Well that was a bit of a surprise, wasn’t it? I’m sure you have all heard by now that my team-mate at Honda next year is Guy Martin. The news came as a bit of a shock to me as well!
I wrote my last column on a Friday and the next Monday I was all booked to go to Louth for the unveiling of the 2017 Honda Racing squad, and I genuinely didn’t have a clue who my team-mate was going to be. I thought it could be Josh Brookes or even Michael Dunlop, but I was completely in the dark. I was driving my van to Louth in the pissing rain when Neil Tuxworth rang me. I was only about 10 minutes from HQ and he just said, “Your team-mate is Guy Martin...” I nearly stuck the van through a hedge!
Getting Guy is a massive coup for the team. He guarantees the big headlines and that’s the way racing is going nowadays. Fair play to Tuxworth, the sneaky little toe-rag must have been greasing him away for ages.
Watching the Guy effect first-hand is amazing – my Twitter followers have risen significantly just because I am his teammate. And everywhere I go people ask me if I reckon Guy can win a TT at last. Mike Hailwood won a TT after 11 years away; Guy has only missed one year so of course he has the potential, but it will be hard. I am a little worried about him, whether he wants it too much – he may need to take a year on the chin and focus more on next year. I’ll tell you what, if he does win it will be like a bloody Bank Holiday in the UK! And if he doesn’t win he will still get plenty of column inches. At the end of the day, as long as my side of the garage is all good I don’t care who my team-mate is. But signing Guy makes sense for racing reasons as well as publicity.
Guy is a genuine 132mph lap rider with numerous TT podiums, and still hungry for a win. He is only coming back for one reason and it’s not TV. He’s sledged down a hill, done a wall of death, built a Transit, but he hasn’t won a TT and that must grate.
He thinks being on a Honda is his best chance, and good luck to him. I’ll just take the piss out of him as I would any team-mate. I’m looking forward to getting to know the real Guy.
The few hours we spent at Louth was the most time I’ve spent with him and he’s actually quite sensible – we chatted engines, bikes, cars, vans, and he is on a similar wavelength to me. He had even been in work that morning and turned up with oily hands, so respect for that! I still want to beat him, but he’s a good lad so I can’t see us throwing helmets or erecting a Rossi-style wall in the TT garage!
Aside from the Guy thing, I’ve finally ridden the new Blade this month. I was grinning from ear to ear. Everything us racers have asked has been done. I sat in one of those dull press briefings where all the journalists scribble notes while the Japanese technicians bamboozle them with tech speak and I couldn’t help but think just how much work Honda has put into the Blade – they have even taken 1.8mm from the bodywork to make it lighter! And it works.
It’s a really good package as a roadbike out on track and that bodes well for my TT bike. But the highlight of the launch for me was riding with Freddie Spencer.
I got a few laps in behind him and it was an honour. He is still so stylish on a bike – a total natural, so bloody fast and smooth without ever looking like he is trying. You see the brake light flickering as he trails it into bends and it’s just pure class. What a gifted rider and an absolutely cracking bloke, proper nice and with so many tales to tell. I wish I could have stuck around longer with him but I had a flight to catch to Australia for the Phillip Island Classic.
The old boys who run the bikes put in so much effort and the riders were on top form. McWilliams was on fire – breaking the lap record at the age of 52 on a 1982 FJ1200 – amazing! They are designed to take your wife to the South of France, not lap a circuit. We all went faster than ever and managed to beat the Aussies again, which was all that mattered. The only letdown was the lack of beer, and the flights to Australia...
The flight out was a comedy disaster. I sat down, pulled out the TV from the chair and it dropped down and smacked me on the shins. The bloody thing was broken so I spent the entire flight having to hold it up! I pinged Etihad a tweet as soon as we landed and they said they would sort it out, so I dropped a few subtle hints about a business class upgrade and I was optimistic about the return flight. What happened? I was in the same seat with the same broken TV!
At the moment my head is spinning from all the travelling I’ve done this month. I started flying from London to Dublin, Dublin to Gibraltar then Gibraltar to Monte Blanco for the three-day Fireblade test. From there I flew home for a day before flying from Manchester to Inverness to do a gig with Vauxhall. I’m now driving from Inverness to Edinburgh to fly to Belfast for the North West 200 press conference; then it’s off to Brooklands, my mechanic Julian Boland’s wedding, and finally home to Morecambe for a few days to see the family. I’m a bit worried the council may take my key to Morecambe back as I’ve been away so much...
