Shawn Giles takes first blood as International Challenge gets underway at the 2015 Island Classic
By Trevor Hedge
Jeremy McWilliams may have started the International Challenge opener at Phillip Island at midday today from pole position, but a grabby clutch robbed him of any advantage off the line as almost half a dozen riders swept past the Northern Irishman immediately.
No such problems for Cameron Donald who got a perfect start to lead the field through turn one for the first time and the Warrandyte based two-times IOM TT winner held on to the lead until half race distance when he was overhauled by Shawn Giles.
An exciting race ensued throughout as riders sliced and diced their way forward but in the final lap of the six lap race it came down to a two-man tussle around the picturesque 4.4km seaside circuit after McWilliams passed Donald on lap five before setting his sights on Giles’ Katana.
Shawn Giles proved the victor by half a bike length on the line from 50-year-old McWilliams, while Cameron Donald rounded out the podium 2.6-seconds behind the leading duo.
A few bike lengths further behind was Glen Richards and Jed Metcher, who rounded out the top five ahead of Brendan Roberts, Conor Cummins and Ryan Farquhar. Next home was Ryan Taylor on a TZ750 ahead of Damian Kavney who completed the top ten and was the highest finishing Team New Zealand entrant.
Giles, like McWilliams, is also having some clutch issues, the 44-year-old is getting off the line cleanly but is suffering from a little clutch slip at the top end as the plates struggle to cope with the huge power of the TBR/D&D Industries Suzuki trying to push the very unaerodynamic Katana through the air. As a result, the top speed of the machine was 14km/h down on McWilliams, and was the slowest machine amongst the top eight finishers.
Giles – “The bike is running really well but we did have a few issues in qualifying with the bike with a slipping clutch and the bike jumping up a gear from second to third out of turn four. The boys got it right for this first race though so we have to see if we can match the speed of Jeremy, whose bike is obviously a lot more aerodynamic than the Katana, we only have a little screen so we don’t really get much protection for my big shoulders, we’ll do our best and hopefully I can keep getting the drive off the turns so I can stay in his slipstream and then dive underneath him where I can.
“We saw last year that if Jeremy can get a good start we are going to have our work cut out for us, Jeremy and the English Team really want to win, myself and the Aussie team will certainly do our best and never give up, I don’t care how fast his bike is I am going to get that Katana up there.”
We quizzed Shawn on the differences in riding technique required to ride the big beast that the Katana is compared to a modern sportsbike.
“It is nearly 1300cc so you really use the torque of the engine, short-shift it, you don’t have to rev it too hard, I rev it to about 10,000rpm.
“It is really important to make very positive gearchanges because these old style gearboxes are nothing like a late model gearbox where you can just bang it through the gears, instead you have to make each change deliberately positive to try and ensure the gear engages correctly.”
And where in the rev-range does the big Katana really start pulling hard?
“It pulls from pretty much any RPM,” laughed Giles. “Even yesterday going into Honda Corner, normally I drive out of their in second gear and short-shift to third when pulling the bike upright, but yesterday with the gearboxes issues, I was running out of there in third and it still just torqued its way out no problem and I still did a 1m39.1 on that lap.”
McWilliams set the fastest lap of the race with a 1m37.000, just a whisker off Gilesy’s lap record, and if he can get off the line well his competitors will struggle to get the upper hand.
Those start line issues though are seriously troubling McWilliams, the hugely experienced star is even considering starting from the rear of the grid to ensure his safety, and the safety of other riders. The Roger Winfield managed squad have been trying to solve the ongoing grabby clutch issues with their 1297cc Yamaha engined machine for a long time but have been unable to find a successful resolution.
McWilliams – “It’s really frustrating, I have got to get away with Cam and Gilesy because I need to win a couple if I am going to win this overall. We need all the points we can get so it was a little disappointing, but it was nice to fight back through.
“We have the speed alright, once we’re rolling, but it is just so dangerous getting off the line like that, if it stalls I don’t know what is going to happen.
“We are telling the guys behind to watch out at the race starts, I actually contemplated starting that race from the back of the grid as I knew we were going to have issues getting off the line.”
The second International Challenge race will take place late this afternoon and the final two of the four-race challenge are schedule for Sunday.