After recent MCN’s laden with ‘Rutter back the TT’, the ‘MV return to TT with Finnegan’ and ‘McGuinness sticks with Honda for TT,’ stories I was asked how come the TT has been getting so much space in the paper in recent weeks compared to BSB?
Simple answer: There’s a big buzz about the TT right now.
That’s not saying news is that thin on the ground with BSB but TT news is really rocking, what with last Friday’s TT launch and Steve Plater signing with AIM Yamaha and committing to a TT debut as well as BSB.
You might say the TT should be in the news because it’s the Centenary this year and I’d agree to a point, but I think it goes much deeper than that. You only have to look at the amount of newcomers willing to have a crack at the roads these days to realise that there’s a big resurgence of interest in the discipline.
A lot of this is down to the hard work done by Paul Phillips and Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle who were taken on by the Isle of Man government for 2005 as voluntary consultants to help with the promotion of the TT and rider recruitment.
I remember meeting them at a BSB round in 2005 and hearing of their ambitious plans to regenerate the TT. It all sounded impressive but kind of pie-in-the-sky, because, even though they were incredibly enthusiastic, history suggested they would face real resistance from the traditionalist stuck-in-their-ways officials.
At that time the TT was on its knees – or in Paul’s straight talking terms, ‘the arse had fallen out of it.’ The manufacturers, especially Honda, were losing interest. The TT had too many classes. Slow ‘holiday’ racers made it dangerous - the closing speeds between the fast guys and them was horrific. There were big questions about the lack of marshal training. Nothing was being done about trackside safety. The paddock was a disgrace. I could go on. The dinosaur was dying and it seemed like everyone was willing to let it become extinct.
Thankfully Paul and Milky stuck to their guns, ignored some of the petty back-biting they encountered, and got the ear of the government to bring about massive changes most of us, including some of the motorcycle racing big-wigs on the mainland, could have only dreamed possible.
The radical changes have given the TT – and road racing in general – an almost unheard of feel-good factor. Solo categories were slashed to just superbike, superstock, supersport - classes with direct relevance to what was going on everywhere else in the world. That meant more practice per bike. Restrictions were placed on entries to eradicate the holiday racers. Marshall training was increased.
Trackside safety was improved. The paddock was tidied up. The organisation suddenly started realising they had a brand to sell.
It sounds straightforward stuff but it was all achieved largely thanks to Paul and Milky’s enthusiasm and drive.
They delivered no less than 15 top class newcomers last year - five of them clocking over 120mph laps. And there’s even more mew talent this year. One of this year’s newcomers is Jimmy Moore – a two-time AMA Superstock champion and one of the coolest dudes you could meet. Ask him why the TT? He says, ‘why the moon? Ask him if worries about the dangers? He says, ‘I’ve crashed at 175mph at Brainerd and hit a tree. Why should the TT scare me?”
Phillips arranged for Moore to ride Black /Horse Finance Hondas at the TT in superstock and supersport in Ian Lougher’s team. It’s a good tie up, given 43-year-old Lougher’s immense experience of the place.
I was lucky enough to blag a ride in a car with then for a quick lap of the course last Friday and it was an illuminating experience. Incredibly Moore knew the names or the corners, what section was up coming, where it was going next and approximately what gear he should be in. And he’d never seen the place before apart from watching dvd’s and playing computer games. What level of commitment does that take?
“Well my wife’s not so keen on how much time I spend watching the re-runs,” he admitted. “I let her watch her favourite soap and then it’s ‘honey’ do you mind if I do a lap or two now.’”
I found it truly inspirational listening to Lougher describing the way around the course. It wasn’t just the pinpoint accuracy of where to place the bike, what gear to run, it was also his burning passion for the place that got to me. Time after time we’d be turning into some fast blind bend and he’d say, ‘I really love this corner,’ and you knew he really meant it. And it was always the faster, open corners - the really big balls corners that really sort the men from the boys that he was talking about. Corners with absolutely no run-off. Places you really can’t make a mistake but still have to ride at the absolute limit. Corners that are becoming a rarity on today’s chicane-infested short circuit.
How could you not respect guys that ride the TT course with such commitment? It’s so demanding and so tough to get to grips with but it’s not just Moore who willing to commit the two or three years to learn the place.
Connor Cummings was last year’s standout newcomer, lapping at 120.08mph on his own R1 he had been riding on the road only a few weeks before. At 19, Cummings was the youngest of last year’s newcomers – and one of the most impressive. You could argue he should be, coming from Ramsey with all the local track knowledge but like he says, “racing around here with the roads closed is a whole new experience compared to riding on the public road in traffic.” After two years of the R6 Cup Cummings wanted to go British Supersport last year but couldn’t afford it. Doing the North West and TT last year opened up a whole new career path for him.
He won last year’s Newcomers Trophy following in the footsteps of Guy Martin (2004) and Cameron Donald (2005) – the latter two already real celebrities in their own right in such a short time by finishing on the podium and lapping at 127.67mph and 128.44mph respectively.
Add in last year’s American newcomers Mark Miller and Jeremy Toye and this year’s crop of new talent like Scot Keith Amor (a sensation at last year’s Ulster GP), Swede Christer Minnin (World Endurance with Phase One), plus Brits Bob Collins (National Superstock Cup Champion), Marc Ramsbotham (former MRO superbike runner-up) and John McNisilll (mid-20s but already NW200 and UGP regular) and you can appreciate that the TT has a bright future.
What it needs is for Paul and Milky to keep the ball rolling and make the most of these undoubtedly exciting characters to further promote the TT.
In the past we’ve all fallen into the trap of trying to compare road racers with short circuit riders but for some time now the two disciplines have been so vastly different the only thing that similar are the types of bikes that are used.
I prefer to think of the two things as totally separate. To me, what John McGuinness does at the TT is simply awesome. Steve Plater’s double at the North West was little short of stunning. Guy Martin lapping the Ulster at 130mph was bloody insane. So the fact that they’re not the fastest men on short circuits doesn’t matter.
What matters most is we recognise it takes a very special kind of racer to get to grips with these road courses. I kinda knew that before but the lap of the TT course with Lougher and Moore just brought everything back in focus.