The one day I did have at home between all this flying wasn’t exactly relaxing either, as it was Maisie’s seventh birthday party. So I was in a room full of kids going nuts and screaming the day after I had been on Julian’s stag do. And I was a little worse for wear, which didn’t help. It was funny, we rolled out of a club and Guy delivered me in his van to the airport, so not only was I feeling a bit tender, but I also had to put up with him gibbering rubbish at me for two and a half hours before the flight! But it was worth it – I didn’t want to miss Maisie’s party as I had missed Ewan’s 16th a few days earlier due to the test. I was gutted, but at least I found the time to give him his present – a Honda X8R-S scooter that I won after my first TT and have kept ever since.
The test itself went really well. The new Blade – with its electronics – is complicated, and that made it quite frustrating until we got on top of it. Once the wheels were turning and we understood the bike it was good. But at the start it was a bit tricky as Guy was on his head and I threw it down the road as well.
To be honest, I got a bit giddy. The sun was out, the track was warm, and I was feeling good. Monte Blanco is full of hairpins and I just lost it going into one. It wasn’t a biggy, but probably because I’m northern and tight I didn’t want to let go of the bike, so I got trapped under it and took a bit of a beating. I got a whack on my arse, on my shoulders, and my thumb got bashed, but I was OK to carry on. Guy even helped get my bike fixed up; he was there with a soldering iron, sorting the electrics!
The new Blade’s chassis is pretty similar to my old bike’s, but there was nothing wrong with that anyway. But it has more power and better electronics. The auto-blipper is taking a bit of getting used to as I’ve used a clutch to change down since 1990. But I just need to learn how to use it. And that’s all we need – time. As the bike is new, we need to develop and Superstock race at Oulton Park BSB to help this process. Then we have a test at Castle Combe, and more track time if we need it. At the end of the day, the first test is as much about getting the team together as it is sorting the bike. And the team is certainly gelling.
All I get asked about is how Guy is getting on and how he is fitting in with the team. He’s a good chap, fits in, but I keep telling him he is my team-mate, not the other way around... I’ve had so many team-mates over the years, from Joey to Simon Andrews. Guy is just one more. Although he is the only one that says his dog talks to him! I had to tell him that his dog doesn’t talk to him, it just barks... He is adamant it does, but that’s just Guy.
During one interview he asked when I last laid a brick, so I said 1998. But I’ve done it again recently just to keep my eye in, and sent him a picture. I was awarded the silver trowel two years running at college, so I do know how to build a wall and the magic is still there. That said, I’d rather guide my dad into my mum than go back into bricklaying...
Moving off that subject, I was in Gibraltar for a gig with BetVictor that involved riding a Fireblade on the airport’s runway, which was cool! They wanted one of my Superstockers for their new office so we stuck a bike in a van and I rode it around the peninsula before a few high-speed runs of the runway. The RAF closed the runway and held up all the flights while I blasted up and down. It’s a bloody short runway and I nearly ended up throwing the bike into the sea, which would have been a bit embarrassing. It was all good, though, and I even won £280 in the casino that night!
I’ve also been putting the final touches to my book – Built for Speed. It’s not all laptimes and talking tyres; it’s more about me growing up and racing. I’ve read the final draft and it made me laugh and cry, which I think is a good thing. I’ll probably be selling it out the back of my van like Del Boy at race meets.
At the moment I think I’m more stressed than I’ve ever been. Not because of contract negotiations or the like, but because I’m moving house tomorrow and it’s chaos. What do they say? The two most stressful things you can ever do are get divorced and move house? After this week I’m never moving again and certainly not getting divorced! Although it is all getting a bit tense in the McGuinness household.
There are boxes and boxes of shit everywhere and it took me two solid days just to clear out the loft, but I’ve found some really cool stuff. Amongst all the spiders and cobwebs I discovered a set of TSR250 Vimto bodywork, a full 2006 HM Plant fairing and loads of retro T-shirts. I’ve even found some old VHS videos of 250 races from 1997! It has been an interesting few days, although me and the missus have had a few heated debates over what stays and what goes...
I’m a total squirrel and never throw anything away, but Becky can’t see the value in a copy of MCN from 1999. She wants to chuck it all away but I’m like, ‘Hold on, I’ll read that when I have a bit more time...’ She thinks I’m mad, especially when I started hoarding my old school reports and pictures the kids drew when they were younger. Some of the treasures I’ve been uncovering have been breaking my heart; I even got a bit emotional over an old Thomas the Tank Engine toy me and Ewan used to play with when he was young. Becky was just like, ‘Bin!’ but I was devastated. Thankfully I did manage to save a bunch of original Star Wars toys from the dustmen and Ewan seems to appreciate them. But, like his mum, he doesn’t see the value in my old racing stuff.
