I'm doing this on the boat as I return from the Isle of Man, so the fact I can string a sentence together shows that it hasn’t been as wild a trip as usual. Generally, the annual TT launch turns into a bit of a drinking session, but this time I took the wife and kids, which put the brakes on shenanigans. I went to bed at a sensible hour while the rest of the boys got their drinking practice in.
To be honest, with the kids off school, the last few weeks have been really nice as I’ve managed to combine work and quality family time. Well, if you can call quality family time hanging around a freezing Le Mans paddock and then driving through the night to avoid running the gauntlet of getting robbed or bummed in France should you park up! This month kicked off with the North West press conference, which is always a good do.
I love the North West, it’s a brilliant event but the last few years have been tough, what with accidents and the weather. It’s a massive deal to the local community and they really deserve to have a good year with no hassles. If you have never been to watch it, make an effort to go this year as there is no such thing as a bad trip to Ireland – the hospitality is brilliant, the racing exciting, the scenery stunning and the paddies certainly know how to drink! Just don’t let them get bored, if there is no action on the track they quite quickly start knocking lumps out of one another to amuse themselves. I’ve been going to the NW200 since 1994 and I love it. The atmosphere is fantastic and the track has unbelievably fast straights. You sit there, flat-out, millimeters away from other riders, slipstreaming your way along after a mass start. There is nothing like it and I’m really proud of my six wins.
After the North West event I packed the family into the motorhome, along with a supply of Pot Noodles and crisps, and headed to Le Mans. We went via Euro Disney, which made Maisie’s year, but I don’t think Ewan was quite as excited by fairy princesses. We got charged 250 euros for dinner with Ratatouille; I know plenty of places in Morecambe where you can eat with rats for free! I reckon I have about a 1% share in Frozen now, too, as Maisie has every dress and wand, and I know all the words to that bloody song. All in all, Disney was great, but I had one slightly sticky situation. When we got there, nine rides were shut, so I sent out a tweet moaning about it. A few minutes later I got a reply from Euro Disney telling me they had just had a worker electrocuted to death, which is why one ride was shut! I had to reverse quickly after that and decided not to ask why the other eight rides were shut... Le Mans was a difficult old race for everyone.
There were loads of crashes and the weather was horrific, probably the worst I’ve ever ridden in. All the French riders measure the length of their dicks by qualifying times, so as soon as one ups the pace the next does. Before you know it the gravel is full of bikes. It’s a spectacle, but when the track is wet and cold you need to wind your neck in, which is what we did. Sadly for the team we didn’t finish, as the gearbox let us down after 17 hours. But we qualified 18th out of 54 teams, 11th in class, and were running in 10th at one point. Although, to be honest, I was quite glad as I was bloody freezing. In the night there was actually ice on the cars in the paddock. I had my wife’s tights on over my undersuit as well as Spar plastic bags on my feet (as my boots are vented) in an attempt to keep the cold out, and I was still freezing. After a few laps I couldn’t feel the ends of my fingers, and at one point I thought I had frostbite.
It was pretty miserable, but the team kept everyone’s spirits up. And Knighter got to experience his first Le Mans, although he didn’t actually ride in the race – lucky sod! While we were cold on track, the crowds were busy burning just about everything in sight to keep them warm. There was smoke pouring across the track and all my kit now stinks of burnt wood/tyres/engines. It’s still as mental as ever in the campsite – I even took Maisie with me so she could see what a drunk man revving a Vauxhall Viva engine strapped to a pallet looks like! Certainly sounded better than that Frozen song...
Finally, I have to end this column on a bit of a sad note. Last month I mentioned how my friend Mark Sears from Dunlop’s bag had been lost on the way to a Dunlop tyre launch. Sadly, Mark was killed this month in a freak accident, which was a real shock. He was one of the good guys, incredibly knowledgeable about tyres and a great bloke. My thoughts are with his family.
It's weird sitting around the garden at home while the world – my world, really – continues to go on without me. I’m several leg operations deep now, and while it’s going in the right direction, it’s a long way from being right and being able to make a call on whether I can race again. Everybody who’s usually around me is gearing up for the Ulster GP, and even though I’ve not raced there for years, it’s something I still go to if I can. I’m too old to be banging elbows between the hedges there, so I’ll let them get on with it! More than the speed, or the excitement of a mass start compared to the personal challenge of riding alone at the TT, What I love about racing in Northern Ireland is the fans. They’re absolutely mad for it – some proper nutters of the best sort turn up there!
As the TT has improved in the last 10 years and got a bit more mainstream, it’s attracted fans who probably weren’t into the roads before. That’s great for the sport, but it’s a different atmosphere at races like the Ulster where it’s diehards who know it inside out. Because they still have a culture of smaller road races over there, they really appreciate and support us, which usually means I don’t have to pay for a drink anywhere! The only danger in that is it soon gets out of hand – I’ve had my fair share of hangovers after the final race at the Ulster and the North West... Back in my early career when I first started racing over there, Joey was the man: for me, for most people. Especially the Irish... The whole place would be expecting him to win – he was super-human to them, and they’d be just a little bit bitter if anyone else won. It didn’t happen too often, because things went Joey’s way more often than not there.
Everyone knows Joey was king on the Isle of Man, but it doesn’t matter who you are around there, things have to go your way. You can have a bad tyre, you might not quite be on the pace in your own head, or you might have made a set-up mistake, especially in the days of getting a two-stroke jetted right. Joey had TTs that didn’t go right for him, but the Ulster was different: it’s a little more forgiving, and it was ahome race. He knew that place better than most, and more often than not it’d be a Joey masterclass. Dry, wet, 125 or Superbike – he was the man to beat. Hehad 24 wins around there – only two less than at the TT. And just like his last TT, his last Ulster in 1999 might have been his greatest ever ride. David Jefferies was the man that year – between him and the V&M R1, you had the best bike and one of the fastest riders on the road. Although it was his first Ulster, DJ was a bit of a natural. Whatever he rode – trials, supermoto or whatever, he’d just grab it and make everyone else look daft whilstlaughing his tits off.
