My ‘office’ on the Isle of Man today is the Creg-ny-Baa pub, one of the best vantage points for race watching on the TT Course. Up here you can see the race bikes come straight down from Kate’s Cottage for over ½ mile, reaching 180 mph, braking hard, then banking over and pinning it again down to Brandish. They’re already 34 miles into a lap, and from the balcony of the Creg, you can see and appreciate the bike’s suspension and motor working in harmony with the brain chemistry of the rider to achieve unthinkable speeds and the smooth, consistent riding required to succeed at the TT.
The Creg’s view, atmosphere, Manx cakes and Bushy’s Goose Neck Bitter provide an ideal environment to consider some of the bits and bobs I’ve picked up around the paddock at the 2016 Isle of Man TT.
First and foremost, the buzz is about speed. Every rider and team member I’ve spoken to shakes his head a little and says something to the effect of “holy crap, everyone is flying.” Lap records were challenged in practice, and obliterated when racing began. Michael Dunlop made history on the first lap of the Superbike race when, from a standing start, he clocked the first ever sub-17 minute lap of the Mountain Course – 16m 58s, at an average speed of 133.369 mph.
Ian Hutchinson smashed the lap and race records in Monday afternoon’s RL360 Quantum Superstock TT race, with an opening lap of 133.098 mph, showing that the line between Superbike and Superstock machines has been blurred.
The next morning at the parc ferme, I spoke to motorcycle racing fixture Paul Butler. With a resume that includes running the Kenny Roberts race team, Race Director for MotoGP, Clerk of the Course for the Macau GP, and now a part-time RD for MotoAmerica, Paul has seen it all, and takes the record-breaking speeds in stride. “They’ll keep getting faster; people were astonished 30 years ago as well.” He is also confident that we’ll see American riders “reentering the world stage in a few years” via MotoAmerica.
I was introduced to Paul by Graham English, a British TT rider we covered a few years back. Graham, a popular paddock presence from a multi-generational racing family, had a terrible crash in practice at the 13th milepost last year, suffering brain injuries and living through a difficult year of recovery. In this TT fortnight, where several riders have perished on the same day records were set, the highs and lows of this event have never been more evident. And Graham’s story embodies both.
Graham told me that after months in hospital and recovery facilities, “the doctors and therapists basically had to rewire my brain. And while that was happening, I worked to regain my strength and, slowly but surely, rebuilt my crashed BMW S1000RR.” Last week, Graham brought the resurrected bike back to the Isle of Man, with the goal of completing the lap he never finished last year.
And complete it he did, one year to the day from his crash, surrounded by the medics and TT Marshals that saved his life, and escorted around the Mountain Course by Ian McVeighty, the Traveling Marshal on the scene last year. Arriving at the paddock and the beer tent behind the TT grandstand after the lap, Graham was mobbed, and tears of joy and relief were shed by many.
A steady stream of TT fans have been hovering around the paddock tent of Swiss manufacturer Suter Racing, ogling the MMX 500, their stunning 580cc two-stroke machine. The bike’s 195 horsepower, 280 pounds and 193-mph top speed are in the hands of rider Ian Lougher, and I caught up with him enjoying a cuppa tea before a practice session.
Lougher is a consummate TT racer, taking his first of ten TT victories in the 1990 Lightweight TT on a Yamaha 250 stroker, beating Steve Hislop, while setting a race record and a lap record that wasn’t broken for nine years.
Lougher told me “This isn’t an experiment. I’m an old two-stroke guy, and this is a really interesting project to me. The passion from the public here is incredible, everyone is asking about the bike. Suter is going to make a business of this, and the TT is an excellent place to establish the MMX as a legitimate and competitive race machine.”
That being said, there have been some teething problems, with the machine retiring from the Superbike TT race, and qualifying deep in the field for the Senior TT. Lougher told me, “the challenge is in the marriage of two-stroke technology and fuel injection, which traditionally has not been common with two-strokes. We’re getting it right though.”
The Suter was named “most desirable motorcycle” at the 2015 EICMA Motorcycle show in Milan, so it is apparent that enthusiasm for this machine, and technology, extends far beyond the TT paddock. For a mere $125,000, 99 well-heeled motorbike enthusiasts can leave a sweet trail of Castrol R-infused fumes around their favorite track day circuits starting later this year.
After chatting with Lougher, I had a brief conversation with veteran American rider Mark Miller, who has had an up and down week, but is primed for a good run in the Senior TT on the Splitlath Racing EBR 1190, my vote for best sounding bike at the TT. Mark spent a few hours at the pubs after mechanical failures in practice. As in, still in his racing leathers, enjoying a pint or two with spectators, watching until the session ended and he and his bike could be picked up. In good spirits, riding an American machine finely turned out in the Splitlath livery, Mark told me he’s “ready to bring it home for the USA.”
I then ambled over to speak to Clive Padgett, leader of the legendary Padgett’s Racing, widely acknowledged as Britain’s leading race management team.
The Padgett heritage is unparalleled. Hailwood, Read, Haslam, Foggy, McGuinness, Hutchinson, Anstey and many more have donned the Padgett’s livery. I asked Clive about the reaction to the stunning TT-adapted RC213V-S bike, and he said, “Quite simply, it’s been incredible. When we set out to do it, we couldn’t anticipate the reaction, the publicity, the people coming up to us and asking all sorts of questions and snapping photos.”
The idea to race a production version of Marc Marquez’s Grand Prix bike on the 37 ¾ mile Mountain Course originally came from a customer. According to IOMTT.com, Clive noted “I was having a few pints of Guinness with a customer who had just bought an RCV from us and he said wouldn’t it be great to see one of them going down Bray Hill. That planted the seed in my head and it has been germinating ever since,” he said. That seed has, indeed, sprouted, and Anstey qualified for Friday’s Senior TT with the 4th best time, posting a lap speed of 130.22 MPH astride the V4 missile.
The effort has even given Clive a lesson in social media. “I learned a new word this week…trending! Apparently Bruce Anstey was ‘trending’ on Twitter because of the publicity around the RCV. It’s taken us by storm!”
Hey, Motorcycle.com readers, let’s give Clive Padgett a thrill, and make him trend!
Finally, like Bob Dylan at Newport, the TT paddock has gone electric. The zero emission electric bikes have drawn significant fan interest, as performance increases significantly each year. This year’s SES TT Zero race saw big crowds around the island cheering Anstey to a win for Mugen, with a lap speed of over 118 mph. In just its second year at the TT, the Victory Racing team’s William Dunlop earned a second-place finish on the Victory Brammo Power machine, ahead of Daley Mathison on the University of Nottingham’s entry.
Brian Wismann, Victory Racing Team Manager was ecstatic afterwards, saying “We had a stellar day today and I couldn’t be happier for William and the team. We moved up one step on the podium from 2015, closing the gap on the top team.”
Gary Gray, Director Motorcycle Product for Victory Motorcycles, made it clear that the company isn’t resting on it’s laurels: “We fly back tomorrow to practice on the mountain at Pikes Peak with our Octane-powered Project 156 race bike and our other electric race bike, the Empulse RR. The knowledge we gain at the TT goes into making our production bikes faster and more reliable.”
That’s the buzz from the paddock. I’ll be back in a few days with more color from the 2016 Isle of Man TT.