Mike Nicks and I wandered over to the Loop to watch - and hear - the two Nortons in practice for Sunday’s GP1 15-lap sprint race, part of the Thundersport GB support programme at this year’s Donington British Grand Prix.
That’s right. Nortons. At the GP. Fantastic.
Mike is the Editorial Director at Bauer Media, the company that owns MCN, but he’s also got tons of Grand Prix experience as a journalist and retains an insatiable passion for the sport – hence a willingness to join me in pressing noses to the fence to grab some of the action.
We wallowed in the aural delights of the rotaries as Lee and Joe Dickinson drove out of the hairpin side by side, then Mike said, “Isn’t it strange, you can go to virtually any GP on the continent and all you get is the three GP races?
"Maybe there might be the occasional one-make race but generally, three World Championship races is enough for them.
"Then you come here and the track seems busy virtually all day long. What is it with the British? A sense of value for money, or what?”
The fans certainly didn’t have anything to complain about on that front. It was nearly six pm, Grand Prix practice had long finished, but there were still three support practice sessions to go: F2 Sidecars, Aprilia Superteens and Formula 600.
In total, there were nine support races, three on Thursday, four Saturday and two on Sunday.
Call it added value.
But for us, and I’m sure many others at Donington Park, it was the bonus, on top of three GP races, to see how the Nortons would shape up in a mish-mash field of contemporary superbikes, a bunch of Ducatis of varying vintage and a lone KTM V-twin.
They looked incredibly stable – and fast - in the wet even though Joe Dickinson had been telling me earlier that the initial tap of the throttle of the torquey rotary is so aggressive, it’s hard work keeping the bike on line.
I’d already spent several hours in the Norton workshop on Friday, for a feature to run in our July 5 issue, so I knew the Dickinson brothers had no traction control to rely on and were riding on pure feel.
It was an impressive display – especially since Joe only had a handful of laps on the bike prior to the meeting – and had blown a motor!
Thundersport GP1 is currently the only real option for Norton to wave the flag on short circuits – so this meeting on their home circuit was a no-brainer (the race shop and factory where they plan to build their delightful twin-cylinder road bike is actually on site).
The bike still has the same 588cc twin-chamber unit from when they ruled the British Superbike roost – albeit updated with better fuelling - but once they’ve ironed out the bugs caused by hiking the horsepower to meet current demands (see the feature), and boosted capacity to 700cc, it’s going to be great watching the Norton going head to head with modern superbikes.
And even if that’s not on short circuits, it will definitely be on the roads where the promoters are clamouring for anything new or different that will entice the fans.
Well, maybe they’re not entirely new, but – in a world of homogenised superbike, superstock, supersport production-based racing - they are certainly different, so in my book, the Nortons fit the bill perfectly.