Joey on the RC45 hadn’t been able to live with him at the TT and it was expected DJ’s Yamaha would have the edge at Dundrod, too – it had another 250cc on a fast circuit. But Joey was on home turf. The slipstreaming battle they had is one of the classic road races. DJ broke the lap record on the last lap of the Superbike race trying to beat him, and he still couldn’t do it. Joey was the man that day, and forever for a lot of people. Both were big heroes and mates to me, but a 47-year-old bloke on an out-of-date bike beating a 26-year-old bloke on the latest and fastest was amazing. I bet he didn’t have a hangover the next day, either – he could drink as well as he could ride, put it that way!
As I’m writing this, there’s load of rumours flying about regarding my fuzzy-faced team mate: will he race the Ulster, or won’t he? He didn’t race at the Southern 100. Honestly, I don’t know why Guy sat that one out – I’ve been sorting myself out and keeping out of team business. I’d guess it’s the obvious reasons – both of us were on the back foot before the season started, trying to develop a bike that arrived late, and we’ve both paid a price. You have to know when you’re beaten, and running the bike out again if it’s still not where it needs to be is pointless. He was lucky to get away with tipping off at the TT, too – maybe that’s a factor. That can easily affect you: I’ve come close to sitting races out due to other people’s accidents – I know how it might be hard to get back on a bike if you’re in any doubt. We’re not messing around, groping the arse of brolly dollys and having a jolly – if it doesn’t feel right, I’ve always advised anyone to pack it in. It’s fantastic when it’s going well, but it’s not a sport to do half-heartedly. But if I can physically return, you can guarantee I’ll be into it 100% – as you should be.
I’m writing this sat in a hospital gown that would put you off your dinner. And 10 minutes ago I had a swab pushed where the sun doesn’t shine – clearly the road to recovery isn’t going to be a pretty one. We’ve been waiting for skin grafts to settle before I can have the long-term fixator frame fitted to my leg. I’ll have my leg freshly broken again, in a clean fashion just below the knee. The break will create a gap between the bone and the plan is that I’ll grow a tiny amount of new bone every day. It’ll be down to me to adjust the fixator, which will keep the bone apart and force it to grow. At least it’ll give me a chance to get the spanners out... There’s been plenty of talk about infections and potential hurdles we’ll have to overcome, but for now all I can do is sit here with my arse hanging out of this gown and wait my turn in the operating theatre.
Being laid up with an injury is beyond frustrating. Feeling like a spare part isn’t my style and I’ve got the attention span of a spaniel pup at the best of times. Not being able to toddle off to do my own thing is doing my head in. The decision to hobble over to the Isle of Man was an easy one to make. I spoke to my doctor about it and he said it would be good to get out and about. People assumed that I might not want to be there, but I felt a little bit like I was missing out and couldn’t wait to get across to take the TT in from the other side of the fence. Things got pretty emotional when we made it on to the boat, I got a good clap off the crowd and people were pleased to see us. You have to remember that Becky and the kids are used to getting over to the Isle of Man at this time of year as well; it’s another chance for us to travel and spend time together as a family, so it was important for me to be there. The support I’ve had on social media has been amazing, but seeing it in front of me, with all those TT fans clapping me on to the boat and wishing me well was something else.
This year’s event was the first time I’ve not lined up since 1996, it felt strange not to be going through that rollercoaster of emotions that I normally go through. No start-line nerves, no pressure to carry on my shoulders, and no crazy schedule to stick to. Paul Phillips and his team did a brilliant last-minute job in helping to get me out – I just had to deal with Becky driving (I’m not a very good passenger). One thing I can be grateful for from all of this is the opportunity to take in the TT as you guys do, as a fan and a spectator. Seeing the helicopter coming around as it follows the leaders and seeing the race in a completely different way that I’m used to helped to lift my spirits for a bit. Half of me wanted to cry because I wasn’t able to ride, and the other half of me was pleased to not be on a bike. This year I also had to go through the nervous cycle that families do when we’re racing – again that’s not something that I’ve done before and it opened my eyes to the different kinds of pressure that people who are close to the TT feel.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had a few dark days. Not knowing what the future holds is getting to me. I’m not in a position now to say whether or not I’ll retire. It really pisses me off when riders say they’re retiring only to pop back up in the paddock for one last go. If you’re in you’re in, and if you’re not, then that’s you done for good. I’ll have a better idea about where I’m at once I’ve started the recovery process properly. One of the people I’ve been speaking to most about the recovery job is Hutchy. He’s been here before and I don’t mind admitting that I feel like I failed him as a friend when he was injured in 2010. I kind of buried my head in the sand and ignored him and his injuries, when what I should have been doing was giving him support as a mate.
That’s exactly what he’s been doing for me. Chatting to somebody who has had the same injury, who has been on the same road to recovery and more importantly, someone who has had those same dark moments as me has been really helpful. The full extent of Ian’s recent injuries aren’t fully known at the minute, but I know that we’ll be helping each other along the way in our ‘race’ to recovery. Have I even sat on a bike since the crash? Kind of... I tried to swing a leg over the Mugen bike but my frame got in the way. Will I ride again? Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. Did Becky spend her 42nd birthday giving me a bed bath and wiping my arse? Yes she did, she’s been an absolute saint.