In the loft I found a bunch of my early race trophies. There was one from Cadwell – third place in November 1991 – and some stuff from my first TT. Back then there was a TT manufacturers’ award and I have trophies with my name on them next to Joey’s, which is really nice. I’m so glad I kept everything and boxed it all up safely under 10 foot of dust! There will come a time when the phone won’t ring and I can sit there and look through all these memories in peace. And thankfully the new house has lots of room for my leathers as I have quite a few sets...
While I was packing, I counted 97 leather suits and I also boxed up 86 crash helmets! I tend to give away boots and gloves, but I keep all my leathers and helmets, and even swap kits with other riders. I have a set of Guy Martin’s leathers, one of Kiyo’s, Karl Harris, Tim Reeves, Plater, the list goes on. I might set up a trophy room in the new house and hopefully the kids will appreciate them in the years to come – or they might just stick them in an auction and blow the profits on PlayStation games!
While I was rooting around I did spot I was missing a few things. I don’t have a Monstermob suit, for example, and my first TT winning lid has gone. I lent them to a mate who had a bike shop, but he emigrated to New Zealand and my kit appears to have gone with him. I’d love that lid back – it was the first ever voodoo doll design I had done.
The new house is going to be amazing. There is an equestrian centre nearby but I haven’t got a clue about horses. All I see are eight foot tall grass-eating shit machines! There are lots of red-faced ladies in jodhpurs walking around and I’m certain to upset a few when I get the motocross bike out. I’m going to build a Rossi-ranch in Morecambe! Speaking of which, I got my annual invite over to Rossi’s ranch for the 100km race again and I’m bloody moving house, so had to turn it down. I’m gutted; that’s twice I’ve turned it down and he must think I’m a right prick. It’s just impossible – can you image the shit I’ll get if I clear off to Italy and leave the family drowning in cardboard boxes?
Finally, I can at last say what I’m doing next year. I’m back with Honda on the Superbike and Superstocker for the North West and TT, and with Jackson Racing on the CBR600RR. I always wanted to stay with Honda as I’m so comfortable with them and I’m a creature of habit. When I sit on the start line I want to know and trust who’s put my bike together. I’m really looking forward to developing the new Blade. The only problem with the old bike was it needed a few more ponies and some electronics, so I’m pretty confident we should be in with a shot. After eight years on the same bike I needed to sit on something new. I’m excited, it should be a good season ahead and I may even see if I can get Jackson Racing to let me give the CBR a quick run out at Oulton Park in British Supersport!
With Macau all done and dusted I can now draw a line under the 2016 season. Macau was a great way to end the year, but I do have a love/hate relationship with the place. When you get there, you see the track and think, “Oh shit, why am I here?” It is proper dangerous. The last thing you want is to be eating your Christmas dinner through a straw in Macau General! But the event is such a great buzz.
It’s funny, I seem to be falling backwards in my results there, but after 19 years I still love it and wouldn’t miss it. This year I thought I had the pace to do a bit, especially as Conor was fourth. And while the top three were a bit out of my reach, I should really have been battling with him. But it wasn’t to be because, after holding third in qualifying for ages, about seven riders pipped me in the last few seconds. I couldn’t believe it, I looked at the results and was like, “What the hell?” The start at Macau is really important and I got quite a good jump, but hesitated slightly into turn one, was a bit lazy into turn two and that basically saw me get rimmed by all the other riders! It’s difficult to come off the third row and get a result, but winner Hicky was next to me on that row so I don’t really have a leg to stand on! No excuses, I rode like a fairy on the first lap and by the time I got my head into gear it was too late. You need to jam it into Lisboa on the first lap and get your elbows out – but that’s easier said than done when you look at the barriers. Not that it stopped grandpa Rutter!
After the racing you load the bike up and start looking forward to 2017, which seems only a few days away. Christmas is just around the corner, then it’s the Phillip Island Classic in January, and then testing will start. My season never really stops, which is why I like to blow off a bit of steam and get a few pints in at Macau. Well I say a few... This year I rolled back to my hotel room at about 8am having been on a drinking session with the lads after the Sunday night presentation. I staggered out of a club at about 7.30am. It was daylight, and I had to catch a 9.20am flight to Japan to meet up with the Mugen guys. As I left the club I had enough time to clock Hutchy stood on top of a gold bull before I grabbed a McDonalds and legged (weaved) my way to the hotel. Luckily I had taken the precaution of pre-packing my bag before I went out!
