The 46-year-old Kiwi racer targets Senior TT glory and
reflects on 2015 as his ‘happiest season ever’
n a grey Sunday morning, Bruce Anstey’s battered camper was the only vehicle left in the windswept Ulster Grand Prix paddock after this year’s race. In no hurry to depart Dundrod, the laidback Kiwi was chilling out and savouring the last moments of what he describes as his ‘happiest season ever’.“Yeah, to win the Superbike race at the TT and the feature race at the Ulster for the second year in a row means it was another good year,” Anstey reflected as he enjoys a celebratory cup of tea with his partner Anny and racing pal, Paul Owen.
The 46-year-old’s third place on the Valvoline Padgett’s Honda Fireblade in the Superbike race at the 2015 North West 200 also ensured Anstey extended his incredible record of having finished on the podium of all three of the premier international road races to an amazing 13 seasons.
“Yeah, it has been a good year - for the past 13 years!” the man his family call ‘Smiler’ beamed.His 2015 Superbike TT win was the icing on the cake of a long and glorious career. “It only took 18 years to do it, but we got there in the end,” Anstey joked.
Inspired to race after a family holiday to the Isle of Man in 1978, when he watched Mike Hailwood win on his TT comeback, the Kiwi has only ever wanted to compete between the hedges. “It was the roads and the TT right from the start,” Bruce recalls. Starting out on an RGV 250 Suzuki at Wanganui on Boxing Day, 1990,Anstey’s racing progress was dealt a severe setback when he was struck down by testicular cancer in 1995. After treatment he made his TT debut alongside John McGuinness and David Jefferies a year later but was forced to miss the 1997 event when the cancer reappeared. Now free from the disease, Bruce says he still feels the lingering effects. “It still affects me a bit, making me tired and my immune system is lacking so I catch colds and flus really easily,” he explains.
With this double comeback from cancer behind him, Anstey was determined to never look back. Having set up home in Windsor with partner Anny, Anstey notched up a total of nine TT wins on 600s and stockers after claiming his first TT victory in the 250cc class in 2002. Only a Superbike race success still eluded the Kiwi going into this year’s event. Having come close so many times before in a big bike six-lapper the bridesmaid was finally the bride in 2015.How did he finally make the breakthrough?
Fast from the first lap
“Everything was just right this year,” Bruce explains. “We had the superbike just the way I wanted it, just perfect. What also fell into place was that there wasn’t a lot of practice and the others weren’t quite up to speed. As soon as we wheeled the bike out for the start of practice, I was off down Bray Hill and I was ready to race.”If the Valvoline Padgetts Fireblade was on fire so too was the rider. “This year I really concentrated,” Anstey says. “Other years I’ve gone out for the first eight or nine miles and just cruised, building up to speed, but this year I really concentrated on going fast straight away. That was where I’ve always been lacking, going fast enough on that first lap.”
Anstey is also quick to point out that his success is built upon having a good team behind him. Since he made the shift from the TAS Suzuki team to Clive Padgett’s squad in 2011, the Kiwi seems to have found the perfect home for his talents. “Clive gets the best out of me, out of everyone,” Anstey explains about a set up that often appears from the outside to be one big love-in. “Everything is easy, nothing is a problem and there are no hassles. Yes, Clive is here to win because he is funding the racing and has to make money to go racing, but that doesn’t come into it with the rider. He wants you to give 100% but you aren’t under pressure. He is giving 100%, so I am going to give it 100%.”
Anstey and John McGuinness demolished the theory that the aging Fireblade was over the hill against the latest generation of superbikes from Kawasaki and BMW by winning the Superbike and Senior races at this year’s TT. Anstey says his Superbike TT victory and two superbike race wins at Dundrod highlight the importance of having the right balance of power and handling for the road circuits. “The Honda suits me,” he says. “I’m enjoying the superbike. It’s as fast as anything else out there and even though it’s an old bike we keep improving it all the time.”
The Kiwi veteran doesn’t view Michael Dunlop’s S1000RR BMW or Ian Hutchinson’s ZX-10R Kawasaki with jealous eyes.“I don’t think I could ride a BMW,” he admits. “It’s too nervous for me. I like a solid-handling bike and when they start shaking their heads and get really nervous I am not too keen. The Honda is the best-handling bike out there for the roads. All these latest bikes are built for World Superbikes and BSB and they are a lot stiffer which makes them more nervous over the bumps. ”Having passed a major milestone in his racing career and now entering middle age, some might think Anstey would be considering retirement but this road racing legend appears to have no intention of walking away from the action just yet. “We have some secret things that we are going to be doing as well but I can’t tell you about that,” he says with a big grin that perfectly illustrates his undiminished enthusiasm. “The bike is capable of winning the TT again next year. ”Having already agreed terms with Clive Padgett to race for his Valvoline-backed Honda squad in 2016, Anstey says he still has one unfulfilled ambition. “A Senior TT win would just finish things off nicely, even if it does take me another 18 years to do it!”
Anstey’s TT years
When Bruce Anstey made his TT debut in 1996 the Mountain course outright lap record was 123.61mph, set four years earlier by Carl Fogarty. In 2014 Anstey became the first man to break the 132mph barrier and last June John McGuinness established a new mark of 132.701mph in the Senior TT. The Kiwi says there have been marked improvements in road racing during his 18 years of competing but not everything has changed so rapidly. “Yes, the safety has come a long way,” he recognises. “There is a lot more attention given to newcomers with bus tours and controlled laps. We were just given a bib and told ‘away you go, it’s that way!’”
“There are more people coming from the tracks to the roads now,” Anstey reflects. “It brings more people, coming to have a look at the road racing. The paddock at the TT is more like BSB now and in some ways that’s good and in some other ways, I’m not so sure.”Anstey says the riders are not reaping any financial reward from the increased popularity of the sport. “Over the last couple of years the prize money has been going down,” he says.“There is money there and it keeps you going for the year but it isn’t life-changing and I will have to go back to working when I stop racing.”In spite of this lack of reward, Bruce insists he still enjoys his life in the paddock although the shy star still struggles with the extra attention that comes with being a Superbike TT winner.“I get recognised more now.” he laughs. “People are always coming over asking can you do this or do that. That part of it is definitely hard to handle!”