Motorcycling fans of a certain age need no explanation of who Giacomo Agostini is. So for those knowledgable fans, and their less enlightened younger brethren, the chance to see the 15-time world champion is a thrill. To see him saddle up and ride the MV Agustas that helped deliver those championship is extra special.
Fans at this year’s QBE Insurance International Festival of Speed - InterFOS - at Sydney Motorsport Park got to see ‘Ago’ and much, much more at an event that continues to grow in prominence and popularity. The 2017 event, held this past 24 – 26 March, proved to be twice as big as last year’s InterFOS, with around 15,000 spectators through the gates.
While he’s now 74 and has been retired from motorcycle racing for almost 40 years, Agostini remains sprightly and brings a sense of theatre to events like this. Aware that he’s a drawcard, Agostini has a bit of fun with both the spectators and his fellow special guests - and everyone laps it up. The GP legend was also generous with his time, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans for hours.
Joining Agostini at InterFOS this year was a more recent Italian racing star in Pierfrancesco “Frankie” Chili, who’s perhaps best remembered as Carl Fogarty’s nemesis in World Superbike competition in the 1990s. At InterFOS, Chili rode his Suzuki WSBK machine, sharing the track on the demo laps with the likes of Troy Bayliss and Kevin Magee.
While the focus of this year’s event was Italian GP racing machines, next year’s celebration will be on World Superbikes, so don’t be surprised if Frankie makes a return in 2018.
Also on the roster of special guests at InterFOS this year was Jeremy McWilliams, Maria Costello, Graeme Crosby, Steve Parrish, Cam Donald, John McGuinness and Gianfranco Bonera, to name a few.
Another star, but one better known for his off-track work, was Jeremy Burgess. A former race engineer for the likes of Doohan and Rossi, “JB” spent much of the weekend on the spanners, keeping classic Suzuki RG500s in racing trim.
The Italian Job
With the focus on Italian GP bikes, there was a big range of Italian machinery both on show and taking part in the Legends demonstration laps this year. Bikes included MV Agusta 500/4 and 500/3s, Cagiva 500 two-strokes, and Ducati 999 and 900s. Throw in a Gilera 500/4 and very rare Paton Bimota 500 and it was bliss (or maybe that should be ‘belissima’!) for Italian bike fans. And that’s without including the Laverdas. . . .
An undoubted highlight of this year’s InterFOS was the collection of Laverda motorcycles from the 1960s and ‘70s. The major drawcard here – and a major coup for the event organisers – was the Laverda V6 endurance racer, piloted by Piero Laverda himself, who rode the awesome machine on display laps each day.
A game changer in endurance motorcycle racing when it debuted at the 1978 Le Mans 24 Hour, the 1000cc Laverda proved to have such an advantage over its four-cylinder competition that it was later banned. Seen in the metal, the only running example of this V6 machine was a jawdropper, but when Piero fired it up, it was simply breathtaking.
With this rare and significant machine in the company of a number of other Laverda bikes, including the 3C triple and 600, 700 and 1000cc machines, it was a spectacle Laverda fans will long remember.
While the special guests, rider parades, public demo laps, trade stalls, swap meet, etc. have been part of the increased success of InterFOS, classic racing remains the backbone of the event.
With more than 400 bikes entered this year in a 50 race program, there was plenty of action.
The Trans-Tasman Challenge was particularly hotly-contested, and saw the Aussies prevail against the Kiwis by just three points ahead of the deciding leg at NZ’s Hampton Downs track in October.
Another highlight was the ‘QBE Top 50’, which saw the fastest 25 competitors from both Period 5 and 6 slug it out over a quartet of six lap races. A field packed with talent included Alex Phillis (Suzuki XR69), Chas Hern (Bimota YB5), Dean Oughtred (Suzuki GSXR) and Aaron Morris (Yamaha 0W01 1000), as well as the Irving Vincent pairing of Beau Beaton and Cam Donald.
In the first of four QBE Top 50 races, Morris took the win from Phillis and Beaton. Morris would also be successful in the next three legs: from Beaton and Glen Skachill (Bimota YB8) in leg 2; Jeremy McWilliams (a late inclusion on a Suzuki XR69) and Beaton in leg 3; and Beaton and McWilliams in the final leg.
Hard luck story of the weekend went to Bruce Ireland, who struck another competitor in the first P4/5/6 race, sending his TZ 750 into the pitlane wall. While Ireland was hospitalised, but later released, his bike, worth around $60,000, burst into flames and was destroyed.
Given the strength-to-strength growth of the International Festival of Speed, as evidenced by this year’s event, the 2018 InterFOS is not to be missed.
Further details can be found at: <a href="www.internationalfestivalofspeed.com">internationalfestivalofspeed.com</a>
Words: Phil Suriano
Photos: Nick Cagnacci and Phil Suriano