There's no doubt that road racing is dangerous. We’re kidding ourselves if we think it can be made safer without radically limiting speeds, but I hope that never happens. It is one of the most incredible spectacles to watch and the most exciting form of racing to compete in. Road racing is obsessive for both spectators and competitors, and to stand on a podium at one of the big ones – TT, NW200 or the Ulster GP is the ultimate buzz. As Peter Hickman has said, it’s pretty special to win a TT. I guess he would rate the TT wins over and above a BSB victory any day, as the adrenaline buzz lining up at the TT must dwarf every other type of two-wheeled racing.
I know this because when I lined up on the grid on Thursday evening at the NW200 this year the reality sunk in. Nerves kick in and you briefly question your sanity. This is normal. Then you give yourself a shake as there’s no turning back. I remember reminding myself this wasn’t going to be a half-hearted effort. Nothing less than a podium would be acceptable.
I skipped the races in 2017 after team boss Ryan Farquhar very nearly lost his life when he crashed just in front of me; then Malachi Mitchell Thomas unfortunately did pass away from an identical crash right at the same spot, again right in front of me in the second race of the 2016 meet. Ryan has no regrets over his racing career or the consequences because the spoils always outweigh the risks. Racers always have the utmost belief in their own ability to race safely and stay out of harm’s way. We must be wired differently to normal people. Some of my mates wouldn’t dream of playing a five-a-side game before they head off on holiday in fear of getting injured. Racers don’t give it a second thought.
I got the call to ride a couple of weeks before when it looked like John McGuinness might not be fit enough to race. I’d been toying with the idea of a NW200 return – it’s just not as enjoyable spectating. It didn’t have the same buzz as racing, which I did from 2012-16. I last rode the KMR Supertwin in the 2016 race, and with no chance to test this year, it wasn’t ideal preparation. Ryan has put in plenty of hours on the new chassis, reducing weight and finding a better power spread so I was confident the bike would be good. But I wasn’t sure about the pilot!
I do think things happen for a reason. Racing is either up or down and a lot is down to fate. There is a fine line between success and failure, and you need to remain positive when things go the wrong way. During Tuesday’s first practice, my bike developed a small issue that we couldn’t put our finger on and I didn’t complete a lap, so it looked like I might not get chance to qualify, and any hope of a successful week was fading.
Hutchy was supposed to be my team-mate on one of Ryan’s bikes, but Honda forbade him riding a Kawasaki, so his bike was parked in the truck. I used his bike for Thursday practice, and qualified sixth. Nothing spectacular, but we could see the bike’s speed was right up there, so it was up to me. Race one on Thursday evening turned into one of the most enjoyable I’ve had there, and grabbing second at the last turn, beating Joey Thompson’s Paton to the line, gave us something to celebrate.
This is why we do this. A podium on the triangle circuit just lifts the team mood and makes all the hard work and bike preparation worthwhile. It exonerates my decision to compete at 54 years old, too – my son’s question my reasoning, but then they like to see their old man getting a result after the anxiety I put them through on the lead up. After getting second on Thursday, I was a little disappointed not to win on Saturday; it was another superb race with plenty of action. It’s funny how expectations change – three days before, I wasn’t expecting to race at all.
I’m grateful for KTM letting me bunk off to do the race – I was back in Austria on the Monday after the race weekend, testing suspension on a Super Duke GT, then straight to Donington WSB for the weekend, then five days in South Korea coaching KTM clients and RC390 cup racers, and I’m writing this from Rome on a Bridgestone video shoot. I’m about to head to the RC390R launch and meet up with PB’s Chris: so I’ll have some entertaining stuff to tell you about next month.