By Tom McNish
WONTHAGGI Motorcycles mechanic Mat O’Donnell worked with Australian superbike rider Alex Phillis to help him claim two wins at the Island Classic, alongside a second and a third across the four six-lap races – to lead the Australian effort and be awarded the best individual performer on the grid.
Working on race bikes has taken Mat around the world, but last month he found success at his home circuit, for the annual Island Classic.
“The riders were a mix of ex-American superbikes, world superbikes and Isle of Man TT champions so to get a win here really means a lot,” Mat said.
In the final race for the weekend, Alex was back in 10th after a bad start.
“We were a bit worried that it was too much to make up, but he put his head down and consistently pulled the front guys in and won the race,” Mat said.
“The whole team was ecstatic watching him do this and I think there were a few tears from some of the crew seeing such a great performance,” he said.
Alex rode a 1982 XR69 1080 and for him, this only presented a seven-second margin on the Phillip Island lap record.
“At the start of the weekend I thought it was going to be tough working on an older bike, but it’s a specially built race machine from the UK so the components on the bike are really well built,” Mat said.
“One thing is, there are no electronic aids on the bike which makes things are lot easier. Modern superbikes are very technical and are a job in themselves to work on the electronics,” he said.
“To finish 2019 in the top 10 of the Australian superbike championships was a great feeling especially in such a tough field,” he said.
Mat says he found his race mechanic role through work experience.
“It was 21 years ago I did work experience with Kawasaki racing team while I was at school here in Wonthaggi,” Mat said.
“There I worked with Alex’s dad Robbie who raced world superbikes for Kawasaki and is an Australian racing legend.
“I have worked with Robbie several times over the years and even worked overseas with him when I was younger.
“I’ve kept in touch and when Alex joined the Factory Suzuki team for 2019, he was looking for a crew chief to help him compete at the top level,” he said.
Mat says they’ve had a great run working together notably coming runner-up in the ’99 ASBK.
But with recent electronic changes, the 2019 top 10 finish is one of the highlights.
“The last couple of years have been some challenging times with electronics, so to get through the season without a DNF is something we’re pretty proud of,” Mat said.