A few weeks ago I went to Phillip Island for the Superbike weekend. I had never been there for a race weekend before and I wasn't actually planning to go, but after purchasing a set of new tyres earlier this year I got a free paddock pass with general admission, thanks to Pirelli, so it was a nice opportunity.
I rode down to the island on Thursday after work and took the last ferry to Sorrento. It was a beautiful evening for a bike ride and I arrived at the track campground just after sunset. I set up my camp near the entrance among other bike campers and people were already camping all around the outside of the Go Kart track. Facilities were surprisingly good, even hot showers were available.
On Friday morning I tried to be at the track as soon as it opened. In the morning there were training sessions for some of the support races. Between the sessions I walked around the paddock and happened to see Troy Bayliss, whose son was racing in the ASBK Supersport 300 series. I also recognised some ASBK riders and ran into my local mechanic from Geelong, who was working for one of the riders.
Later I watched the WSBK practise sessions from the roof above the pit garages. I was right above the Ducati garage and had a good view. After the practise I went back to the paddock where fans were already waiting behind the garages, hoping for autographs from the riders. Just when I arrived Nicky Hayden was walking past and took time for photos and autographs with all fans. Shortly after I managed to get photos with Marco Melandri and Chaz Davies from the Ducati team. I definitely enjoyed having the paddock pass, it's awesome getting so close to the riders.
Another benefit of the paddock pass was free entry to the pit walks which were held every day. Another chance to get autographs and meet the riders. After the pit walk there was the Paddock Show, some kind of rider presentation and autograph session where fans can meet many of the riders. I got in the queue for autographs and was lucky to get one from Chaz Davies, the Aprilia riders and others.
I didn't want to carry all the signed posters around with me for the rest of the day, so I walked back to the campground and dropped it off at my tent. One of the great things about the WSBK weekend compared to other races on Phillip Island is that people can take their bikes inside the track compound, so it's easy to get from Gardner Straight to Siberia for example. Otherwise this would be a long walk. Apparently this is not allowed during the MotoGP weekend.
I decided to take the bike and ride around the outside of the track to check out the other viewing areas like Siberia and Lukey Heights for the afternoon sessions. It's so much more convenient to get around the track with a bike.
At Siberia I parked and stayed for a bit. I ran into Alex, a friend and fellow Ducati rider who lives not far from my town. I stayed to watch all the remaining sessions from Siberia, which is one of the best places, overlooking much of the track.
Dinner options at the track were limited – there's only the Champions Café where quality was a bit of a hit or miss. I didn't bring cooking equipment and didn't want to ride to Cowes either, so the café was the only option.
After dinner I then spent the rest of the evening watching the sea and chatting with various folks who asked me about my bike. To many Ducati seems to be purely a superbike company, so they are surprised when they see a bike like the Hyperstrada.
Weather forecast was great for Saturday, sunny and dry. After breakfast I was early at the track again and watched the first sessions from roof top near the pit lane entry. I wanted to get photos of the riders as they were coming in to the pit lane.
Later there was another pit walk, where I was lucky to get photos with both Kawasaki riders, Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes. Both were incredibly nice guys, and took time for photos, autographs and chat with all the fans.
Around noon it had turned into a stunning day with sunshine and blue skies. I went to get my bike again to ride over to Siberia and meet with Alex to watch Superpole and race 1 of WSBK. Sitting out there in the sun for hours I had to be very careful not to get sunburnt, but it was beautiful. The ocean backdrop at Siberia is spectacular.
After the WSBK race I moved over to Doohan Corner and closer to the campground for the final races of the day. Towards the evening the wind increased and it actually became quite chilly once the sun disappeared, so I was happy to sit inside for a bit while having dinner at the café.
Throughout the evening I had some interesting conversations with my tent neighbours from interstate. Some had ridden down from Queensland and even Western Australia just for the WSBK weekend. As much as I enjoyed the chat, I had to turn in early just to get out of that cold wind.
On Sunday I started to feel a little exhaustion setting in, having been at the track since Thursday. Not getting enough sleep in my tent, and then walking around for hours each day in the hot sun started to take its toll.
After breakfast I went for a walk around the exhibition hall, where various manufacturers were present with their bike lineup, and several accessory companies as well. I love bike exhibitions. The bikes I found the most intriguing were the Royal Enfield Himalayan, the MV Agusta F3 (would make a great track bike) and the Aprilia Tuono V4 1100. I would love to have a V4 Aprilia, they just sound amazing. I only wish they would improve their attention to detail; when looking at the ugly welds on the frame and the boring swing-arm design, it's a far cry from the polished look of a Ducati. Not to mention Aprilia's busy looking factory paint schemes that I'm not a huge fan of.
I also checked out the booths of Triumph and BMW. To me Triumph has always been the definition of boring. Their triple engine sounds like a cross between bumblebee and mini jet turbine, and combined with questionable design elements like the hideous head light on the Speed Triple, it's hardly something I would consider riding myself.
BMW is a similar story. I appreciate the quality of their bikes, they do everything right and nothing wrong. Problem is, they score very low when it comes to emotions. I can look at BMW bikes and I feel like I'm not the least bit excited, almost indifferent or apathetic. BMW does not understand how to design bikes with emotions in mind. Perhaps I'm not an average rider. I'm not interested in the perfect bike that does everything right. I'd rather have a bike that looks spectacular, sounds awesome, follows a no-compromise design language, is a pain to ride and has no practicality. As long as it has character, and as long as it makes me go to sleep with big eyes and in pleasant anticipation, like every time I decide I will ride my Ducati Streetfighter to work the following morning. The symmetry, the design detail, the red paint (no stupid decals), the sound – unfortunately only Italians seem to understand the importance of emotion in bike design.
Anyway, after the exhibition hall I watched the races and warm-ups from various places around Gardner Straight. Later I joined yet another pit walk, but almost none of the riders were present this time. I was kind of hoping to meet Stefan Bradl, but I only saw him at the Paddock Show on Friday.
I secured a nice spot at Doohan Corner and watched the Supersport and Superbike races from there. The sun was so strong I felt too exhausted to ride over to Siberia again. It was also much more crowded than the previous days and I could see it was packed over there. On such hot days I would really appreciate if organisers of large events provided drinking water for free, for example through water fountains in various locations. Vendors must have made a fortune that day selling water for $4 per half litre.
After the second WSBK race I decided to skip the remaining ASBK support races. I had a 3h ride home in front of me and still needed to pack up. From the hill where I was camping I could see some of the action and I think at least one race was red-flagged.
Overall I had a fantastic experience. The best day was probably Friday, because it wasn't very crowded then. It got more crowded on Saturday and even more on Sunday. But many only come for the WSBK sessions and don't care about the support races. I absolutely enjoyed having a paddock pass and meet so many of the riders.