Norton on a mission at the TT

British firm makes major breakthrough as it bids to bounce back after two terrible years

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Norton’s factory race team are hoping for a change of fortunes at this year’s Isle of Man TT after a breakthrough with electronics saw the British firm take a huge step forward with their V4 race bike.

With an engine that started out in an Aprilia CRT MotoGP bike, Norton’s SG5 was never short on power, but a lack of suitable electronics meant controlling that power – said to be around 230bhp – was a persistent battle around the arduous Mountain Course.

For 2016 Norton have introduced a near MotoGP-level electronics system for the SG5 and claim this has resulted in a major improvement in taming the bike’s aggression.

“One of the biggest comments from the riders of the last bike was that it was massively aggressive,” Norton’s Racing Manager, Johnny Cusack told MCN. “So we looked at both the mechanics and the electronics and have got to a stage we’re happy with.

“We’ve been looking at different strategies with traction control, various engine braking strategies and anti-wheelie systems which weren’t on last year’s bike. This in turn has improved the handling, performance and also the throttle connection between the rider and rear wheel.

“The kit we’re using has been mapped by our engineers but is based around a Magneti Marelli system plus various components from Bosch and other suppliers.

“We’ve been out to Italy with the Marelli engineers and learned about how they set up their strategies and then used that as our own basis for developing the bike with our test rider Steve Plater and our new TT rider Dave Johnson.”

The Donington-based outfit has struggled for track time at recent TTs with a combination of technical
issues and bad luck holding them back. Having taken a step forward with this year’s bike, they’re hoping for better results as this year’s TT festival gets underway this week.

“We’ve had a few unfortunate things happen; the rear tyre spun on the rim one time and another of our DNFs was because of a rear sprocket failure at the Gooseneck on the last lap – but we can learn from things like this and take steps to stop it happening again. 

“We want to go there with this bike, complete the races and be competitive, and that’s where we’ve put our benchmark this year – to have a competitive bike – and from what we’ve seen in testing there’s no reason we can’t achieve that goal.” 

In the hot seat

New Norton rider Dave Johnson is hopeful of a marked improvement for Norton’s SG5 at this year’s TT. Having ridden last year’s bike at the Classic TT, the 131.5mph man was impressed with the latest incarnation of the bike during testing.

“The bike has taken a massive step forward compared to last year’s machine,” he said. “The electronics are making the biggest difference. The throttle delivery is much better, it’s got so much power and last year it was just too savage on the throttle so it was hard for Cam Donald to do one lap let alone six, but now I think it’ll be fine.

“We took it straight-line testing at Bruntingthorpe the other week and did 203.5mph from a standing start and we were down on power because we had the road exhaust system in. That’s the fastest a Norton has ever been!

“It feels like anything else I’ve ever ridden. On the short tracks it’s been going good, at Mallory I was as fast as I’ve been there on any bike. We’ve got a real good engine it’s just getting the chassis right, that’s the hard thing but they are much closer this year.” 

Norton’s resultssince ’09 return

2009 – Rotary – Michael Dunlop – DNQ
2012 – SG1 – Ian Mackman – Race Cancelled
2013 – SG2 – Ian Mackman – Superbike: 18th, Senior: 24th – Dan Hegarty – Superbike: DNF, Senior: 36th
2014 – SG3 – Cameron Donald – Superbike, DNF, Senior, DNF
2015 – SG4 – Cameron Donald – Superbike: 18th, Senior: DNF

Photos: Tim Keeton

Oli Rushby

By Oli Rushby

Former sports reporter covering British Superbikes, World Superbikes and road racing