Archive for January, 2013

MGP new logo

Exciting few days ahead for the Manx GP and its organisers the Manx Motor Cycle Club. On Friday of next week the excellent and entertaining (and I have to admit not too bad a golfer) Nick Jefferies is guest speaker at the MMCC’s annual dinner; then on Monday week, Feb 4th, the good and the great, and the lucky, will gather at the Villa Marina for the premiere of the new movie, Grand Prix Racer, filmed at last year’s event by Greenlight. One day later and a one-hour version of the film will be shown on ITV4 at 8pm. All this and a new logo (above) plus the arrival of the MGP’s 90th year. I’m only sorry that work commitments and the breadth of the Irish Sea prevent me from attending the dinner and the premiere but I was delighted to have been invited and wish everyone a brilliant few days. Practice and qualifying for the 2013 races commence on Saturday 17th August and the Manx Grand Prix races will be run on Wednesday 28th and Friday 30th August, right after the Classic TT, also run under the auspices of the Manx Motor Cycle Club, on Saturday 24th and Monday 26th August.

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photo: CLAdrian Archibald has announced his retirement from racing which means one more of Northern Ireland’s amazing army of road racing campaigners has stepped aside. It’s beginning to look like the end of an era.

Dungannon’s John Burrows and Ryan Farquhar, and Ballymoney’s Archie have all called time since last year’s TT. This year’s paddock will be a strange place without them.

Archie (pictured above at Signpost in 2012) won the first Senior TT I commentated on for Manx Radio, in 2004, when he was very much the man to beat. The previous year he overcame the horrible challenge of heading up the TAS team’s effort after the death of his team-mate David Jefferies in practice. It will always be remembered of Archie that he rose to the occasion magnificently, winning not just the F1 TT two days later but also the Senior the same year. I doubt if we will ever know how much those rides took out of him emotionally. He averaged 123.05 in winning the F1 and had over a minute’s lead at the finish.

His TT debut came in 1997 when he finished 14th in the Junior and 16th in the Senior. His first podium came in the Junior 600 in 2000 – second on a Honda. Then came 2003 when he added a third to his two wins, and 12 months later he retained his Senior title, again for Hector Neill’s TAS Suzuki set-up. 2005 was so-near but yet so-far for Archie. He took second place in the inaugural Superbike TT having bettered the old lap record and was well ahead in the Superstock having also set a new lap record but ran out of petrol at the Bungalow. He left TAS in September that year and began a brief nomadic existence, joining the Scottish-based AIM Yamaha team but leaving them in December in favour of Ulster’s Team Racing. By the time of the TT though he was back with TAS after an injury to Ryan Farquhar. He was unable to add to his tally of podium finishes either that year or the next, but forming his own AMA team (Adrian and Melanie Archibald) did see him back in business, taking a very impressive third with a Suzuki on his new team’s Isle of Man debut, the 2008 Superbike TT. In all he notched up nine top-10 finishes in his own colours, utilising Suzuki, Yamaha and Kawasaki machinery. His last TT was the 2012 Lightweight when he retired, and his final finish was 12th in the 2012 Superstock. Archie retires with three TT wins and seven podiums under his belt.

Ryan and John both announced their retirements after the heart-breaking death of Trevor Ferguson in the Manx Grand Prix last year. John had been mulling over retirement for some time. He made his TT debut in 2004, three years into his racing career, and had his finest moment in 2008 when he piloted his own Burrows Engineering Suzuki to 8th in the Senior, building on 10th in the Superbike TT. The other moment John will be remembered for is in the Electric TT in 2011 when his inappropriately-named Lightning ran out of battery power and he pushed in from Governor’s to give the team a valuable finish and sixth place.  Last year he bought an ex-Bruce Anstey GSXR from TAS but was frustrated when retiring in the Superbike TT and then seeing the Senior cancelled. His last ride at the TT took him to 14th in the Lightweight on a Kawasaki ER650 super-twin.

Ryan must feel his whole life has shifted on its axis as a result of his uncle’s death in the MGP. A week beforehand, I chatted to Ryan at the wedding of Manx Radio sports editor Tim Glover. Ryan was full of plans and ambitions, including a winter campaign in Australia.  Then came the fatal incident in the Supertwin race and the decision to call it a day at the age of 36 after 18 years in road racing. His final TT record shows three wins including the 2012 Lightweight, and 13 podiums, plus nine MGP wins and 199 victories on the roads in Northern Ireland. He won the Geoff Duke Trophy for a record-breaking seven times, including  five in a row, after consistently topping the Duke Road Race Rankings, and he emerged from a career that took in McAdoo, TAS, JMF Millsport, Harker Kawasaki and others to set up his own highly successful KMR team.

