Shannons Australian Historic Road Race Championships Report | By Phil Hall
Last weekend the Queensland Early Motorcycle Sports Club presented the 50th Australian Historic Championships at the appropriately historic Lakeside Raceway north of Brisbane (now less interestingly named “Lakeside Park”)
By any measure the meeting was an outstanding success with huge fields in every category, stars of today and of yesterday in abundance and close racing throughout the programme of racing.
The meeting was, however, marred by the tragic death of popular NSW P6 competitor, Steven Anderson who lost his life in the 4th last race of the day on Sunday, casting a pall over the closing of the meeting and the presentation of trophies at the conclusion of racing. While all racers accept the risks involved in racing and those involved understand that the worst outcome is always possible, it still comes as a hammer blow when it happens and Steve’s death has deeply affected the close-knit historic racing community.
Congratulations must go to the hard-working team at QEMSC. Working at a venue with which they were not familiar and with track management with whom they had not worked before, they did their jobs tirelessly, cheerfully and with good humour. It is a long time since I have been to a meeting where the amicable relations between riders and officials was as good as it was at Lakeside at the weekend, and hearty congratulations must go to the riders and to the officials for making the weekend as pleasant as it was for everyone.
“Beautiful one day – perfect the next” goes the Queensland tourism slogan and it was spot on last weekend. Apart from a sudden storm that hit the circuit late on Thursday afternoon, drenching everyone and flooding the pit enclosure, the weather was just that, perfect.
Competitors came from as far away as WA and Tasmania for the meeting and the pits were quickly filled to capacity, an overflow pit area being created at the eastern end of the circuit that also quickly filled up with racing people and trade shows. Navigation was not easy but everyone seemed to understand the level of difficulty and adjust their behaviour accordingly. There were over 300 entries for the meeting and more bikes than that due to many riders entering in multiple classes.
Since it has been some time since Lakeside has been used for bike racing and with on-going concerns about the “Bus Stop” section on the back straight, the track owners installed an even tighter and slower bus stop chicane at the entrance to where the old one begins. A first gear corner for most bikes, it was not popular with the riders and added considerably to lap times as the riders slipped clutches in order to regain acceleration once it had been negotiated. Dubbed the “Macdonald’s Drive Through” by one seasoned “A” grader, the hokey chicane was pretty much the only aspect of the meeting about which questions could be raised.
Nearly 60 races were completed during the weekend so I hope you will forgive me if I don’t provide a blow-by-blow description but focus rather on events and people that made up the weekend. Electronic timing was available on the Natsoft platform and may be accessed on their web site. Full class results and breakdown are now available on the club’s web site.
The meeting featured the usual mix of serious competitors and those who were just there for the fun and the friendship and many who were there because it WAS the 50th anniversary meeting AND because it was their first opportunity to race at Lakeside, for a while or at all.
The P5 category, usually seen as the “banner” category at these shows, was the sole preserve of international rider, Cam Donald. Riding the beautiful Manta Engineering XR69, Donald showed us why he is the success that he is overseas, winning with ease over a field that was full of class. Sadly the Birrell Team Katanas were not there to keep him honest but it didn’t really detract from the spectacle. The rider who did best after Donald was, however, quite a surprise. Offered the ride at the last minute on the Old Gold Motorcycles Katana, journalist Rennie Scaysbrook adapted quickly to the big lump and put in three outstanding rides to finish 2nd to Donald in two of the three heats. Corey Forde was hugely impressive finishing 2nd to Donald in Heat 1 but the bike did a head gasket on the warm-up to Heat 2 and he was out of it. Victoria’s Peter Mizzi was 3rd overall on his Honda 1100.
This category also saw the second appearance of Tasmanian veteran, Malcolm Campbell aboard the new Phillip Andrea-owned TZ750. This bike is an absolutely brand new bike, built from all brand new parts and it is screaming with potential. C&M frame from Canada and all the hot bits to boot, it is a 21st century iteration of what Yamaha would be building now if the TZ was still on the books. Unfortunately, the bike was still suffering teething problems, as most new bikes do, mainly centred around the problem of trying to get a 1970’s specification clutch to handle 21st Century horsepower.
