Honda Previews the Isle of Man TT

Sean Alexander
by Sean Alexander

Preview TT Isle of Man

May 23, Isle of Man ~ They call it the 'Road Racing Capital of the World.' The annual Isle of Man TT Festival is regarded by many as the ultimate two wheeled speed challenge, taking the competitors on a high speed journey around the public roads of the 37.73 mile Mountain Course.

It is an event without parallel. Dashing through villages, from the start-line in Douglas, into Ramsey and then over the heights of Snaefell, the action is fast and frantic, and not without its dangers, but, for the past decades it has been a vital part of the Honda racing pedigree with the Japanese marque scoring victories consistently.

This year promises to be no exception. Ian Lougher, six times a winner on the Island, has been brought in to spearhead the Honda attack, riding an SP2 in the two premier events, the opening TT Formula 1 race, on Saturday 31 May, and the blue-riband Senior event which climaxes the week's action, on Friday 6 June. Each of them decided over six gruelling laps and 226 miles.

Lougher, a Welshman who now bases himself in Northern Ireland, warmed up for the races with success in the annual shake-down event, the NorthWest 200, winning the Supersport class, but his attention is firmly focussed now on the 'big-bike' action: "these are the best chances I will have of winning them, and I am grasping the opportunity with both hands. I know that with this bike, I will be competitive, and am eager to take the victories."

He will need to be at his best. Dave Jefferies, the gritty Yorkshireman who in each of the past three festivals has chalked up a winning triple, is back for more, riding Suzuki, and promising more of the hard charging riding style that last year saw him shatter the record with a remarkable 17m 47secs lap, at an average speed of 127.29mph. Twice the British Superstock champion, he enjoys the challenge of the roads and reckons the secret is riding only as fast as is necessary. "Records are not on my mind, just doing the speed that is necessary."

Others to watch in the two major races of the festival are the speedy Ulsterman Adrian Archibald and the local favourite Richard Quayle, both also riding Suzuki; Jason Griffiths aboard a big Yamaha; and the Ducatis in the hands of TT winners John McGuinness and Michael Rutter, the Leicestershire based rider who won the Superbike race at this year's NorthWest 200.

Sidecar racing has been a key part of the TT action since the first event way back in 1906, and that tradition continues with two races, on the opening Saturday and then again on Wednesday, and Dave Molyneux, whose workshops are adjacent to the course, is aiming to add to his winning pedigree. A sidecar driver with World Championship experience, he and passenger Craig Hallam start as favourites with their Honda powered unit to hit double top, though they could be hard pressed by fellow Honda riders Gary Horspole and Kevin Leigh.

Big 1000cc Production bikes feature on the Monday 2 June raceday, with Jefferies again the man to beat, while a combined race for 400 Production and 125 bikes provides an interesting event. Robert Dunlop, brother of the late, legendary 26 times TT winner Joey, will be in action, aiming to add to his own racing winning pedigree on the Island, though he is still shrugging aside injuries sustained in a racing crash earlier in the year. He rides Honda, as does Lougher, the pre-event favourite, and James Crumpton, second last year, while the one to watch could well be Chris Palmer. Quayle, a winner last year, heads the 400 entry, riding Honda, and could face a tough challenge from another Manx rider, Dave Madsen Mygdal, along with Richard Britton and Nigel Davies.

Gordon Blackley, a serving officer in the RAF and a competitor in the British Superbike Championship rides Honda in Wednesday's Junior 600 race, but again Lougher will be on the charge: "I love the racing on the Island. I'm from the old school of racers, riding in as many classes as possible, just because I can. The TT course is special - you have to respect it and spend two of three years learning your way around before you can really chase victory."

Honda expect to dominate, though the return of the British built Triumph machines will concentrate the minds of the media, and the spectators. Jim Moodie, eight times a winner on the Island, rides for them, along with McGuinness and Bruce Anstey, but Rutter, riding Ducati and Quayle on a Kawasaki could have a big say in the eventual outcome.

Lougher, facing a busy final day, rides Honda in Friday's Production 600 race, with determined Scot Iain Duffus, also aboard a Honda, expected to challenge for honours in an event that also has the three Triumph riders back in action.

The exhileration, excitement and sheer joy of winning a TT race is unique. As Lougher puts it: "there's no feeling like in the world, a real experience to put under your belt." He means business, as does the lone lady racer amid the packed entry. Maria Costello is intent on becoming the fastest female on the Island - already she is the speediest lady in the history on the Manx Grand Prix, lapping at an average speed of a little over 110mph, but she is not content to be second best to Sandra Barnett in the TT annals, instead hoping this year to secure a place in the Guinness Book of Records with a her own super-quick lap.

Practice for the event begins on Saturday 24 May, and contines over the following week, with the shrill sound of racing engines providing early morning alarm calls for the resident around the demanding Mountain Course.

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