Losing Archibald, Burrows and Farquhar all at once is quite a blow for the sport, especially in Northern Ireland. We are now in the very unusual position of having only one active NI rider to have won a TT, Michael Dunlop. The good news is that Michael, brother William and the emerging talent of Jamie Hamilton will ensure a high standard of quality, even if the quantity may take a few years to match what has been something of a golden era.

photo: CL

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Isle of Man TT heads into 2013 in the best place it’s been since the 1960s.

If we look back to the 1960s the TT was well established as a world championship round with the angst of the 1970s yet to arrive; MV was a massive manufacturer with Honda emerging as a world force on the strength of its TT performances; the decade began with Surtees still ruling the roost and went on to showcase top riders like Hailwood, Agostini, Read and Redman, all in their prime. Now we again have a TT which is right up there with the top worldwide motorsport events. The state of play is not an exact parallel of the 1960s, but the buzz of the TT now is very similar to that of 50 years ago. It is worldwide, it is superlative quality, it is as heroic as ever, and it is a terrific visitor attraction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few things have come together to convince me that this is the case. One is the ongoing investment by Honda, and the creation of the Honda TT Legends team around John McGuinness, now embarking on its third season. Honda are as shrewd as they come, they know they have an amazing product in the Fireblade, and the way to keep rubbing it in is to keep putting it out there where it really matters. Reliability sells and when we see  McGuinness jumping on pretty much the same bike year after year and winning, we get the message. Honda’s season-long involvement in the World Endurance Championship reinforces the point and also keeps McGuinness dialled in along with other TT specialists.

Which leads me to another point. You don’t have to be a one-track-minded Isle of Man zealot to be a TT racer. A few years ago, leading up to the centenary, it looked like the TT was becoming a race for TT riders and no-one else. Now it is no longer unusual for established short-circuit racers to cross the Irish Sea, although I admit that Josh Brookes’ signing caused my eyebrows to shoot up. This is a man at the very top of the BSB scene. But he’ll find plenty of familiar faces in the paddock. Klaus Klaffenbock and more recently Tim Reeves and the Birchalls have had the same impact in the sidecar races.

These guys want to race on the island because the rewards are so special. Not just financially, although the top riders do pretty well these days. But the course is magnificent, with the risks managed as well as they can be and with Gary Thompson a sensitive clerk of the course. The supporters are phenomenal, as knowledgeable and enthusiastic an army as you’ll find in world sport anywhere, never mind motor sport. And the expansion of the internet makes it an event of truly global significance, followed live pretty much everywhere. The big names who are flown in by blue-chip sponsors every year wouldn’t turn up for anything less – look who we’ve seen in the last couple of years: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Mark Webber, and more, and more.

The TT is also an event which rewards endeavour. The more you put in, as spectator as well as competitor, the more you get out. If you want a passing relationship with the races, fine – you’ll enjoy them. But there is so much to discover, so much to experience, that fans who’ve been travelling for decades still find something new. That accounts for the incredible age range among the TT galleries. As Dr Johnson (that’s Samuel, not Gary) should have said, ‘he who is tired of the TT is tired of life.’

So 2013 brings us a TT which has been building its popularity steadily since the fabulous TT DVDrelaunch which was the centenary in 2007. The movie Closer to the Edge delivered another massive dollop of stardust, and the multiplicity of TV channels these days allows the action to be screened during the festival itself. And just as the audience is opening up, guess what: we happen to be favoured with an amazing array of riders who have both personality and talent in abundance, and a willingness to put themselves out and about in the public eye. Equally, the team owners are up to the mark. I’d love to see Wilson Craig win a TT this year, he’s a great character who puts a lot into the sport. Shaun Muir has somehow come up with new sponsors in Milwaukee with the budget to run two Yamaha riders, Hector and Philip Neill of Tyco Suzuki juggle road racing and circuit racing with terrific commitment and great good humour, Clive Padgett sends out a winning Honda every year. Neil Tuxworth’s Honda Legends squad remain the guys to beat.

Meanwhile, the TT organisation is not standing still, and this is one of the most encouraging points of all. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe electric bikes are not the most dramatic to commentate on but their arrival over the last few years has been a huge bonus for the event; this sort of high-pressure development is exactly what the TT should be encouraging. The affordable super-twins, pioneered by the Manx GP, is another positive development and I believe the Classic TT, to be unveiled in August, will prove another rich thread in the increasingly colourful tapestry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a healthy picture. But, inevitably, not without threats. The TT is always susceptible to threats. Cost of insurance is probably among the most menacing at the moment. Maintaining minimum marshalling numbers is another. Wet weather is a third. But overall, these are good times. Let ’em roll in 2013.

TT 2013 runs from May 25 – June 7. All the info is at www.iomtt.com

Classic TT runs from August 23-26. Info here 

Manx Grand Prix is from August 17-30 Info here 

and even more IoM road racing on the Billown course here