Cruising through the pits was any bike nut’s version of paradise. Everywhere you looked there was something wonderful to behold and photograph. Sydney rider, Lindsay McKay brought two bikes and raced in both the 250cc and the 125cc class. Fettled by fellow lightweight veteran Lyell Bennett, the 125cc bike was particularly interesting. Built around an aluminium monocoque frame that had lain in someone’s shed for much too long, it was a fascinating blend of old-skool lateral thinking and modern engineering.
A little further down the pit lane was Team Senior. All the way from WA, the team travels nearly 10000kms to make a meeting like Lakeside. Led by veteran rider, Peter Senior, the bikes were ridden (all 4 of them) by Peter’s son, Adam and included in the collection was a genuine 1976 Suzuki RG500. This bike was bought new by Peter in 1976 and has been raced, in basically unchanged form, since then with occasional sabbaticals while the changeover from Peter riding it to Adam riding it took place. Despite all the stories about how fragile and finicky the original RG’s were, Peter confirmed that the only major component on the bike that is different from stock is the rear shock absorbers, fitted at Adam’s insistence to give him some more adjustability.
90% of the spares kit that came with the bike is still unused and only recently when the pistons were checked and found to be on a couple of thou out were they replaced with new ones. Peter said that, despite the bike’s “fast but fragile” reputation, they are remarkably robust and that only the gearbox let them down. At present the bike runs a close ratio box, sourced from John Woodley, but it will soon be replaced with a standard box (suitably beefed up) that is presently being made back in Perth. Here is a bike with nearly 40 years of racing history that HASN’T had three new frames, four new engines and 17 new carburettors. A truly remarkable time warp of how racing was in the days of Barry Sheene.
Also racing at the meeting was Dave Keenan on his 44 year old Yamaha TD2. Keenan bought the bike in 1970 and has raced it continuously throughout the intervening years. The Yamaha factory and its racing department was so impressed by this amazing feat that they sent a representative to Lakeside on the weekend and organised a special presentation where Dave was presented with an award, recognising his outstanding contribution to Yamaha’s racing history.
And it is fair to say that many of the spectators, oh, I’m sorry, did I mention spectators? There were thousands of them! The car parks and bike parks were crammed to overflowing, and I haven’t seen a crowd anywhere near that big at a “normal” race meeting for years. ASBK and the rest would KILL to get a crowd through the gates like attended the meeting on the weekend. Lesson? Cut out the BS and give the people what they want, racing without all the commercial hype. Anyway, back to the spectators. Most of them turned up to see the races but also to be able to wander through the pits, admire the bikes, talk to the riders and enjoy the casual atmosphere. AND to see some legendary bikes and riders, because there were plenty. Queenslander, Gary Middleton, brought along two ex-TKA Kawasakis, an H2R and a KR250. He also brought a new Yamaha TZ750A, built new from OEM parts and a Suzuki RG500MkVII whose racing history was uncertain.
Fettled by the tireless Jeff Dillon, the bikes looked and sounded a treat, and they needed to because they were not just there for static display. They were there to be ridden and ridden they were.
Aside from the racing the undoubted highlight of the meeting was the Legends parade which took place on Saturday at lunch time. Three laps at a gentle pace around the track was the instructions. You can imagine how much notice the riders took of that! The line-up of riders and bikes included, 4 times world champion, Kork Ballington on the ex-Gregg Hansford H2R, former TKA rider, Murray Sayle on the KR250 that was first ridden by him and then by Rick Perry and Jeff Sayle, on the Middleton TZ750. Jeff was very nervous, confessing that it was in 1998 that he last rode a race bike and that he wasn’t sure how his bad ankle would react to rear-sets and gear changing. Of course, he managed both beautifully in the end.
Also riding was the Kiwi larrikin, Graeme Crosby, on the ex-Wayne Gardner Moriwaki Kawasaki that had been hastily taken out of the museum at Bathurst and brought to the track. Fitted with nearly all road-going gear (Wayne had used it as a road bike) it still had a starter motor, normal switch blocks and a taillight. When I pointed this out to Graeme and asked him how many bits on the bike should NOT be on a racing bike, he replied, “Well, me, for a start!”