After grabbing a taxi to the airport I was on the flight and in Tokyo before I knew what was happening. All the Japanese designers were talking to me really excitedly about the changes to the Mugen for 2017, but to be honest not much was registering. Afterwards I went for a night out with Mr Honda, which was a bit bizarre. Just 24 hours earlier I was in a club in Macau, now I was out on the town with Mr Honda. It was all a bit surreal...
Almost as soon as I got home I was off to the NEC bike show, then the Autosport Awards, and the next day the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) for a lunch. The Autosport Awards was a nice day out for the missus and me and I got to present Marc Marquez with his trophy. He wasn’t actually there but Freddie Spencer picked it up for him, which was cool. It was funny – Nigel Mansell was up on stage talking about safety and he said, “Car races are nothing like what John McGuinness does,” and got me to stand up – I felt like a right bell-end. Afterwards we went out for few drinks with Mark Webber. You can tell he has retired; he even had a bacon buttie and a few G&Ts!
At the BRDC lunch I was given honorary membership, which was a great honour, but meant I had to go out and buy a sports jacket – it was £11 from a second-hand shop. I can now get into the posh bit at Silverstone and I suspect there is a special handshake I’ll need to learn in the near future...
But the sports jacket wasn’t my only purchase this month – I’ve also bought a Bentley! It’s a full on pimp-spec 2002 Bentley Arnage and while it cost about £170,000 back in the day, it actually hardly cost me anything. The missus went mental, she hates it! In the back is a drinks decanter, and it has a 6.75 twin turbo V8 with 540bhp – it’s bloody frightening because it handles like a half-filled bath. I even use it for the school run, which turns a few heads in Morecambe – I’m considering getting a monocle and a deerstalker so I look like a Lord. I’m going to take Maisie to her school play in it. She is playing a bossy angel and was struggling with one of her lines, so I said to her, “Just be like your mother...” That comment might just bite me on the arse, because kids always grass you up.
I remember the first year I went to Macau. It was 1998 and I was riding a Honda NSR500, so right in at the deep end! After I wildcarded at the British GP I tapped up Joe Millar as I fancied a blast around Macau, and Paul Bird, who I was riding for at the time, didn’t want to go. It was foreign and exotic and to be honest, for a young lad from Morecambe who had hardly been out of the UK before, the thought of racing in Hong Kong was exciting. But I’m not sure I looked the part – on the plane out there a couple of mechanics mistook me for a student backpacker!
A big reason for wanting to go in ’98 was that everyone said it would be the last GP as Portugal was handing Macau back to China. I’d have been gutted to miss out on riding where the likes of Haslam and Schwantz had won. Little did I know that 19 years later I’d still be racing on the same circuit.
When I arrived in Macau it was one hell of a shock. It was so hot and humid and the food, people and culture were all new. Nothing can really prepare you for it. I had a few shirts, a pair of shorts, my Vimto leathers and £100 in my pocket. And the track was, and remains, more than a bit daunting.
Macau is a street circuit and the first time I saw it I thought, ‘Jesus, what am I doing here?’ They take the new riders around in a van; people are talking to you, telling you about this and that, but you just have no idea. After the briefing you have about two or three days on the drink – that’s just what happens in Macau – and then it’s first practice. Which is a rude awakening.
You get to the circuit when it is still dark, and at 7.15am you are out on track. You let the clutch out, tired, jetlagged and still a bit hungover, and all of a sudden you have a big-time reality check. Macau is quite an unforgiving track, and very fast in sections.
After exiting the last corner in second gear you cross the start finish in fourth and the first left-hander has a fast entry where you go from barrier on peel-in to barrier on the apex to barrier on the exit! It takes some building up to and when the track is fresh and covered in dust and grease it’s very scary. Like the TT, Macau is raced on public roads, and can be sketchy for a few laps when shitty local taxis have spewed oil everywhere!
After turn one, the right-hander of Mandarin is even more intimidating. It is the scariest turn on the track – you approach it in sixth at 180mph, bang it down two, and then throw it in. Fuck, that’s a hairy corner – it’s so deep and fast and you have a massive straight leading to it, which means you have loads of time to shit yourself on the approach! Once you get around it you top out at about 190mph before braking into Lisboa, which leads to the really physical back section.
Where the start is fast, the back section is basically all taken in second gear. It is really narrow and pictures don’t do justice to how steep San Francisco Hill actually is. This whole section is really technical and overtaking is hard, so you end up just rolling the throttle and following other riders. There aren’t really many overtaking opportunities at Macau aside from a lunge at the Hairpin or Lisboa, so you need to come up with a plan on the back section. But it’s such hard work, which is why riders get frustrated and fall off at the Meico Hairpin.