I’ve spent the last few weeks jumping between new bikes – the 2017 Fireblade and the updated Mugen – as well as different countries. In fact, I’m writing this on the Easter bank holiday having just arrived home from Japan in time to throw a few chocolate eggs down my neck with the kids. I was out in Japan testing the new Mugen Shinden. The bike amazes me every time I get on it. This new generation is narrower with a thinner tank, lower pegs and wider bodywork at the front to give me more shelter. Testing the Mugen is always odd as they want to run it as fast as possible, but that kills the battery in about 20 minutes. At first that meant you needed to get a crane to remove the battery completely from the chassis and then stick it on charge overnight, but nowadays we can do 30 laps in the morning, completely recharge it with the battery still in the bike in just three hours, and then head back out on track in the afternoon for another 30 laps. I remember when I used to fly to Japan, ride the bike for 20 minutes, spend a day waiting for it to charge, ride for 20 minutes and then go home!
When it comes to technology, the Mugen is way ahead of anything else out there, and I am a bit of a monkey on a spaceship when I ride it. I sit down with the team in November and tell them what I want changed, and that’s why the riding position has been altered. But when it comes to motor technology they do what they want. It has a new motor this year made by Mugen themselves, and they’ve been playing with the chassis, too... There’s a new suspension linkage and the trickest set of forks you’ve ever seen – Showa air forks with carbon outers that are beyond factory spec. And we now have four instead of six-piston calipers on them to save weight. Interestingly, no one had ever crashed a Mugen, until Guy joined the project. It was just a small crash but the reaction afterwards was hysterical.
As a racer, you want to pick the bike up as you have your tail between your legs after tipping off, but with an electric bike that can lead to you getting fried if any power leads have been damaged! So there was Guy at turn one with a Mugen on the floor and a bunch of Japanese designers running down the track screaming at him not to touch the bike! One of them was even carrying a kind of shepherd’s crook made of carbon-fibre, because if someone gets stuck to the bike due to them being electrocuted you need to use it to drag them off. The bike was safe, but the Japanese were worried about arriving at the scene to the smell of burnt sideburns and Guy sizzling...
I was lucky to be riding the Mugen at all as I had dislocated my thumb the week earlier testing the Blade at Castle Combe. I remember lying on the ground after the crash, awake but unable to move, with Lee Johnston laughing at me, thinking, ‘I’m done, I’m retiring, I don’t need this shit again,’ as memories of my broken wrist in 2014 came flooding back. Anyway, I went to hospital and this bruiser of a nurse said she would slot it back in again. I told her riding bikes was my job and she said, ‘do you know Guy Martin?’ I replied that he was my team-mate and she was suddenly my friend. But the pain... I’ve had a few bumps and bruises in my time but this was the worst. She injected the joint with a massive needle and then put my arm between her legs and pulled. Eventually it went in with a clunk, but I never want to go through that again. Developing the Blade is getting there, but it is slow progress.
The new electronics are taking a lot of getting used to for the team, but before the crash we were lapping faster than ever at Castle Combe, so it’s promising. We probably won’t be using the traction control or anti-wheelie at the TT as it’s better not to have it. It’s too intrusive as you often want the rear spinning if the bike is airborne after a jump, and cutting the power isn’t helpful. We will keep the autoblipper and engine management system, though. We were only seven or eight seconds off Dunlop’s lap record last year and the new Blade is lighter, faster and just as good at handling. I need to get going a bit faster, but once I’m into my rhythm I can match their times. Being number five on the grid will help; I’ve got Hutchy ahead of me and Dunlop behind me. If I can’t catch Hutchy then if Dunlop comes past he’ll drag me along. At the end of the day, the fastest guy always wins the race, irrespective of the number on the front of their bike.
This year's TT was harder than most. Racing the TT knocks it out of you and I’m feeling pretty banjoed to be honest, which isn’t surprising considering the number of laps we all completed this year. The weather was so good it was like someone picked up the Isle of Man and dumped it in the Mediterranean! I was expecting to sell a load of McGuinness bobble hats, but the weather scuppered that.
The organisation this year was brilliant, too. Every practice session started bang on time and we were all getting five or six laps in a night, which is unheard of. Everything was fucked by the end of practice week – engines worn, riders knackered! I must have done 36 laps in practice, which is nearly 1400 miles, and then you add in two Supersport, three superbikes and an electric race as well as evening practice and you are pushing over 50 laps! It was great for newcomers as it gave them loads of track time, and also allowed more experienced riders to really dial in their bikes, which is why times were so quick.
The roads were really, really good. After a few practice sessions the rubber was down and it was clean and tidy with no shit on it all fortnight, which is why it was running so fast. All the old die-hard fans were harping on about it not being this good since women had hairy fannies in the 1970s. For me the perfect conditions did raise the risk level a bit. Lads were cracking 130mph laps on the second night of practice and then pushing on to 132mph and even 133mph. It’s rolling the dice every night, which is a bit unnecessary. Although I expected those sort of times, especially from lads like Hutchy and Hicky who were doing BSB and therefore had their eye in, and Dunlop who had been testing a lot, it was still fast. I did a 131mph, which was better than last year so I knew I was in the ballpark when it came to the races, but I didn’t go mad in practice. Without blowing my own trumpet, I rode brilliantly, but Hutchy and Dunlop were faster.
I matched my times from last year on essentially the same bike and I don’t think the other guys rode any better. I did over 130mph on my Superstock bike and when we dynoed it, it had 172bhp, which is at least 30bhp shy of the BMWs. I’m genuinely proud of what we achieved, two third spots is a great result seeing as I couldn’t get involved with what those two were up to. Next year will be different. I got my wings clipped a bit by Honda for mentioning the new Blade, but it’s not really a secret, is it? I don’t know for sure it’s coming, but MCN seems to think that we’ll see one in 2017. I also read in the paper that I accidentally turned the Mugen off in the TT Zero by landing on it with my arse, which is complete bollocks. If I can go over Ballacrye and land on the seat unit I must have eight-foot long arms! It’s not physically possible. I wouldn’t have minded if they had said my knob-end had hit it as that would mean I had a huge todger...
