MCN's Gary Pinchin is on the Isle of Man and will be reporting back with a daily blog from behind the scenes at the world famous TT.
I can’t imagine a better day than today. After a hearty breakfast (that didn’t include Manx kippers!) I caught the steam train from Douglas to Castletown, bound for the Pre-TT Classic races at Billown.
I’m not exactly a trainspotter (though I do stand on the side of race tracks noting numbers into lap charts - so some might ask ‘where’s the difference?’) but I a bit of a sucker for classic old steam trains, and they don’t get any better than the old narrow gauge railway that was first opened in 1874 and still runs with its original steam engines and carriages!
Blue skies, lush green rolling landscape, the occasional glimpse of the sea, with a steady rumpety-tump of the train rocking along the much improved track-bed (they completely re-laid a few years back) and the regular whiff of coal smoke wafting into the open carriage window. I can’t imagine a more laid-back way to travel.
The 4.5 mile course on public roads on the outskirts of Castletown is a five-minute walk from the station but half-way between is Jason Griffiths Motorcycles. Jason, apart from being a former TT star, is also one of the top Pirelli men in BSB so I dropped in for a quick chat – but because it was a Bank Holiday Monday, he’d given all his staff the day off and was running the shop single-handed and the place was frantic with TT visitors. I turned down the offer of coffee and left him to selling a couple more bikes to keep the wolves from the door.
I joined the course at Castletown Corner so it was a fair hike down the start-finish straight to the paddock but the bonus was all the bikes parked up along the route. Lots of old classics. I mean, you wouldn’t normally see stuff like a Benelli Six, Laverda SF twin, Kawasai Z1000 all within a few feet of each other.
The Pre TT Classic is proper old school racing: grass field, transit vans and loads of folk just stood around chatting. I’d not been to a classic event in ages and things certainly look buoyant with an absolutely packed paddock. I just arrived at the circuit in time to see Alan Oversby win the Senior race riding an MV 500 triple.
Yes that’s right, the sort of bike that Giacomo Agostini would have raced in 1972 on the Island. It’s built by Kay Engineering and not a single part of it is original, though you wouldn’t believe it looking at the immaculate red fire engine. I got talking to Dave Kay and Brian Richards who were running the bike for Oversby and you can read all about that in a forthcoming issue of MCN – suffice to say that there’s some engineering genius gone into the bike!
One good reason for going to Billown was to see Guy Martin in action on John Sims’ Post Classic 1980-82 Heron Suzuki GS1000R XR69 replica – a bike built to faithfully replicate the works machines raced by Graeme Crosby (’80/81), Joey Dunlop (’81), John Newbold (’80/’81) , Mick Grant (’81/’82) and Roger Marshall (’82) .
It features a race-tuned GS1000 engine in a Harris-built chassis and is prepared by Sims, who runs Silverstone Superbikes and is also well known for beautiful BSA/Triumph triples he’s built for classic racing over the years.
Guy – wearing his old Hydrex Honda leathers that almost matched the red and yellow XR69’s livery - cleared off in the early stages of the race and smashed his own lap record (set in 2008) by a massive 8.65s but, at 99.91mph, was tantalisingly short of the first 100mph lap on the Billown course.
Guy said: “We talked about putting a close ratio gearbox in but stuck with the original and it started jumping out of gear so I had to pull off in the end. It’s a shame because I’d loved to have cracked the 100mph barrier.”
One of the enjoyable aspects of the classic meeting was the sheer diversity of bikes in the event. And never was there a more outstanding example than in the Post Classic race (230cc-1200cc machines), run in conjunction with the 850cc Classics (400cc to 850cc classic racing machines).
When Guy was leading, he was being chased by Mike Hose on an RGB Triumph twin. Alan Oversby was running an impressive third on a 500cc Craven Manx Norton single, followed by Roy Richardson on a late, reverse cylinder TZ250 Yamaha two-stroke twin.
The lap after Guy dropped out, Hose stopped sat Ballabeg and Richardson’s TZ250 top speed eventually wore down the sweet-handling Manx to claim the race win.
Then it was time to jump on the train back to Douglas and get myself up to the TT Grandstand for Monday evening’s first official practice session.
TT practice is always a frantic affair when it’s dry – especially the first session of the week with riders wanting to get in as many laps as possible. And – with no class structure - everyone approaches it differently so when Michael Dunlop set off first along side Bruce Anstey, he was on his supersport Street Sweep Yamaha while Bruce opted to go out on his Relentless by TAS Suzuki superbike. That in itself was a departure from the norm which suggests that Bruce is chasing his first superbike TT win with more determination that ever before.
The times were impressive, considering all the riders were saying how green the course was (dirty and lacking the grip that they’ll enjoy later as rubber gets put down with each successive session – providing there’s no heavy rain).
Ian Hutchinson top the evening with a 128mph lap on the Padgetts Honda superbike, Ryan Farquhar did 126 in Superstock and Dunlop set the pace in Supersport with 123.9. But all the main players looked to be on the pace.
Keith Amor had to re-acclimatise himself with the TT course, and had to get to learn his way around the HM Plant Honda superbike so he was uncharacteristically down in 11th on the superbike at 122mph but he’s only going to get faster.
Most enjoyable aspect of the evening? Apart from seeing Hutchy proving the naysayers wrong about his capabilities on a superbike – it was seeing Olie Linsdell setting off down the Glencrutchery Road on the Moto2 FTR. The sound, from his bike’s MotoGP-style open exhaust was simply awesome.
It was just great to see someone riding something different apart from a production-based motorcycle. But then I shouldn’t complain. I’d had a whole day of diverse bikes to wallow in at the classic meeting!