The bike was in pretty poor shape and even replacing the plugs didn’t seem to clear it, as it was popping and banging as soon as revs were applied. Tuning legend, Ross Hannan, finally admitted that Croz would just have to do what he usually did, ride around the problem. That was made slightly more entertaining by the fact that Tony Hatton had agreed to pillion with Croz on the Kawasaki!
Peggy Hyde was there in her 1970’s leathers (that still fit) and she was charming, articulate and somewhat bemused by all the attention she was receiving. A pioneer of road racing for women in Australia, it was great to see the respect with which she was being treated. A last-minute bike change due to the TD3 she was due to ride being recalcitrant, Peggy instead rode Jim Scaysbrook’s Honda 125 road bike, the one which he usually uses as his putt bike when doing his journalist gig. Hardly a fitting mount for such a distinguished rider, but Peggy got on and rode anyway.
Mr Superbike, Gary Thomas was there, as was Kiwi legend, Ginger Molloy, riding Danny Ahern’s bike. And there were a couple of sidecars too, an immaculate replica of the famous Chesterfield “Wedge”, ridden by its original crew, Bob Levy and Mal Byrne and Steve Bayliss on his 1970’s green outfit as well. Steve was partnered by QEMSC committee man, Keiron Rees.
Once out of the chute, Murray Sayle made it very clear that this was no slow demo affair. He absolutely bolted and nearly lapped some of the “tailenders” in the three lap affair. Sayle was in memory lane, back at Hume Weir in October 1976 when he won the first ever race in the world for the new KR250. Tucked into the bubble and howling into the Karousel, it was a sight that made going to the meeting worthwhile all by itself!
The crowd just lapped it up, constant applause greeting the riders everywhere around the circuit. Most of us would have loved it to have gone on for a few more laps but the programme was very tight so..
As an aside, I had the great privilege of watching the show from the pit gate, accompanied by Ryan and Rhys Hansford, Gregg’s sons and by his widow who was along to see the show. What a wonderful family they are and they were, I think, more than just a little surprised at the outpouring of affection shown towards the old bikes and the characters that rode them. Ryan is tall, taller even than his dad was, but, in almost every respect that matters, he is the reincarnation of his father. It truly is amazing to speak to him, it’s like being taken back in time.
As usual with these meetings there were some stars of the show and they should be mentioned. Second generation racer, Glenn Hindle, rode in two categories, P4 Junior, where he won all three races on the Maxton and P5 Junior where he had two wins and a third to secure that championship as well. This category probably provided the most exciting racing throughout the weekend with the battles between Hindle, fellow second gen racer, Peter Hinton and upcoming star, Lachlan Hill being the highlights of the weekend.
Phil Paton won the P3 Junior championship on his Bultaco with a 1,1,2 result. Jack Wright won all three races in the P3 Senior to take maximum points ahead of Keith Campbell and Bob Rosenthal.
Peter O’Niell won all his races in the P3 Lightweight on a Montessa while Keith Campbell got his revenge in the P3 750 class by winning all three races. Stephen Ward also rode the programme on his Armstrong in the P5 Lightweight class being streets ahead of the opposition. Indeed, so fast was he on the 250 that he finished 4th in the 350 category overall as well.
Malcolm Campbell won the P5 750 class on the TZ from Clive Warner (TZ750) and Craig Harms on an ancient Alchemy Ducati 705.
Chris Price won his two races (the last few races on the Sunday were cancelled so some classes missed out on running three heats) in the P6 Unlimited and Alan Johnston repeated the feat in the Lightweight P6.
Steve Kairl won all three races in the P5 Ultralightweight as well as two in the P6 125 as well to net a championship and a 2nd. Ageless veteran, Bernie Summers, finished 2nd in the P5.
Despite difficulties with the club officials needing to work in with the circuit owners, who were very much part of the show over the weekend, from a spectator perspective, the meeting was outstanding. There were many management and other issues that have been raised (mostly by riders) since the meeting concluded, and I am sure that they will be addressed. For myself, I was treated with the utmost kindness and cooperation and can only give the club and the track officials a big tick.
Next year the Nationals move to Mallala in South Australia. It should be a great show.