The truth of the matter is it was a faulty switch or something and I was pretty gutted. You only get one shot on the electric bikes and after all the testing and developing in Japan, to only make it to Quarry Bends was a shame. I pulled up and after poking a few buttons and turning it on and off, a chap in the crowd shouted, ‘I’m a plant engineer, why don’t you try hitting that big red button on the back?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever’ but I flicked it and off we went! Speaking of Mugens, guess what I’m getting in my garage? Yes, alongside my TT Legends Senior Fireblade will soon be a beautiful Mugen Shinden III, the bike I won on in 2014 with my manky wrist and set the 117mph lap on. How good is that? It even has all the flies and stuff on its TT fairings. They only issue is that I can’t start it.
I’m planning on taking it to loads of shows and stuff as you never see one outside of Japan or the TT, but I don’t have a charging kit so can’t run it. Which is probably a good thing as the batteries are like atom bombs! You have seen what happens when an iPhone pops its battery, imagine what 180kg of Mugen would do – it would burn down my house, and half of Morecambe.
Finally, I’d like to say a big thanks to all the guys who helped me out at this year’s TT – Jackson Racing, Honda Racing, EMC/Bet Victor and everyone else who allowed me to do what I love at the best track in the world. But, although this year’s was a great event, there were a few sad losses and my thoughts are with the families and friends of those who didn’t make it on to the ferry home. Racing is a hard game and it is always tragic when someone pays the ultimate price.
People often ask me what it feels like to race a TT. I’m writing this just before I travel out to the Island, so I thought I’d finally try to put the experience into words... When I’m on the start line, I’m absolutely shitting my pants. You know it could all go wrong and you might not come back, but there is a fair degree of pressure to perform, especially if someone else is having a good TT and taken a few wins when you haven’t. I kiss the wife as well as the voodoo doll on my helmet, pop a penny down my leathers for luck and the lid goes on.
When you roll through the archway, it all goes quiet and you are on your own at the top of Bray Hill. If you bog it at the start you can lose a second or two, so you need to get it right. It’s brutal on the clutch due to the tall gearing, but once that clutch is out, any thoughts of the wife, kids and pressure leave your mind.
It’s just you, the bike, and the TT course.
The first mile or two is intense and you are puffing and panting. Bray Hill isn’t a relaxed start, it’s flat-out, first to sixth gear in less than a minute with no sighting lap. All the way down Bray Hill you’re on the back brake, and fighting the depression at the bottom. Quarter Bridge is greasy so I square it off and gas it out before hitting fourth and then down to second for the flip-flop at Braddan Bridge. This is the first left-hander so you need to be careful. It is also an amphitheatre so you can hear the crowds. After Braddan it’s mega speed through to Ballacraine, averaging 140mph. I enjoy the speed of this section and its openness, but it does have sad memories. There are three points on the track where I ask lost friends to look after me – where DJ was killed at Crosby, Gus at Kirkmichael and Mick Lofthouse at Milntown.
Every lap I just give them a little nod or do something to let them know I’m still thinking about them. Laurel Bank and the Glen Helen section give you a good workout and when I get to the Cronk-y-Voddy straight I look at the bike’s temperature and rub my feet on the pegs to check there are no fluid leaks. This is the first point you can relax, despite topping 180mph. The approach to Barregarrow is scary and you hold your breath as you go into it. The G-forces on the bike are huge and the number of selfie sticks hanging over the fence is insane. The pictures must be great, but I don’t want one wrapped around a brake hose. Kirkmichael is rough as you shoot through the town. The speed past the shops is sensational. You hear the exhaust note bouncing off the walls and the road seems to narrow in your vision. After this are the jumps at Rhencullen, the first of which you go over while carrying a bit of angle. The second one is faster, with both wheels getting airborne at over 140mph.
You never see the next section that leads up to Ballaugh on TV, but this is where you can make up time. Ballaugh Bridge can only lose you time. I want both my wheels on the ground not my fat old arse and 170kg of Blade slamming into the tarmac on landing. Sulby Straight gets rougher every year. I’ve had a few wild rides along here over the years, where all I can do is hold onto the bike’s bars, but Ginger Hall marks the start of the really rough section. Have you seen the picture of me going through Conker Trees, hanging it out at 140mph? My wife gave me a slap when she saw that. There is an old council yard you go past in sixth gear on the back wheel that I’m going to watch from when I retire. I’ll be there with a radio, cheese buttie and beer! I found the first part of the Mountain hard to learn as it’s just green and sheep.
You climb 1500ft in spectacular scenery and while areas like the Bungalow aren’t brilliant as the Shell Grip is breaking up, when you reach Brandywell you feel on top of the world, and the bike seems to gain power as you drop down towards the Creg. You have to make an extra effort at the Creg as you recognise mates in the crowd. If I’m looking good I might pop a wheelie for the fans before passing through Hillberry, Signpost and Governer’s. Then it’s onto the finish and the best feeling in the world. If you have won you need to do a mega wheelie. If you have a lead you can fire up a 10-pumper but if I have time I slow down to make sure it looks good over the line! You can only relax when you are on that return road, high-fiving fans and looking for the family. The emotion of getting back safe is immense and while I don’t cry, sometimes I want to, especially when I see the family waiting for me. It is quite simply the best race, and the best feeling, in the world.
By the time you read this I’ll have raced at the Phillip Island Classic. It’s one of my favourite events of the year. There’s so much that I love about it, from the track, which is so fast, flowing and exciting, to the competition, which has great riders, like Jeremy McWilliams, Glen Richards, Shawn Giles and Cameron Donald. The bikes are awesome too – there are XJ1200s, Katanas and all manner of grunty, air-cooled stuff being shunted around at mind-boggling pace. Proper. Best of all is the weather – it’s 35 degrees there which will be a relief after all the flooding and shit weather in Morecambe.
