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Big names of bike racing arrive for Island Classic

John McGuinness strip

The big names have arrived at Phillip Island for this weekend’s 2014 Australian Motorcycle News International Island Classic (January 24-26), which will see teams from Australia, New Zealand, America and the United Kingdom battle for national pride –  and 12 months’ worth of bragging rights.

And there’s no bigger name joining the Tahbilk International Challenge line-up in 2014 than John McGuinness. The 41-year-old Isle of Man TT legend from Lancashire has been called in to bolster the UK team, in what will be his first race appearance at the iconic Victorian Grand Prix circuit.

“I’ve only been in the country for a day and already I’ve got sunburn on my head,” said McGuinness. “But it’s great to be back in Australia for the first time in many years, and I just love the old-school nature of the Phillip Island circuit – not like a lot of the rubbish start-stop circuits that are being made today.

“I have ridden at the Isle of Man and great tracks like Suzuka over the last few years, but Phillip Island was one of those other tracks I also wanted to tick off.”

McGuinness believes the UK team can really turn it on in the International Challenge.

“I know that Jeremy (McWilliams) is really pumped for the job and I’m going to give it a real shake myself, but it’s always going to be difficult to lick these blokes (the Australians) on their home turf. However, some of our riders like Gary Johnson don’t hang about either, so it’s going to be an intriguing battle.

“I’ve read a bit of trash talk from the Aussies recently about how they are going to touch us up, but I’ve heard it all before – and that only gives me more motivation to lower them down a peg.”

The UK is looking to break Australia’s unbroken five-year winning streak in the International Challenge, which will be held over four, six-lap races. McGuinness will bolster a UK line-up that also includes Ryan Farquhar, Mike Edwards and Mick Godfrey. The UK’s fastest rider, McWilliams, is a two-time International Challenge individual winner.

McGuinness claimed his 20th Isle of Man TT victory in 2013, winning the Senior TT event as well as setting a new lap record of 131.671mph. Those 20 victories are backed up by an incredible 41 other TT podium finishes.

McGuinness already knows one Aussie he’ll be racing against – fellow Isle of Man fast nut Cameron Donald – but it’s the amazing depth of local talent that again has Australia installed as the warm favourite to retain the Tahbilk International Challenge. The 12-rider Australian squad is a tantalising mix of ‘old’ and ‘new’, and includes the aforementioned Steve Martin, 2013 individual winner Shawn Giles, Malcolm Campbell, Rob Phillis, Brendan Roberts and Beau Beaton.

New scoring rules have been introduced in 2014 to even the playing field for the visiting teams, but Martin is still nonplussed.

“The Poms keep on changing the rules until they win, so they’ll have to win eventually,” he said, tongue firmly in cheek. “I’m all for it. Bring them over, they can have the strongest team they want – we’ve still got a great depth of riders.

“It’s great news that John McGuinness is here. They may have the big names, but they have still got to put down the lap times. One thing’s for sure: I am not gonna let McGuinness beat me!”

Meanwhile, 2014 marks the second appearance in the International Challenge for America, and co-captain Deano Swims is confident his team will put up a strong fight.

“We have a pretty strong group of core riders, including Ottis Lance, Dan Weir, James McKay and Brian Filo, who can help us maximise our points,” said Swims. “Last year’s event was a real eye opener for us with all the fast bikes, but we put up a good fight and we now know what to expect in 2014.

“It’s just a privilege to be a part of this great event, and I’d like to thanks the organisers for helping us get here. This event is gaining momentum for us, and it’d be great to see some really big-name riders join the American team in future years.”

America has an 11-rider squad, the same as New Zealand, the latter to be captained by Roger Gunn and including Alistair Maxwell, Damien Kavney, Glenn Hindle and former Australian 125 GP champion Trevor Manley.

The Island Classic is the southern hemisphere’s largest historic motorcycle racing event. As well as the Tahbilk International Challenge, the Classic also hosts events for solo and sidecar machinery from early last century to 1990.

Tickets are available at the circuit from Friday to Sunday (Jan 24-26).   Gates open from 8:00am with practice Friday, qualifying and racing Saturday, and back to back racing on Sunday.    Ticket prices are as follows:

Three-day adult $70

Sunday adult $45

Saturday adult $30

Friday adult $15

Kids 15 and under are free on all three days.

On track camping is also available for $55 an adult for two nights, or $70 for four nights.  Kids 15 and under camp free. For more information, visit www.islandclassic.com.au.