Newcastle’s Aaron Morris backed up his dominance in qualifying Friday, to go from pole position today to take victory in the two International Challenge races at Australia’s Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit and grab a narrow lead for the Australians against Team USA and New Zealand in the three nation historic motorcycle battle.
And while Morris was unstoppable, Team USA flexed their muscle with Josh Hayes breathing down the back of the
Aussie front runners and being backed by reliable performances from his team mates. While the Australians were solid, defending champion David Johnson was plagued by mechanical problems, and 2016 champ Jed Metcher lost the front end to bow out of race two. Alex Phillis and John Reynolds were the best for the Kiwis.
Drama also marred the start, with the Team USA’s Jason Pridmore and Australia’s Beau Beaton both crashing at turn 11 and being transported to hospital for observation.
The headline event of the International Island Classic, presented by Visit Phillip Island, the International Challenge was run today in far more pleasant mid 20 temperatures in comparison to yesterday’s stifling 40+ temps that sizzled machines and their riders
Race one started with drama and a red-flag two laps in, when Team USA scalp, Jason Pridmore high-sided at turn 11, falling heavily and taking other riders out in the crash. Australia’s Beau Beaton came unstuck, and both he and Pridmore were taken to the medical centre with injuries. Conscious, both were transported to the hospital for observation and will not return to the grid this weekend.
For the race one re-start, polesitter Aaron Morris improved his start and stuck with the front runners, but it was Jed Metcher on the Honda Harris, and Suzuki riders David Johnson and Alex Phillis who headed the field by Southern Loop.
While the Australians Metcher and Johnson led early, team-mate Morris overhauled them aboard his Katana by lap three and held the lead through to the chequered flag. It was a solid victory, 1.2 seconds in front of Metcher. Team USA’s hot shot Josh Hayes came in third, impressive for his first visit to the circuit and his third day on the bike.
David Johnson, last year’s Ken Wootton Trophy winner for best individual performance, took fourth, with Australia’s Shawn Giles in 5th; and Suzuki rider Alex Phillis crossing the line for the New Zealanders in 6th , the best performer from the Kiwi squad.
For the second International Challenge race mid-afternoon, it was American Josh Hayes – the four times AMA Superbike champion – who took the early lead after an impressive start. He was fiercely pursued though by a host of riders including race one winner Aaron Morris, Melbourne’s Jed Metcher and for the USA Larry Pegram.
Morris broke away early in lap two on the Katana and with him was Metcher on the Harris, leaving Hayes and Pegram in their wake. Metcher though tumbled at Lukey Heights with a front end issue, and Morris was away with clear track, building a four-second lead to take his second chequered flag in dominant fashion to complete a perfect day.
“The day went really well except my starts were pretty atrocious. I hadn’t done any clutch starts on the bike until this morning,” said 26 year old Morris.
“To come out with both wins, I am very happy with that, and hopefully we can fix a few gremlins in the bike overnight and get out there and do it all again tomorrow
“The competition is definitely keeping me honest. It’s been hard work out there. We are pretty lucky that we have a great bike.”
Completing the race two podium was former world endurance champion, Australia’s Steve Martin, in second, with Paul Byrne third for the locals; while Josh Hayes was fourth for the US on the Yamaha FJ.
Hayes is the dark horse and should not be underestimated. As he learns the track, he’s starting to play hard ball and is likely to terrorise the leading riders even further tomorrow.
With today’s two wins, Australia’s Morris leads the individual leader board with a perfect scorecard on 80 points, but Hayes just trails him, with 75 points to his name.
“I am learning how to wrestle a dinosaur. These bikes are a bit before my time but I am lucky that the bike is extremely stable in the corners. I’ve had to change my riding style as I am a front end rider but on these bikes I don’t have much feel at the front to push really hard,” said Hayes.
“I am really looking forward to getting a win tomorrow. I know we can do it.”
Hayes also has the backing of what seems a far more formidable Team USA in 2019. Consistency amongst all riders is the name of the game for team honours, and the Americans had five finishers in the top ten in race two today, with Hayes 4th, followed by Michael Gilbert in 6th, Steve Rapp in 7th, Mark Miller in 9th and Barrett Long in 10th.
At the end of day one, Australia leads the table on 326 points, with Team USA trailing by only 15 points on 311 points, with New Zealand on 253 points.
Phillis was the best performer for the Kiwis today with a 6th and a 5th place to sit 4th on the Ken Wootton table for individual glory; while three times British superbike champion, John Reynolds, is finding his pace and took a 10th and 8th spot today and is in 6th place overall.
Defending Ken Wootton trophy holder, Adelaide’s Dave Johnson had gear box problems in race one, and did not compete in race two due to electrical problems. He plans to be back on track in the morning, after his mechanics work some magic overnight.