It’s been a funny old start to the year in the McGuinnness house. Normally New Year is a bit insane and generally ends up with someone surfing down the stairs on a tray and clattering through the front door. This year it was far more cultural. Or at least should have been.
My lad Ewan is really into his history and has been chipping away at us to go to Rome. Rome is such an impressive place, mind-boggling if you think about it. They had aqueducts bringing fresh water into the city, drains, toilets, underfloor heating, cavity walls, the works. In London we were still throwing buckets of shit out of our windows in the 15th and 16th centuries, which puts it all into context. To drive in Rome you basically just need to turn into a total twat – it’s full-on dodgems or you ain’t getting anywhere. I picked up the keys for the hire car and the chap gave me the piece of paper that they mark with a cross to show any damage. Well, I looked at the car and said “are you serious?”
It looked like it had been in a Mad Max film, there wasn’t a single straight panel on it. The chap got his pen out again and basically covered the sheet in crosses! It was a case of as long as you return it with fuel in the tank, fair play. The streets in Rome are cobbled, so it’s like driving on a motocross track, and the local nutters are flat-out on big scooters with those ridiculous aprons covering up their posh clothes. They reckon the locals don’t leave their handbrakes on when they park so they can just shove cars out of the way to fit in, which I well believe. I went into full mad mode behind the wheel; with the missus screaming and Maisie whooping. After Rome we had a trip to Pompeii in the hire car, which was flat-stick all the way. I didn’t lift all the way and the poor Punto, which didn’t have enough power to pull your dick straight, was screaming its head off. When it hit 175kph I honestly thought ‘if this makes it back it will be a miracle.’
What they had in Pompeii was really special. Obviously it all ended badly, but I had to chuckle as they even had a brothel with writing on the wall about what services you could order! Imagine that, you are up to your back wheels when Mount Vesuvius volcano goes off – what do you do? Personally I’d carry on and get the last stroke in before it all got a bit hot...
Before Christmas I headed over to Belfast for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. I didn’t get a mention, but I did make it onto TV. Moto3 champ Danny Kent was supposed to be sat next to Gordon Shedden, the touring car driver. I know Gordon, so I sat next to him as I knew Danny wasn’t there. It turned out the BBC didn’t know this and Gary Lineker did a double-take as the camera panned onto me – the world must have thought Danny Kent had let himself go a bit over Christmas...
Did you see Rossi commenting on my TT lap on Twitter? How cool is that? I posted a video of the record breaking first lap from the 2015 Senior TT. He invited me out to his ranch to take part in a 100km race. I’m absolutely gutted as it’s the same day I fly out to Phillip Island to race in the Classic. That said it’s probably for the best; can you imagine the reaction if I T-boned him on a hairpin? I’d never make it out of Italy alive!
Finally, how good is it that they have added a Lightweight class to the Classic TT for 2016? I’ve still got the 250 record of 118.29mph, set in 1999 when I took my first TT win, and I reckon my Vimto Honda TSR250 will be up for the job. PB did a feature on it a while ago and while it’s not my actual 1999 machine, it’s probably even better. Blandy did a cracking job on rebuilding the engine and I reckon it could even top the record with modern tyres on it. Although I’ll probably need a new set of leathers, I’m not sure I could get a leg in the ones I wore in 1999...
What's going on with the weather at the moment? It’s a nightmare. As part of my weight loss regime I’ve been out on the motocross bike loads lately, which isn’t so bad because you start at 10am and by 2pm you have had enough.
The dark evenings aren’t too much of a problem, but the rain... Morecambe got absolutely battered by the recent winds and floods. We were lucky in some ways as the town itself didn’t get flooded, but the power sub-station is located right next to the river Lune and when it burst its banks it took it down.I’ve been in the job a while and lived in Morecambe all my life, but I’ve never seen anything like it before. It’s insane; on the Saturday and Sunday night the whole of Morecambe was out of power.
Luckily for me I wasn’t there!I was at the NEC on the Saturday and Sunday and then on Sunday evening I headed down to the Autosport Awards in London, so I was living the dream. I was getting calls from Becky saying ‘it’s horrendous’ and I was saying ‘give over, it’s hardly raining here, stop moaning’ while checking myself into a nice hotel room. It was only when I got home I realised just how bad it was. All the power was down so I did a bit of a drive around town searching out a takeaway because we couldn’t cook anything at home. There was only one Chinese open in the whole of Morecambe and about 8000 people were queuing up outside it! Honestly, it was mad, the restaurant was candle-lit but they were still knocking out the food. Monday morning, when the power came on again, we were using up the now-defrosted kiddies food. Smiley faces, chicken dinosaurs and scampi – breakfast of champions.
The Autosport Awards was a right old do, although getting down was a nightmare. I left the NEC at about 5pm and hopped on a train to London. It’s a black tie evening so there I was, sweating and rolling around in piss while I tried to put on my suit in the train’s toilet. I had ink all over my hands from signing things at the NEC and by the time I arrived in London I must have looked like I’d been in a road accident. At the awards I sat on a table with Freddie Spencer, Danny Kent and a few others, but to be honest I couldn’t really concentrate on anything anyone said as I kept staring at Felipe Massa’s hair transplants. I was transfixed. It’s hard to explain just how bad it is, but imagine a Duran Duran throwback meets Tony Hadley abortion. This month has been another whirlwind, but the highlight has to have been the Macau GP.
