Ireland was the unsung hero of the 2016 AMCN International Island Classic at Phillip Island with a superb third place in the showpiece International Challenge, and it’s now reloaded with an even stronger team to take into the 2017 event from January 27-29.
Led by Aussie-based expatriate Paul Byrne and Derek Sheils on a pair of rapid Suzuki XR69s, the Irish team is determined to keep the pressure on the talent-laden Aussie and UK teams and “finish higher up the ladder” according to non-riding team captain Mike Meskell.
The Irish team also includes Ben Rea (XR69), Hilton Hincks (XR69), Cormac Conroy (McIntosh Kawasaki), Christopher Campbell (Yamaha FJ1100) and Australians Dave Johnson (Suzuki Katana) and Levi Day (Honda CBX).
“Our aim for 2017 is to build on our third place position and finish higher up the ladder. We return with confidence, a stronger team and better bikes. 2016 was very much a learning experience and, even though we did better than many expected, it could have been even better. The gap to the top two teams was huge, but we fully intend to close that gap this time round.
We will be coming to challenge for the top spots and that’s what we’ll do. We’re not coming all the way to Oz to make up the numbers. We hope for a very strong Irish spectator presence to get behind the team once again. Get your tri-colours out and get to Phillip Island to support the team.”
Byrne was sensational in the 2016 International Challenge, completing the four races 11th overall in the individual standings – also known as the Ken Wootton Memorial Trophy. That excellent result was after a DNF in the final six-lap race, and since then he has a lot more classic miles under his belt including a brace of victories at events in NSW and New Zealand. And with even more horsepower in 2017 he is sure to be a front runner yet again.
Sheils will ride a XR69 from the same stable as Byrne and, as the multiple Irish road champion – and reigning No. 1 in the superbike category – makes his debut in the classic racing ranks. With his speed and cunning, Sheils could be a real X factor for Ireland.
Hincks returns after he never got a chance to shine in 2016 because of a slew of mechanical problems, but expect top 10 finishes from the Waterford man this time round.
Rea is another returnee after he finished 12th in the 2016 International Challenge individual standings, one spot behind Byrne. Rea’s is set to benefit from a horsepower explosion in 2017 – 40 to be precise! – so he could be another to make a major leap up the leaderboard.
Conroy rides the McIntosh Kawasaki that Johnson campaigned at a previous Island Classic, giving the multiple European classic champion the hardware to bring home some even more big points for Team Ireland.
Johnson is a previous Island Classic race winner, while Day also knows the fast way around Phillip Island – so much so that he is a past winner of the coveted Phil Irving Perpetual Trophy for the highest number of points scored across all the non-International Challenge races.
Australia and the UK have already announced their teams, with the Aussies fielding Jed Metcher, Steve Martin, Shawn Giles and Cameron Donald, as well as Beau Beaton, John Allen, Scott Webster and debutantes Chas Hern and Alex Phillis. The UK team comprises Peter Hickman, Jeremy McWilliams, Alex Sinclair, Michael Neeves, Conor Cummins, John McGuinness, Glen Richards, James Hillier and Craig Ditchburn.
IRISH INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGE TEAM
|20||David Johnson||Suzuki Katana 1295||1982||1000|
|41||Ben Rea||Suzuki XR69||1982||1000|
|49||Hilton Hincks||Suzuki XR69||1982||1250|
|52||Paul Byrne||McIntosh Suzuki||1981||1260|
|71||Cormac Conroy||McIntosh Kawasaki||1982||1180|
|82||Derek Sheils||Suzuki XR69||1982||1260|
|118||Christopher Campbell||Yamaha FJ1100||1984||1182|
|666||Levi Day||Honda CBX1000||1981||1280|
Tickets are on sale at www.islandclassic.com.au with an advance three-day adult pass for $80* and children 15 and under free. Add on-circuit camping for four nights for just $75* per person, purchased in advance.
VIP options are available in the Club Classic Hospitality suite above pit lane. Club Classic offers the flexibility of a single day starting from $150* or weekend package from $235*.
Gates open at 8am each day with qualifying and racing from 9am.
*All ticket prices quoted are in advance. Book in advance and save!