McWilliams took pole at Phillip Island on the Proton KR 500

On this day, October 20, 17 years ago, Jeremy McWilliams put in a blinding lap late in qualifying for the 2002 Australian Grand Prix to secure pole position on the KR Proton (Click here for a feature on the machine). I remember watching it on the monitors in the Phillip Island media centre, the excitement in the room was palpable as we watched a major upset unfold in front of us. 

Garry McCoy had already shocked many by leading Friday’s qualifying session before being pipped for provisional pole by Brazil’s Alex Barros.

Everyone expected the four-stroke juggernaut to take over in the final qualifying session but instead the two-strokes staged a monumental comeback to fill the entire front row for Sunday’s 27 lap race.

First to go to the top of the timesheets was Valentino Rossi who set a 1m32.979 lap with 20 minutes left in the session. McCoy retaliated with a 1m32.802 with 13 minutes remaining. Ukawa also dropped in to the 1m32s bracket shortly after to go second quickest with 10 minutes left. Only McCoy, Ukawa and Rossi had recorded 1m32s laps at that stage of the game.

Austrlaian Grand prix Jeremy McWilliams
Jeremy McWilliams

Jeremy McWilliams then put in a flyer of lap to shoot the top of the time-sheets with a 1m32.671. He nearly lost the rear in the fast left-hander that is turn 11 and had to momentarily get out of the throttle, so we knew his lap could have been quicker save for that mistake.

Garry McCoy came straight back with a 1m32.595 to take the top spot before being knocked off by Jurgen Van Den Goorbergh on 1m32.554.

Jeremy McWilliams then knocked everybody’s socks off with a fantastic 1m31.919 on what was undoubtedly the least powerful motorcycle in the field. Everybody expected the fast and flowing Phillip Island circuit to be a four-stroke haven but the less powerful two-strokes were proving superior to the much more powerful new four-stroke machines.

McWilliams held on to that pole position as the session concluded. Garry McCoy along with Nobuatsu Aoki and Jurgen Van Den Goorbergh served to make it a complete two-stroke front row in what was a big upset. 

2002 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Results
  1. McWilliams 1m31.919
  2. McCoy 1m32.325
  3. Aoki 1m32.477
  4. Goorbergh 1m32.509
  5. Barros 1m32.572
  6. Ukawa 1m32.592
  7. Rossi 1m32.849
  8. Biaggi 1m32.889
  9. Capirossi 1m32.918
  10. Kato 1m32.927
  11. Laconi 1m32.927
  12. Roberts 1m33.116Itoh 1m33.160
  13. Hopkins 1m33.424
  14. Gibernau 1m33.433
  15. Nakano 1m33.471Jacque 1m33.565
  16. Harada 1m33.572
  17. Pitt 1m33.842
  18. Checa 1m33.848
  19. Cardoso 1m34.447 (Friday Time)
  20. Abe 1m35.317 (Friday Time)

2002 Australian Grand Prix

Unfortunately the dream didn’t follow through to Sunday which was unfortunate not only for McWilliams, but also for me. I had sussed his good pace early on and had put $50 on him at 200:1 for the win early on in the piece! I wrote the qualifying report above and this race report below during proceedings. 

Austrlaian Grand Prix McCoy Side
Garry McCoy

Garry McCoy got a great start from the front row but was quickly passed by Barros, Rossi and Ukawa. Van Den Goorbergh then shuffled McCoy back to 5th on the run to Honda Corner.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Barros EarlyLead
Alex Barros the early race leader

Alex Barros put the hammer down straight away and had gapped Rossi by nearly a full second as they crossed the line to commence lap two. Van Den Goorbergh got the better of Ukawa for 3rd place on lap three as McCoy had drifted further back to 6th.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Biaggi Aoki Gibernau
Biaggi, Ukawa, Gibernau

Barros then set a new race lap record on lap eight, 1m32.377s, under Roberts lap record from 1999 but still outside McWilliams pole time. Capirossi retired from the race.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Barros Rossi McCoy
Barros, Rossi, McCoy

Kato had been leading the battle for 3rd for a few laps before being shuffled to the back of his group of 3 riders which included Kato and Van Den Goorbergh.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Kato Ukawa Goorbergh
Kato, Ukawa, Van Den Goorbergh

Rossi had a fantastic 11th lap to eclipse the lap record just set by Barros with a 1m32.233, closing within 7-tenths of the Brazilian. Laconi retired to the pits.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Barros Rossi
Valentino Rossi chasing Alex Barros

The next lap around Rossi had closed right on to the tail of Barros after another great lap. Rossi on a medium rear while Barros was on a medium-soft rear, both riders on Medium front Michelins. Itoh went out of the race.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Hopkins Nakano Cardoso Itoh
Hopkins, Nakano, Cardoso, Itoh

By half-race distance the competition had clearly become a two man affair, Barros and Rossi. McCoy entered the pits on lap 14 to get a new tyre after his rear tyre blistered. He rejoined the race with a fresh tyre but at the back of the field. 

Austrlaian Grand Prix McCoy Aoki Roberts
McCoy, Aoki, Roberts, Biaggi

Barros and Rossi continued their battle for the lead and lapped McCoy with nine laps to run. But McCoy stayed right on their tails even though he was a lap down, getting some excellent TV time for himself and sponsor Red Bull in the process.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Harada Pitt
Harada, Pitt

John Hopkins slid off on lap 21 but managed to rejoin.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Rossi Barros
Valentino Rossi leading Alex Barros

Rossi hit the lead with four laps to go as Barros looked to be suffering from a lack of grip from his medium-soft rear Michelin.

But Barros came back at Rossi under brakes for Honda Corner with two laps to run, only to run in a little deep and Rossi got him right back.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Rossi Side
Valentino Rossi

Barros did the exact same thing on the last lap but went in even more deep and had to take the escape road, leaving Rossi to cruise home on the final lap and take the win.

Barros recovered enough to take 2nd place, some 10-seconds down on Rossi. Third placed Tohru Ukawa took the final podium spot 11-seconds behind the winner.

Austrlaian Grand Prix Rossi Barros Shake
Valentino Rossi and Alex Barros
2002 Australian Grand Prix Qualifying Race Results
  1. Rossi
  2. Barros
  3. Ukawa
  4. Kato
  5. Goorbergh
  6. Biaggi
  7. Aoki
  8. Jacque
  9. Roberts
  10. McWilliams
  11. Checa
  12. Gibernau
  13. Nakano
  14. Harada
  15. Cardoso
  16. Hopkins
  17. Pitt
  18. McCoy

DNF – Itoh, Capirossi, Laconi

Jeremy McWilliams - 2003 - Geebee Images

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