Everyone has been talking about my overtake on Gary Johnson, which was a bit of a beauty and I reckon probably one of my best. It was a strange overtake as Gary went really tight to defend his line and I think he went in so tight that he braked really early, which caught me out. I didn’t plan the move or anything, it was more him catching me with my pants down as I wasn’t expecting him to be that slow. In the end, instinct took over and I nipped past. It wasn’t intentional but looked good on TV and that’s all that matters! To be fair, I’d been strong all weekend and so I reckon I deserved a decent result – although no one could have stayed with Hicky. Fair play to Peter; he flew in late, handed us all our arses then hopped back on a plane and headed out for some more testing while we hit the bars. Hicky isn’t a drinker, but the old guard made up for him. Hutchy, Stuart Easton, myself and the usual suspects hit the town and didn’t see daylight for two days! There were a few incidents, the funniest of which was when one of my sponsors got a taxi sign and attempted to do an F1-style lollipop start.
He whipped the pole back but the sign fell off and hit one of the boys in the head, meaning he lost three hours of drinking time and £150 getting it stitched back together in a local hospital. It was a good few nights out, and fair play to Conor, he stepped it up on the drinking front and I think has earned an extra stripe after his performance – although he looked a little worse for wear on the plane home... While I was at Macau I ran into Katsumata San, who is one of the Mugen bosses. He looked at me, looked at my belly, looked away then did a retake and said, ‘Err, no change? You not serious about Mugen?’ I said, ‘It’s just the food in Macau, it bloats me up a bit...’ I’m not sure he believed me but to be honest I was a bit worried I might be forced to miss out on my Christmas eating the other day.
It's pissing down at the moment but I’m still packing up my dirt bikes and heading out. Why? Because I’m 15 stone and if I don’t shed a bit of weight I’m not getting a Mugen. (As I said last month, they’re going to give me one to keep if I can slim down.) I’ve been out loads in the last two weeks and backed off a bit on the eating but nothing is happening. I need that winter virus, the one that turns your arsehole into a tap. A few years ago I got pneumonia and shed a stone and a half in 10 days, which would be handy now... I’m not a chocolate fiend or anything and I spend most days out on bikes or rushing around, but when I’m home I’m flat-out in the fridge all night. Last year I saw a shrink to shed a bit of weight, which worked for a bit, but now the face-feeding has me in its grips again. I don’t see what losing weight will do to my performance, but I am making an effort. At the end of the day I’m not blowing out of my arsehole after a TT, I just look a bit red in the face, but I suppose my weight is one of those things that has always hung over me during my career.
When I retire I might ask myself, ‘Could I have done better?’ I’ve had a decent run so far but I suppose we all want a six-pack. At the moment my hair is falling out, my teeth are turning the wrong colour and I’m packing a few extra pounds – but the bottom line is I can still race a bike. Mark Webber reckons he has a plan for me; he is probably pissing in the wind but we will see.
Speaking of Webber, I have to mention the Valencia MotoGP, which was amazing. Webber, Martin Brundle, Dougie Lampkin, Johnny Walker, Jason Plato, Adrian Newey, myself and a few others chipped in and hired a private plane from Luton to get there. They are mainly car guys, but all massive bike fans and Valencia was the place to be – especially if you were a Rossi fan. I had to sit on the fence a bit as although I’m sponsored by Monster and know Vale, I’m also a Honda rider. The only person who knows if Marquez got a brown envelope full of cash from Jorge is Marc. We will never know, but you have to hand it to Lorenzo, he did a bloody good job and at the end of the day you simply can’t fight with Rossi away from the track.
When it comes to social media and PR he is the master – if he said a dog shit was red everyone would believe him. Vale winning would have been a fairytale, but he shouldn’t have booted Marc off in Sepang! I don’t blame him for doing it, but you can’t expect to get away with it. Before Valencia I was in Japan riding the Mugen with a bunch of journalists. I had to give a presentation and they handed me a piece of paper with a speech on it, which doesn’t really work for me. I’m much better winging it, but that would have been hard for the interpreter. As it was I have no idea what he was saying anyway... probably talking about the size of my cock.
I had the weekend off and Hirotoshi Honda came and picked me up. He is the son of Soichiro Honda and he took me to Mr Honda’s house. There are pictures on the walls of Mr Honda with Ayrton Senna, Wayne Gardner, Freddie Spencer, Steve McQueen and even Pele, while the house is a lovely traditional Japanese affair. They are going to turn it into a museum as in Japan you can’t hand a house down to your kids when you die. That’s why they all live in such small houses.
Despite being 72 years old, the next day Hirotoshi cycled over to meet me again and did 25 one-handed press-ups in front of me after taking the piss out of me about my weight! He is very funny, quite sarcastic, and great fun to be with. We ended up getting a bullet train to Hamamatsu to the Yamaha museum. No one had a clue who we were and afterwards we went to the Suzuki museum, which is just up the road. What a mega day out! The journalists rode the Mugen at Motegi. It was good to hear their comments, but I did laugh at some of them. When I hear someone say it’s not that fast I just think, ‘Try running it flat-out down Bray Hill’. Mugen could make it do 200mph for 10 minutes, but it is designed to do 37 miles at an average of 119.279mph, and it is bloody good at it.
Once I get back from off-roading I’ll be packing my bag and heading to Macau for the GP, which is a great end to the season and something I haven’t missed since 1998. I’ll never get bored of it and although the circuit is a bit wild and the field pretty strong, I’ll do them all in the bar afterwards! Although to be honest I’m looking forward to getting home and spending time with the family. We are taking the kids to Italy over the festive period – that’ll screw the diet up. The Italians love cheese and creamy sauces and that’s my weakness. Last night the hunger chimp told me there was a lump of brie in the fridge and I had nailed that by the time I went to bed...
Motorcycling seems to have woken up after its winter hibernation and it’s buzzing again. Race seasons have kicked off, dealers are starting to sell bikes and I’ve been out testing my Fireblade. It’s hard to imagine a few weeks ago we were reaching for our snorkels!
