Vince64’s John McPhee celebrated a sensational maiden WorldSSP podium on his debut race in the class at Phillip Island on Saturday afternoon.
Having a bike with no ride-by wire or electronics set-up to make his throttle blipper work properly, added to a serious case of intestinal infection in the run-up to race weekend, was hardly ideal preparation for his first ever Supersport World Championship race, but Kawasaki rider McPhee showed why he is a multiple Moto3 race winner in the opening action in Australia. He had been 20th on the grid for a race he would ultimately finish third in.
In an eventual ten lap ‘real’ race, after one main aborted race ‘result’ saw him ride to a front row position on the grid, his wise choice of full rain tyres saw him beat everyone except the factory Aruba Ducati of Nicolo Bulega and the fast finishing Yamaha VFT rider Nicholas Spinelli. However, it wasn’t as much of a clear decision as initially assumed.
“Funny story actually,” McPhee admitted from the Phillip Island paddock. “So I said to them, ‘keep the slicks’ then I thought ‘Okay, it’s only ten laps, it’s not going to be long enough to come dry’. Maybe if it was a 20 or 18 lap race, the slick would have been the correct choice but I said ‘Okay, it’s only ten laps, put the rain tyres’. Then when the mechanics left the grid, I looked around and seen some riders have intermediate - I didn’t even know that it was such a thing because in the past I’ve only used slick or rain. So then I started to panic thinking ‘intermediate would have been the tyre of choice I think but let’s go with it anyway’. The rain was the one that paid off because I think five laps from the end there was another dump and that that helped us a lot.”
Amazingly, in a season when Kawasakis are allowed to run ride-by-wire throttles, McPhee’s bike had a standard cable throttle and no throttle blipper system, meaning he had to use the clutch a lot. “On day one we were trying to use this new ride-by-wire system and it wasn’t working,” he explained. “So I never got a single lap in the first day of the recent test,”
“For me coming here after ten full years in the Moto3 paddock, coming to 600, I need laps. I need time on the bike and experience.
“It was something we massively lacked because we had two days pre-season in Jerez, but with it being so cold we had three or four hours a day, that was it. So, I felt very underprepared. Then when the race started today, to chuck something else in the mix, there’s rain. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what the bike is going to do. I don’t know what the tyres are going to do.’ But after that first start [halted after a two rider crash] I was buzzing. I was like, ‘well, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything too special but they’re all going quite slow so this is working in my favour’.”
Did McPhee think that his previous Moto3 experience, having to ride smooth to get the best out of a bike with limited power, helped him to be smooth in the wet, drying, wet again final ten lap race at PI?
“Always I’ve been a smooth rider,” he confirmed. “In Moto3, the tyre contact patch is so small that in these conditions there’s zero room for error. If you make the smallest mistake, you’re crashing. With the big tyre [in WorldSSP] you get a lot of feel. The tyre starts moving. It really starts kind of searching for grip, and it gives you warning. If you have warning, you can find the limit a little easier.”
When attending the media scrum immediately after the much delayed and shortened Saturday race, McPhee had not had enough time to speak to his team boss Vincenzo [hence Vince64] properly, just exchange yells with him. “We had a big scream in each other’s face and a big hug and that was about it. I’m looking forward to the conversations tonight over a barbecue!”
McPhee was acutely aware of what it meant to be a new WorldSSP rider, in a new team, to take a podium first time out, even if he knew he needed the rain to level the playing field somewhat.
“Honestly, can’t be better,” he admitted. “If it was dry, my personal target was points. I think we could have been P15 in the dry, would have been a good result today, with our lack of bike time and our lack of experience. To have these crazy conditions and then go fast on the slicks with damp patches, but then to go faster with rain tyres when I’ve never rode it in the rain was really special. Big thanks to the team, to Vincenzo for the projects and for bringing all this together. My first ever grand prix win was in the rain.”
McPhee agrees that the ‘win’ was all the sweeter for how difficult the run-up had been. “I think just a mix of everything,” he continued. “I’m probably my biggest critic because these first couple of days testing, I’m like, ‘I’m not a P18 rider,’ but I know why I’m there. I know I need to just get a bit more experience to be at the front, so we need to keep it realistic. To have this big reward for tricky conditions is great, but now we need to keep that ball rolling. The guys are already fully motivated. I’m sure they’ll be even more motivated now and we’ll just keep working harder and harder to be there regularly in dry conditions and wet conditions.”
He also confirmed that it was manual control all the way, old school, and he was even forced to use a full dark visor without no tear-offs or thick wet weather knee sliders.
“That was done with a standard system and clutch. No blipper system using the clutch. Just all manual.”
Now McPhee is waiting for…more rain on Sunday for Race Two. “Definitely. Like I said, the more dry track time I can get the better, but when points are up for grabs, then a bit of rain is definitely going to help.”
Needing more track time, McPhee is all set for more tests after he and his team get back from Mandalika, and before the third round in Assen. “Yeah,” said the Scotsman. “We spoke yesterday. We’re going to 100 per cent do a test somewhere. I don’t know where. I said to them I don’t care. Even if it’s in a car park, let’s just get on the bike! Honestly, anywhere. I’m going to try and get myself a bike as well, the same bits and suspension and just ride. I know how to ride a bike. I’ve got good control, but this one is just so different to Moto3. It’s a big change. I actually think going Moto3 to Moto2 is easier than Moto3 to Supersport. The weekend I rode the Moto2, after one day I was 1.5 seconds off the lap record, and it’s because the bike is so stiff. It’s so rigid. The tyres are so hard. It’s exactly what I’m used to but bigger and more power. This one you go and it’s soft, it’s moving. The whole chassis is flexing and it’s a big, big difference. So, I just need more experience on this kind of production bike.”