The Hairpin always stinks of diesel as there is a refinery next to it and it’s dead easy to tip off – it’s so tight that if you tip in too early you run out of lock and that’s you over! But if you get good drive out of the Hairpin you can overtake going into Fisherman’s. It’s annoying that I’m much better on the twisty sections than the hard braking zones – that’s why I often get my pants pulled down at Macau.
Finally, after Fisherman’s it is R Bend, which is where old Gus Scott nearly ended up in the sea! He got a bit giddy, missed the bend and tried to take a swerve up the pitlane entrance, way too fast. He hit the barrier and ended up with waves lapping his leathers and water in his lid! One of the marshals tried to help him, fell over the sea wall and ended up on top of him. It was funny, once we knew he was OK.
Like the TT, Macau is all about linking sections together to get a good result, which is probably why I like it so much. Run-off is limited to barriers, and yes, you do end up rubbing them with your leathers, but not on purpose! Generally you turn your shoulder if you are going to kiss a barrier, so most scratches are on your back rather than your shoulder. It looks cool but is fucking scary and not exactly what you want to be doing at 140mph with no run-off...
Sponsors are a massive part of racing. If you didn’t have people willing to give you their support, and money, you would be sat at home on the sofa with your thumb up your arse rather than out on track.
I’m lucky enough to have some brilliant sponsors: Honda, Hitachi Construction Machinery, IFS, Monster, Alpinestars, EMC, Shoei, BetVictor and Dunlop to name just a few, but with sponsorship support comes commitments. It can be product development, or corporate events where you stand up and talk for a while, which I love doing. But every now and then you get to do something completely off the scale!
This month was one of those occasions as Dunlop asked me to head down to London to take part in a fear test. I was imagining being sat down with wires attached to my head orsomething, but as it turned out that wasn’t the case. Far from it!
The test was headed up by a professor who worked with Team GB; it was all a bit surreal. I was sat down with a bunch of other athletes – climbers, skateboarders, surfers, car racers – and before the test we all felt like we were about to face the firing squad as we didn’t know what to expect. For all we knew we were about to be blindfolded and bummed!
One by one we were led into a room and told to look at a computer screen and remember a number sequence while being bombarded with images. The images were a combination of pretty horrible extreme stuff to the kind of ‘art film’ your folks used to hide in a VHS video box marked ‘1982 World of Sport.’ It was all a bit bizarre and I’m not sure what signals it was sending to my brain, but I await the results with interest. And worry, especially if I responded positively to the really nasty shit...
A few years ago I was asked to give a car journalist a pillion lap of the TT course for a PR event. This was a proper special occasion as it was on closed roads, so I thought I’d better give him the full TT experience. I don’t think he totally understood what was about to happen to him and although he was a former car racer and had tested modern sportscars, a TT lap is something a bit different. Imagine it from his perspective, he was perched on the back of a bike about to lap a course surrounded by walls and had no idea where the next corner went. All his trust was on me...
Initially I think he was trying not to touch me to hold on as it didn’t look cool. But by the time we ground the exhaust out at the bottom of Bray Hill at 136mph he was clinging on like a monkey to a tree during a hurricane! I thought I was cruising the lap, but to him it was a different experience.
I found out later we averaged 100.5mph, which isn’t bad going, but well within my limits – not that he knew this. They had to peel him off the bike and remove his gloves for him as his hands were locked solid at the end of the lap. He was broken, and I don’t think he will forget those 22 minutes for a while. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen a closed circuit TT pillion lap done since.
Macau often throws up some odd shit when you are doing pre-race events for the organisers. We have raced rickshaws against the car guys, which is messy as the bike racers are always hanging after a big night out and the car guys take it ultra-seriously. And there was the time we had to draw Chinese symbols on the floor. We ended up drawing cocks and bell ends and I converted one symbol to a stick man with a hard on, which caused a bit of bother. And then there was the basketball match where I pulled a touring car driver’s shorts down just before he took a shot in front of the world’s press...
Thanks to guys like Monster I’ve met some fantastic people and been to some awesome events, not that I’m always recognized. I was doing a signing next to Ken Block and everyone wanted his signature rather than mine. He just lent over and said, ‘I remember when no one used to know me...’ What a tool! I can do doughnuts in my Transit, they aren’t that hard.
But there’s a serious side to these fun days out. Sponsors are the lifeblood of racing and we all owe them huge thanks and loyalty. Whether it be the headliners such as Monster or Dunlop or your own personal sponsors who give what they can, you can’t fault them. Occasionally you have to do things you don’t want to, but you take the rough with the smooth and it is thanks to sponsors that I’ve been able to live the life I have, travel the world and race the TT for 20 years. The one thing I will miss when I eventually retire is this camaraderie.