Last year John McGuinness came within a few seconds of becoming the first man to lap the TT course at 133mph. This year there’s that barrier and another just waiting just to be beaten
wo TT landmarks will most likely be broken this June – the first 133mph lap and the first sub 17-minute lap – weather permitting. Most riders believe both will be surpassed, as long as they don’t have to deal with any curved balls.
The only thing that’s certain is that the 133mph record will go first, because that particular barrier stands at 17 minutes and one second.
“I think we’ll see both go, but it’s all down to conditions,” says John McGuinness. “If it’s been pissing down with rain a lot it probably won’t happen. Conditions need to be perfect and you need all the guys pushing each other.”
Pushing the Blade's limits, Mcguinness has changed his style to up the pace
McGuinness is one of five riders – along with Ian Hutchinson, Michael Dunlop, Bruce Anstey and James Hillier – most likely to achieve the latest TT landmarks. He is the current lap record holder at 132.701mph, which took him around the 33.75-mile course in 17 minutes 3.567 seconds in last year’s Senior. During that race the 23-time winner and Hillier became the first riders to average 130mph over race distance, while McGuinness was the first to do a 130mph lap including a pit stop.
“In fact I pretty much did the 17-minute lap last year on ideal times,” adds McGuinness. “I did something like 17m 0.001 seconds from Ballacraine to Ballacraine, so it’s definitely there for the taking, for one of us.”
If you're looking for TT landmarks, Joey Dunlop is very much your man
The weather conditions need to be perfect for the landmarks to go, but what does that actually mean? “It needs to have been dry for a couple of days,” says Hillier. “Also, wind can be key. You don’t want a headwind going up the Mountain, but a headwind coming down wouldn’t be so bad. And you don’t want it too hot, because there’s quite a few sections where the heat lifts the tarmac and it’s horrible.”
A dry racetrack isn’t necessarily enough, either. “What really affects lap times is having good weather over back-to-back races,” says TT impresario Paul Phillips. “Lots of good weather gives you two things: plenty of track time for everyone so they can increase their lap speeds, but most fundamentally loads of rubber on the track, so it’s grippier. If you get overnight rain before a race the rubber gets washed off and all the muck and dust gets brought to the surface.”
What about the circuit itself? Ten years ago McGuinness became the first man to break through the 130mph barrier, thanks to his stunning riding and to modifications to Brandish, the left-hander that follows the flat-out blast from Creg ny Baa, which transformed the medium-fast corner into a mega-fast sweeper. In other words, circuit modifications can make a major difference.
This year riders will notice two improvements, both undertaken for normal traffic use, which may allow a small improvement in lap times. The Waterworks right-handers on the climb out of Ramsey have been reconstructed with a new surface and better camber that should make them slightly faster.
More significantly, the high-speed 27th Milestone right-hander that leads onto the Mountain Mile has been completely reworked because the road had collapsed. The bumpy, poorly cambered surface has been replaced with perfectly smooth, cambered asphalt. Riders will be able to carry any extra speed gained through the 27th all the way to Mountain Box, though McGuinness isn’t convinced it will make much difference to lap times.
“The 27th will be smoother, so maybe it’ll be worth a tenth or two if you get a real good drive up onto the Mountain Mile,” he says. “But with the TT you never know – they may have repainted some white lines that are like ice. For sure there’ll be some kind of curve ball thrown at us.”
Phillips believes the track to be in fine condition. “We’ve had a very wet winter but the circuit looks in good nick,” he says. “Then again, sometimes the riders will find a new bump somewhere. The TT course changes all the time.”
Some sections will be as bad as they’ve always been, like the run from Ginger Hall to Ramsey, the bumpiest part of the course.
“Parts of that section are a bit like motocross – you’re stood on the ‘pegs,” says McGuinness, who had one of his biggest scares at Glen Duff in 2005. “I’ll never forget it – I had this huge tank-slapper. It snapped the steering damper and broke the bodywork. It went bang-bang-bang-bang on the stops and I was an absolute total passenger. I shat myself. Awful, absolutely terrifying. I’ve tried to find a smooth line there but there isn’t one. It’s just madness.”
Not that McGuinness would have it any other way. “It’s part of the challenge of the TT and we know it’s like that. If they made it all nice and smooth it would change the character of the track and make it a lot easier. I quite enjoy a few bumpy bits, in a funny sort of way.”
That’s the weather and the track sorted, what about the riders and their bikes? Most of the machinery – McGuinness and Anstey’s Fireblades, Hutchy’s and Dunlop’s BMW S1000RRs and Hillier’s Kawasaki ZX-10R have all evolved, but McGuinness believes new tyres could make a difference.
“Metzeler and Pirelli have been putting in some effort, so now Dunlop have taken another step forward,” he says. “We tested the tyres at Castle Combe and I’m well happy. It’s just a compound change, but it makes a massive difference.”
Which brings us to the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle: the riders themselves. They all have their own style and technique, and they’ve all spent the last 11-and-a-bit months thinking their way round the course, wondering where they can gain a few tenths.
It’s not an easy task. The competition has never been stronger, with some TTs won by fractions of a second; a mind-boggling difference at the end of a 150 or 225-mile race in which most riders never even see each other.
As a public road, the TT course is never the same circuit from season to season
Not so long ago, the TT motto went like this: make your time in the fast stuff and don’t take risks in the slow stuff.
“When I learned the track I remember Milky Quayle [TT newcomers’ guru] saying there’s no time to be made at places like Signpost Corner,” says Hillier, who made his TT debut in 2008. “He told me it’s too easy to make a mistake in the slow corners, so go slow through the slow stuff. His advice made sense back then, but now you really have to make the most of every opportunity to make any time anywhere.”
And that’s exactly how McGuinness went about winning the 2015 Senior and breaking the lap record. “I said to myself, push a bit harder at the places where you can afford to go up the road; like the hairpins and stuff, because if you’re going to crash that’s where you want to do it. I probably pushed it a bit over the top in a few areas, but they were all places where you can afford to go up the road.”
Phillips was as amazed as anyone by the sight of McGuinness backing it into the Creg and other corners, like he was doing a World Superbike race.
“That’s the biggest change in riding style we’ve seen,” says Phillips. “The races are close now because the bikes are so similar, so everyone has to push so hard, even in the slow places. We see big near-misses at Parliament Square and people running straight on at Ramsey Hairpin; that never used to happen to the top guys.
“That’s what we need to see a 133mph lap and a sub 17-minute lap: everyone on their A-game, pushing each other hard, a run of good weather and plenty of rubber down.”
Words: Max Oxley Photos: Pacemaker Press International