believe the USA team will be very strong. So, the Australian team are going to have to work together to get the job done. As you saw last year the English team lost out just due to a few DNFs. So the Australian team are going to have to work hard to avoid those kind of things. There may be a standout rider in the Australian team, such as myself last year, who will be out in front winning races.
Hopefully there will be a handful of us doing that in a few weeks’ time. In saying that, we have to be smart about it, as we don’t want to take each other out. The young guys but, they want to win pretty badly, as do I. However, if I feel that I’m not fast enough to win, I’m not going to do anything stupid to jeopardize another one of my team members from winning that’s for sure.
BSN: Obviously the International Challenge is a team’s event, but in saying that there is of course the individual line honours to be won. Not only do you have a raft of top notch riders from the USA and New Zealand to contend with, but the Australian team once again look pretty good with the likes of Shawn Giles, Steve Martin, the Irving Vincent boys of Beau Beaton and Cam Donald, your ‘stable mate’, Paul Byrne, Aaron Morris, who can’t be over looked and the return of Jed Metcher. With that many good riders on the grid, just how hard will it be to win the Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy again in 2019?
DJ: It was hard as hell in 2018, and it won’t be any different this year. We obviously have to wait until qualifying, as the biggest thing is consistency and making sure you finish races. Of course I want to win every race, as that’s my goal, but the main thing is to make sure I finish all four races and score solid points.
BSN: And finally, just what would it mean to you to go back-to-back wins in the individual honours and take home another Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy, and not forgetting the famous Karen ‘Nurse’ Wootton’s chocolate brownies?
DJ: It would mean a lot and I would love to be able to do it again! The feeling of winning it last year will be something I’ll rank very highly in what I have done on two wheels. To have all those world champions looking at me on stage, that was some feeling I’ll tell you. I definitely want that feeling again.
BSN: Dave, thanks very much for your time. We’ll catch you in a few weeks’ time at the Island.
DJ: No worries, thank you…