Jeremy McWilliams shines as Team UK retain Phillip Island Classic crown

Team UK won the Phillip Island International Challenge Classic in Australia for the second year running.
Team UK won the Phillip Island International Challenge Classic in Australia for the second year running.

Ex-Grand Prix star Jeremy McWilliams shone at Phillip Island as Team UK retained the International Challenge Classic title in Australia on Sunday.

McWilliams performed consistently throughout the four races on Roger Winfield’s Harris Yamaha to lead Team UK to victory at the spectacular circuit down under, where he was joined by a star-studded line-up including Ryan Farquhar, John McGuinness, Conor Cummins, James Hillier and Glen Richards.

Australia held an advantage of 12 points after the first two races on Saturday, but Team UK made it count on the final day, capitalising on some bad luck for the host nation to retain the crown by 99 points.

“I couldn’t be happier with how it’s all turned out. I managed the gap in that last race hoping that Beau [Beaton] would finish in second to allow me to take the individual honours outright, but it wasn’t to be. Still, I’m ecstatic,” McWilliams said.

“I expected to go a little faster in that last race and we set-up the bike a little harder to accommodate that, but the laps times just weren’t there and I was a little slower than race three.

“The team was pretty nervous across the board this weekend after a lack of track time on Friday. In the first race on Saturday we simply weren’t up to speed, but race three was where we really turned it on,” he added.

“Compared to the last few years, the Aussies have lost a bit of depth and that was particularly evident today.”

Team Ireland (421 points), including John Walsh, Hilton Hincks, Paul Byrne and captain Mike Meskell, finished an excellent third overall after entering the event for the first time. America (355) and New Zealand (289) were fourth and fifth.

Australia led the way following the opening two races on Saturday, which were won by Beaton, who was back in action at the event after missing last year’s instalment.

Beaton twice had the edge over McWilliams (Harris Yamaha), with Jed Metcher finishing third for the Aussies in each race.

However, the balance of power shifted on Sunday as seven of the UK’s riders finished inside the top ten in the opening race to claim a huge points haul, while only Metcher (Harris Honda) and Steve Martin (Katana Suzuki) managed to nail down any decent points for the hosts.

Saturday’s winner Beaton endured cruel luck, retiring from third place in the opening race yesterday with a mechanical issue.

Metcher rode brilliantly to take his first International Challenge win from McWilliams and he repeated the feat in the fourth and final race of the weekend, with Ulsterman McWilliams again settling into the runner-up spot as the pair finished on equal points (156) in the Individual category – the second tie in five years for the prestigious Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy, won in 2015 by Farquhar.

The duo finished well clear of third-placed Steve Martin (148), with UK riders then filling the remaining positions in the top eight, with Conor Cummins (Harris Honda, 140) in fourth from John McGuinness (Harris Honda, 133), Farquhar (Harris Yamaha, 132), Glen Richards (Harris Suzuki, 132) and James Hillier (Harris Yamaha, 119).

Beaton finished ninth overall in the Individual standings on the Irving Vincent Black Lightning with 118pts.

Three-time Aussie Superbike champion Shawn Giles (Katana) failed to finish two races after encountering a raft of engine problems, while compatriot Cameron Donald (McIntosh Suzuki) only made it through 50 per-cent of the schedule as well.