Honda run an official test every year, so I started spring with them at Monteblanco circuit in Spain. They invite every official Honda squad, so I was there with the BSB team of Dan Linfoot, Jason O’Halloran and Jenny Tinmouth as well as the World Endurance Frenchies and my team-mates Conor Cummins, Steve Mercer and Keith Farmer. It was good to get us all together and to have a few cheeky halves afterwards. This year we have a bit of new blood in the Jackson Racing team – and he’s a southerner!
I wasn’t sure a southerner could handle a 24-hour endurance race, but I tell you what, I wouldn’t argue with Steve Mercer. Or call him soft. He’s a proper cockney geezer and is all jellied eels, but he has a good work ethic. And even if he didn’t I wouldn’t say anything to him as he is into cage fighting! I’ve had to back off on taking the piss too much as I don’t want a clip around the ear from him.
The test itself was really encouraging and I got to ride all the specs of Fireblade – BSB, World Endurance Superstock, World Endurance Superbike and my own TT bike. Some feel a bit lighter, some are a bit faster, some a bit smoother, but at the end of the day they are all 2008 Fireblades with different tunes and a bit of dyno work. I’m super encouraged by the results Nicky Hayden and Micky van der Mark have been getting in WSB. The Blade has never been a bad bike, but those guys have proved it still has plenty of life left in it.
My TT bike has also evolved this year. It’s not a massive leap forward, but I was a second a lap faster at Monteblanco than last year. Although I did have to start each day by nailing a few paracetamols as I’ve had another tumble on my motocross bike... You fall off MX bikes all the time, but this latest one was quite cheeky. I was out with Lee Johnston and a few others and I got a bit cross-rutted on the way into a jump and it all went wrong. I went over the bars and landed on my kipper with enough force to snap my neck brace in half and write my lid off. It was quite an impact, and when your age starts with a four, recovering takes a bit longer than it used to.
Speaking of off-road, David Knight joined us at the Monteblanco test. He generally turns up when I ride trails on the Isle of Man, to demonstrate the fact we are all shit on knobbly tyres. But this time the tables were turned as he was having a run out on a Superstock bike.
The Jackson team is looking for a fourth rider so we thought we’d give Knighter a shot. He may be better known for off-road, but he is bloody handy on a road bike as well. I reckon he was only about three or four seconds a lap off our pace. That said, I did take the opportunity to pass him and tap my tail unit. I made sure I lit the rear up to show off, and to get him back for all the times he has made me look like a nobber! I don’t do as much road riding as I used to, but Dunlop gave me a call and asked if I’d like to join them on the launch of their new Roadsmart III tyre in the south of France last week. There were journalists from all over the world and some were pretty handy – it was like the North West 200 on tour! I was on a Honda Crossdresser and having to concentrate to keep up.
Fair play to Dunlop, the tyre took everything I could throw at it and the conditions were absolutely terrible. I’ve not been that cold in 40 years of riding. It was 6°C, blowing a gale and sideways rain, and I was in vented leathers and a thin waterproof. I felt like crying; it made racing 24 hours at Le Mans seem a piece of piss. My bike was the only one without heated grips, so eventually I could only use the rear brake as I had no feeling in my hands! But it could have been worse. I caught a flight out to the launch with Mark Sears, who works for Dunlop, and KLM lost our bags. I banged a quick tweet out (it’s amazing how quickly they respond when you have 100,000 followers). Sadly for Mark he isn’t as lucky and while they found my bag after a day, Mark had to ride in the knackered spare kit Dunlop had kicking around and wear the kind of clothes that make you look like a sailor, as that’s all they sell in the south of France. Believe it or not, his bag ended up in Cuba! How the hell did they manage to send it to Cuba? You can almost see the south of France from Brum...
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.
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 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.
Remember I said I was visiting the fairies at Fairy Bridge to get a bit of luck for the Classic TT last month? Well it seemed to do the job! The only problem was I took Maisie with me and about a week after, her front tooth fell out. The bastards in the paddock told her the Isle of Man fairies are more generous than the Morecambe ones so I lost £20 under her pillow. It was 50p when I was a kid. At £20 a tooth I’m going to start smashing my own teeth out!
As always the Classic TT was brilliant, and at long last I actually won one, but it didn’t go 100% to plan. During practice we had a few silly faults, and one slightly bigger one.
I’ve raced 20 TTs and four Classic TTs, but I often lie in bed thinking, ‘When am I going to go up the road?’ as I’d never fallen off. Well I broke that duck this year...
I’ve done hundreds of guided tours of the TT course on buses and the like and I always tell people, “Watch out for Quarter Bridge on your first lap as it’s slippy, you have a full tank and cold tyres.” Where did I crash? Yep, you’ve guessed it. As I was sliding up the road at Quarter Bridge on my ring piece I was thinking, ‘What a cock.’ I’m not sure what was bigger, the dent in the road or the ding in my pride... What made it worse was James Hillier was ahead of me and he turned round to watch me slide when he heard the bang. I swear I heard him laughing.
I was so angry with myself I was cursing while the marshals helped to get the bike off the course, and as soon as it was upright I hopped on, bashed the levers straight and aimed it towards the paddock. I probably shouldn’t have been riding a racebike with open megaphone pipes through Douglas High Street, or jumping the occasional red light, but I was fuming. When I got to the pits I apologised to the bike’s owner, Rodger, had a quick medical and after they had thrown a new fairing on it I headed out and set the fastest lap of practice. Maybe it does me good to get a bit fired up after all.
