Seasoned McWilliams revved up for Classic Aussie adventure
Jeremy McWilliams will lead a strong British line-up at this weekend's 24th AMCN International Phillip Island Classic in Australia that includes 23-time TT winner John McGuinness and upcoming star Peter Hickman.
But, ironically, he will travel for the first time without his ever-present sidekick and close friend Ryan Farquhar.
Former Grand Prix ace McWilliams, who turns 53 in April, is fully aware of the strength of competition at the upcoming event, that includes teams from New Zealand, USA and Ireland, but the biggest threat will again come from host nation Australia.
Speaking prior to his trip Down Under, which included a stop off in Dubai to visit his brother Pat, a former professional jockey, McWilliams commented: "I guess it's always the same in the lead up to the Island Classic, as it's such a great feeling to race there. The pressure to remain competitive is always a sobering thought, especially when I look at how strong the competition is year-on-year."
The Island Classic is very much a team event, but the Ken Wootton Perpetual Trophy for overall individual honours is a silent goal for all the racers - something McWilliams can claim for the fourth time this weekend if successful.
Taking the top Australian riders into consideration, that include youngster Jed Metcher who McWilliams has previously managed and mentored in World Supersport, and big local names Down Under like Shawn Giles, Steve Martin and Beau Beaton, the former 250cc Grand Prix winner is expecting a tough weekend of racing.
"The Aussie team have always fielded a strong line-up and any of their riders could win the overall, as they've all won race legs in the past," he said.
"In saying that, Team UK is also super competitive and Glen Richards and Peter Hickman will be fighting for the top spot this year, so it's wide open," explained McWilliams.
The remaining places on the hugely talented British team have been filled by Manxman Conor Cummins and TT star James Hillier, with Keith Higgs riding as captain.
Last year McWilliams and Aussie Metcher tied on points for the overall, which meant the former Belfast bike shop owner had to share the Ken Wootton Trophy with the youngster he managed at Rivamoto back in 2012.
But the British team is gunning for their third consecutive overall victory and the Phil Irving Trophy, which is really what the spirit of the Island Classic event is all about, although keep an eye on the Irish team, who will be making only their second appearance.
Reigning Irish Road Racing Superbike champion Derek Shiels will make his debut, both at the event and aboard classic machinery, during his first visit to Phillip Island.
He will ride a popular classic XR69 Suzuki, a similar bike ridden by Michael Dunlop to Classic Superbike TT success last year on the Isle of Man.
A heavily strengthened Irish team will include Aussie resident Paul Byrne, who was a front-runner 12 months ago with David Johnson, Hilton Hincks, Ben Rea, Levi 'O' Day, Chris Campbell and Cormac Conroy, a multiple European Classic racing champion. The three-day event gets under way on Friday and concludes on Sunday.
Dungannon's Farquhar, who is still making progress following his life-threatening crash at last year's Vauxhall International North West 200, may not have made the journey to the Island Classic in Australia this time around - but the record breaking road racer is anything but idle.
As well as working on Team KMR'S plans for 2017, Farquhar will be sponsoring and mentoring near neighbour Cameron Dawson this season.
The 12-year-old is a four-time Mini Moto and Pit Bike champion, and will make his debut in the Young Guns Series aboard a 125cc Aprilia.
Farquhar commented: "I'm now in a position to devote more of my time to help Cameron, who has shown excellent progress as a youngster in the mini bike scene.
"His dad was very good to me over the years so this gives me a chance to return the favour," he added.