Well if one word could be be used to sum up qualifying preparations for the 23rd Island Classic I think that noun would be ‘frustration’.
Originally scheduled for Friday, the qualifying sessions for the International Challenge were eventually put back to Saturday after incessant rain on Friday saw organisers, in consultation with riders, elect to instead plan a brief qualifying session first thing on Saturday morning.
Come Saturday morning the track was dry, a little precipitation was on the horizon but it looked promising that the international stars would be able to get a couple of dry laps in so that the grid could be decided on genuine dry weather pace, and the field ranked accordingly, but mother nature had other ideas. Just as engines were fired into life and visors dropped the drizzle arrived, you couldn’t script it.
Still, all riders had to go out and put a time in, and the balance had to be reached between risk and reward.
With the first race only hours away the chance of throwing a bike down the road, with limited spares to fall back on and limited time affect repairs in the case of an incident, I would say the risks outweighed the relative reward of gaining a few extra places up the grid.
Beau Beaton was the early pacesetter on the delectable Irving Vincent but the session was brought to a halt halfway into the 15-minute session when Grant Dalton went down on the exit of turn three, it’s unknown if he went down on his own oil or that left by another machine. Dalton suffered a broken wrist in the tumble.
The spill was then exacerbated when his cases hit the deck and the slippery stuff went everywhere, with four riders going down.
The session was then called due to what would be a significant delay to effectively clean up the track. The last thing organisers needed in what was already a crowded and hectic schedule, that had already been precariously extended with the addition of that ill fated qualifying session this morning.
Ryan Farquhar, last year’s winner of individual honours, and Team UK had a huge headache of their own to deal with. The 39-year-old’s Yamaha engined Harris machine threw a leg out of bed in a big way.
The broken con-rod smashed a hole through the FJ1200 cases and dumped its entire contents of oil on the Phillip Island tarmac.
I must say, I have never before been welcomed and invited to photograph wholesale engine destruction before. Normally such carnage would be hidden from prying eyes, but Team UK boss Roger Winfield told me straight up, ‘get in there that will make for a great photo’.
I took the invitation, although Ryan was perhaps not quite so keen as the stress levels started to rise as the enormity of the task ahead of them to try and get the machine ready for the opening six-lap International Challenge race really started to dawn.
It is all hands on deck in the Team UK garage right now as they strive to complete an engine change. Two spare engines were brought for the Winfield bikes, a Suzuki engine and a Yamaha engine, thus with the replacement of the engine in Ryan’s machine there are no more spare Yamaha engines in the inventory.
Adding more work to the replacement process is the need to pull the trick clutch set-up out of the destroyed engine and change that into the fresh engine, something the team are doing right this minute.
Ryan is on the spanners too, he is calm and controlled, but the pressure and anxiety in the air is palpable.
There was also significant controversy over Beau Beaton’s place at the top of the timesheets, there have been rumblings from some of the international teams in the lead up to this event about the eligibility of the four-valve Irving Vincent machine. A masterpiece in its own right, to be sure, but to say it is pushing the boundaries of the rule book is perhaps even understating it. If Beaton does get to keep that ‘provisional’ pole position a protest could be on the cards.
Whether the times from that session do end up forming the grid is still perhaps up in the air, but as of right now, it is the best information we have to go on. There are rumours and suggestions of perhaps running the grid as formed from this session but then for the following races the grid being formed on a progressive basis from the results of the opening race. That seems the most likely scenario.
Island Classic 2016 – International Challenge Qualifying Results (Provisional)
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