What an eventful two weeks in the FVS Racing camp the Isle of Man TT was – we had every eventuality you could imagine. It all started off just great. We had beautiful sunshine, blue skies and the spirit in the paddock was typical TT, the competitors were chilled and relaxed, we were set up and chomping at the bit ready to go. A combination of good morale, a great set of sponsors and support and incredibly proactive sponsorship from 3legs.com who pulled out all the stops for us to have a mint looking bike in super fast turnaround had us itching to be out on the bike. To top it all, at the last minute, Black Horse Finance and Snoozebox came up trumps with sponsorship for us, we’d been in talks for months and months and it was nothing short of a fantastic start to the week.
On the approach to TT, I’d come to the decision to sell theR6 I’d been riding for the first part of the season due to the financial toll of constant engine rebuilds and the need for spares. We were at capacity financially and the TT hadn’t even started. After some deliberation, I sold the 600 and bought a pre-owned 1000cc Honda Fireblade, which required significant work to get to race spec, but was going to be more affordable for us in the long run. Having only acquired shortly before practice, I’d spent a many hours building it up ready for the TT, and despite only having had the opportunity to test the bike on one track day, and I was confident I’d got it nailed, and had no apprehensions whatsoever. I’d really missed the mountain course and felt almost relieved to be out on it again after a year away.
First practice out went without a hitch for the first 3 laps, then I had a terrifying false neutral going round a really high speed sweeping left hand corner, Greeba Bridge, for those of you who know the Course. After some very strong and almost forceful advice from two of the main teams in the paddock who were concerned about it happening again, my gear box was stripped and it transpired I had an extremely ‘worn out’, gearbox with every one of the gears having a problem. It was literally a time bomb waiting to blow. What followed was the full removal and replacement of it. SMT Honda kindly sorted it for me at a minimal fee, but I had to purchase the gearbox new. It was a massive kick in the teeth and due to the complexity of the work I was out of practice for another 2 days. Thursdays practice was to bed in the gearbox, and the first opportunity to straighten out any other gremlins. I got in just one steady lap, and then final practice was cancelled. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end. I was now to compete in the TT with no more than four laps practice when 16-20 is the norm.
Race day came on Saturday and with my heart in my mouth I lined up on the start line queue. As I felt the butterflies in my stomach, the tarmac buzzing beneath my feet watching the start line arch I waited for my turn to have the infamous man clad in white lay his right hand on my left shoulder and let me away, I passed the point of no return… flicked down my visor and… Couldn’t see. My vision was cloudy, unclear and I turned to look to my pit crew for help. I turned, caught my wife’s eye, and signalled that I had a problem and all she could do was open her mouth, mouthing “I can’t do anything”. I was committed to starting the TT now; the line of bikes was pushing me toward the start. I had less than 20 seconds to go, and the clock was counting, the world was looking at me.
I don’t know why I didn’t stop, why I counted the longest ten seconds of my life after the rider in from of me went down the start straight. I held my bike on the clutch waiting to go… And I started the TT. I managed a full lap, staring through yellow fog, focusing on the road and beyond my visor, working on my 27 years knowledge of the circuit to get me round in a time not much off that that I had achieved as a newcomer in the Manx Grand Prix years earlier. As the sanctuary of the grandstand approached 37.75 miles later ,I knew I could breathe out, pull in and stop. My pit crew waved me into my bay and I removed my helmet, my desire to compete the race had completely diminished, spirit subdued and way, way down on time and position. I had never run so low in a race on the mountain course. It turns out my visor had the protective internal film left on it during it’s fitting in the paddock. I was nothing short of gutted but I have learnt that everything happens for a reason. In that evenings practice just 3 hours later, at one of the slower points in the circuit my gear lever broke off leaving me unable to change gear. Had I been tearing round the course, competing and at 195 miles an hour I could have been killed. I am actually thankful that little piece of film brought me into the pits when it did.
Monday’s race went without incident. I was, as always, appreciative to have completed a very gruelling race. The TT is a challenge and a finish is a reward in itself. The demands on a bike and engine are so great that the odds on your bike not making the distance are massively increased.
My results were extremely disappointing, but accounted for by the very limited amount of practice time I got. I gained 8 places from where I started. Despite only having the 4 laps practice, I wasn’t at the back of the field but still rolled in way back in the finishers and my lap times were very, very far from satisfactory. I finished 18th last year as a newcomer, and had been expecting great things, top twenty would have been good and was the goal I had set myself.
Excuses are not acceptable but I have never struggled so much to complete the 152 miles of a 4 lap race. My bike was just not behaving itself, I struggled to hold onto it and found the handling simply awful. I felt pleased to have just got back at all.
The rest of the week was spent in pouring rain and wind, as is the classic TT scenario. There were spectators with tents blowing away, flooding and appeals on the local radio for accommodation. The entire race week was spoilt for many, but the clerk of the course made some smart choices, the racing on Wednesday went ahead and I enjoyed escaping the paddock to spectate. It brought home to me how awesome a sport I compete in. Even the electric bikes were impressive – surreal being near to silent at 100 mph, but impressive none the less.
As Friday approached, I was having the ultimate dilemma – do I compete with an ill handling bike that I truly thought had the potential of throwing me off and involving me in a serious accident, do I compete for my sponsors – they have all supported me so much and I almost felt I should show I wanted to compete, or do I pull out for my own safety? And would it let everyone down? I have never had such a weight on my mind but as it turns out Mother Nature made my decision for me. The Senior race which was to take place on the Friday was delayed by 24 hours due to the terrible weather. It was put to the Saturday where a gap in the weather was expected.
Saturday morning came and went, the roads were wet, the mountain showing no signs of drying and following a course inspection the senior race, for the first time in history, was cancelled. The spirits in the paddock were already at a low, the final bits of energy and enthusiasm were being reserved for the push of the final race, the Grand Finale and now it had been taken away. I can’t say that I was disappointed – it was a relief for me if I am being totally honest, I don’t think I could have committed myself with the 98% I normally do (you have to keep just a tiny bit aside in case something happens) knowing the bike wasn’t exactly right for me.
I was upset I could not do more over those two weeks but the TT is only one meeting in a very long season. I have many meetings left to do yet, a mix of roads and circuit. The southern 100 on 9th -12th July is one of my favourites, and is a mass start, road race. I will be visiting Scarborough, Oliver’s Mount on 21st &22nd July too. Yesterday I sold the Fireblade and have taken delivery of an R6 again. Racing 600’s is what I do best, I can’t wait to get back on, to return to form, to get myself back in line and to start achieving the level of results I expect of myself, and nothing less. Bring on the rest of the season!
I’d like to say how thankful I am to my sponsors for sticking by me, to my supporters for still cheering me on, in fact, to all supporters of road racing for continuing to be so dedicated and supporting the sport despite it being such an awful wet, cold and miserable past time at times, and to my wife and team for keeping my spirits up.