In blistering heat, Australia have kicked off the defence of their International Challenge crown in good shape at the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit today, 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 1m37.341 s lap on his 1982 Suzuki Katana; but on his heels was a fired up Jason Pridmore from the USA with a 1m37.642 s time. The duo were the only two racers to break into the 1m37’s 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 (Jan 26/27), and is the headline event of the 26th International Island Classic, presented by Visit Phillip Island.
As defending champion, Australia ended the day with seven riders in the top ten 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 ten – 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 the 26 year old from Newcastle, despite only doing a few laps in both qualifying sessions, dominated with blistering times in extreme conditions.
“It’s just brilliant to grab pole position in my first run in the International Challenge. The bike is working superbly. We have done a lot of work on the bike, but fact of the matter, it was a very good bike before the improvements,” said an elated Morris, riding the ex-Shawn Giles machine that held the International Challenge lap record.
“We have to ensure that we get a good start and remember that we don’t have to win every race, although that would be fantastic. It’s all about accumulating points over the four races and maintaining consistency,” said Morris.
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.
International Challenge qualifying - conditions very bloody hot
1. Aaron Morris - 1982 Suzuki Katana AUSTRALIA 1m37.341
2. Jason Pridmore – 1983 Yamaha FJ 1298 USA 1m37.642
3. Paul Byrne – 1984 Suzuki McIntosh 1260 AUSTRALIA 1m38.056
4. David Johnson – 1982 Suzuki XR691100 AUSTRALIA 1m38.104
5. Jed Metcher – 1982 Honda Harris F1 AUSTRALIA 1m38.122
6. Joshua Hayes – 1983 Yamaha FJ1250 USA 1m38.202
7. Beau Beaton – 1982 Irving Vincent 1300 AUSTRALIA 1m38.286
8. Steve Martin – 1982 Suzuki Katana 1294 AUSTRALIA 1m38.454
9. Shawn Giles – 1982 Suzuki Katana 1294 AUSTRALIA 1m38.642
10. Larry Pegram – 1983 Yamaha FJ 1250 USA 1m38.819
11. Alex Phillis – 1980 Suzuki XR69 1170 NEW ZEALAND 1m39.441