Honda's Castle Combe test

Published: 23 April 2007

“As far as I’m concerned, I could race that on the roads right now and be happy with it,” said John McGuinness as he gave his Dunlop-shod HM Plant Honda he’ll be racing at the North West 200 the once over after a day of testing at Castle Combe last week.

TT lap record holder McGuinness was one of five riders in the exclusive Honda / Dunlop TT test at the Wiltshire short-circuit.

The track, well known for it’s undulating, bumpy but very fast layout is about the only place in the UK which can come even close to replicating the kind of situations riders face at the TT – the bikes clock over 170mph in first right hander after the pits and bottom the suspension bang on its apex!

Honda have hired the track for the past three years for TT testing but this time it has added poignancy with so much prestige being attached to the Centenary TT.

McGuinness was riding the same machine which took him to two superbike wins and a TT lap record last year – with some vital modifications.

He said: “Nothing can replicate what happens when you hit 180mph at the bottom of Bray Hill that first time but this is a good place to get a steer on what you need.

“Obviously I’m racing in supersport now so this is one of the only opportunities I’ll get to ride the bike before we go to the North West so it’s getting me up to speed too.

“There’s a few small changes to the bike from last year, a different spec engine, different ECU and some new factory yokes. I’ve also tested a pile of new Dunlop tyres here – about six different-spec rears and two fronts and have pretty much found what we’re going to need.”

Ian Hutchinson will be McGuinness’ HM Plant team-mate on the roads, instead of running in the Bike Animal colours he’s running in British Supersport.

He’ll be riding Leon Camier’s BSB FireBlade in the superbike classes races and Castle Combe was his first time on a Honda superbike after racing a Kawasaki on the roads last year.

He said: “Riding the big bike here has been very relevant for me. It’s in your head that a superbike is really stiff but the Honda feels so plush. And it’s a damn sight faster than the Kawasaki I rode last year.”

While Hutchinson felt at home on the superbike, he’s was still struggling to come to terms with the supersport bike at Combe.

“It’s just a set-up thing which has held me back a bit in the British Championship and was again a problem today but I’m sure we’ll get it sorted.”

Aussie Cameron Donald and new signing Keith Amor were impressive on the Uel Duncan Honda 600s but struggled with their superbikes.

Amor had never raced a superbike until this year and Donald said he was struggling to adapt to the new Dunlops after racing on Pirellis in the past – even though he’s already done a couple of Irish road races and Thruxton on them.

Donald said: “The Dunlop’s have so much more grip than the Pirellis that it’s upsetting the chassis. But once we’ve found a good set-up I know they’re going to be a big step forward for us.”

Donald ended up pitching in with the spanners after his regular crew chief was taken ill at Thruxton.

Stobart Honda had two bikes for Ian Lougher to test back-to-back at Combe. He had his 2006 bike with 2003-spec conventional forks and stock swing-arm to compare against a new machine with a 2007-spec with 42mm TTX forks, KR swing-arm. This is a much more complex electronics package plus two very different engine specifications.

Crew chief Stuart Bland said: “Combe might not replicate the TT but it gives us a good direction to go with TT set-up and Ian immediately felt that the TTX forks worked the bumps much better.”

Lougher has the option for traction control, anti-spin, anti-wheelie etc but Bland says he’s unlikely to use any of it. “It’s all turned off because we’re never looking for extra grip on the Mountain course.”
 

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  • McGuinness, seen here celebrating his TT victory last year, is happy with his 2007 bike