The race was a good battle between Dean Harrison and myself, proper nip and tuck, but it all got a bit heated afterwards between a few teams, which took a bit of the shine off the event. I don’t want to get into the ins and outs, but we declared our bigger tank at the start of the week, as we didn’t want to knock shite out of it to reduce its capacity. As for the other teams, who knows what Dunlop’s Suzuki actually is? And does it matter the Kawasaki was over-capacity? The Classic TT has no prize money, so let’s all just enjoy the racing and not get so emotional. That said, everyone wants to win, and when you consider the Paton has a top speed of 138mph and we held an average lap of 113.3mph, you aren’t backing off at many places. Every lap is a pleasure, even more so when you bag a trophy. But that wasn’t the only trophy I got this month.
I’d never raced at the Goodwood Revival, but this year I got the chance. I teamed up with Glen English on one of Fred Walmsley’s bikes. ‘Kentucky’ Fred is a legend and was the first man in the UK to have a KFC franchise! The bike was a ‘1953 long-stroke, double-knocker ballbag’ or something, but it stopped in practice before I could ride it, so Fred said, “Get that old Gold Star out of the garage” and we qualified on that instead.
I started race one, and managed to out-run the old codgers in the Le Mans start. Quite quickly Steve Brogan came past and then 68-year-old Charlie Williams on a 1930s Rudge! He was on a mission but the race was stopped due to rain, but not before Troy Corser lobbed a priceless BMW right next to me. Thankfully, Sunday was dry and Glen built up a 17-second lead when he handed over to me, so all I had to do was not fall off. I still had a good battle with Scott Smart and Steve Brogan, who tried to stick his thumb up my arse when he passed me! A brave move considering I was still a bit touch-and-go after the night before.
The Revival hosts a ball on Saturday evening, with a ‘comic book heroes’ theme. I went as Robin while Becky was Batgirl, Michael Dunlop was Iron Man and Steve Brogan Penis Man or something, with a giant cock between his legs. I’m not sure where he was going with that. We all got a bit banjoed, fell over in the mud and I had to wash Becky down with the motorhome’s exterior shower before letting her in! Entrance of the night went to two Spitfire pilots who did an airshow, landed on the grass in front of the ball and casually removed their flying suits to reveal their costumes underneath before walking in without batting an eye. How cool is that?
John McGuinness, road racer.
At the moment I’m back in the TT paddock, looking out of my motorhome window at a grey and miserable sky. It’s pissing down with rain and we are meant to be starting practice for the Classic TT tomorrow. It couldn’t be more of a contrast from this year’s glorious weather at the TT, but that’s how it goes. I never look at the long-range weather forecasts when I’m racing as there is nothing you can do about it anyway. You can change your knickers, but not the weather.
The Classic TT is a great event and you get all the top names from the TT coming over to race, which does upset a few of the old boy racers. Personally, I’m always up for a few more laps around my beloved Mountain course, so that is one draw, but I also really like the different atmosphere you get with the classic bikes.
The whole event is a lot more chilled for me than the TT, which always feels like I have 10 bags of cement on my shoulders and I can get a bit grumpy. When I come to the Classic it’s more fun and there’s less pressure, so it’s more like a family holiday. I think technically it is actually meant to be a high-speed parade, but once that flag drops you can forget any thoughts of taking it easy, you are full on the gas despite the fact the bikes are classics. I want to win a Classic as much as a TT, in some ways even more so. The one trophy missing from my cabinet is a Classic TT victory trophy, which is why I’ve taken extra steps this year to ensure one comes home with me to Morecambe.
I went down to the Fairy Bridge the other day with Maisie; we wrote a note to the fairies asking for the bike to keep going this year! For the last three years it has broken down when I’ve been leading the race, so I’m prepared to try anything to make that finish line. Talk about gutting, but it demonstrates just how hard we are riding them.
They may have Norton, AJS, MV, Paton, or whatever on their tanks, but these bikes are full-on modern racers and my Paton 500 is a beautiful bit of kit which, until I joined the team, seemed to win just about every race it entered! Roger, the bike’s owner, is a wonderful old codger who is really passionate about classic racing, and his wife Patricia also loves the racing. It’s a great family team and they turn out a sorted bike, which you need for the Classic.
People see the old bangers and imagine we are taking it easy, but I tell you, riding a classic is just as hard as a superbike. They may look like old machines, and vibrate and rattle like a classic should, but they are built with modern technology and components and they get a fair old lick on. It’s amazing really, I often look at the Paton and think,‘That’s a nice bike’, then I see the 110-section rear tyre and remember the front tyre on my superbike is wider and think, ‘I’m not so sure now.’ But while it hasn’t got any power compared to a big bike, the actual grip and chassis feel you get from a classic machine is right up there.
Power tends to make a bike want to tie itself in knots, so the fact the classics lack grunt actually makes them faster in some ways. In a 100mph corner, the Paton is as fast as my superbike and it has modern suspension and brakes so it stops well, too. Like I said, you ride them pretty hard and I’ve topped a 112mph lap, which is really fast for an air-cooled parallel twin 500 with skinny tyres and spoked wheels. But you need to have mechanical sympathy.
I ride my Paton a lot like I did my old two-stroke racebikes. You don’t thrash them to death. I grew up on strokers and you gain a kind of sixth sense for how an engine likes to be treated. It’s a balance between riding hard and ensuring the motor lasts. That said, I watched Dean Harrison last year and there wasn’t much mechanical sympathy as he came into Parliament Square! I just wish the classics were a bit quieter – I don’t ride with earplugs so I’m as deaf as a post when I get off it and my head is ringing for hours afterwards. Not that you can complain...
If you grumble at all in a classic paddock you get some old boy saying, ‘It was harder in my day, you youngsters don’t know you are born...’ Which gets me wondering whether I’d have liked to have raced in the classic era? I think I probably would have – no social media, no people watching you all the time, less pressure, a few beers after a race, more free spirit and shagging – but it was certainly more dangerous. That said, racing is dangerous in any era; the TT circuit hasn’t really changed for more than 100 years and the stone walls certainly aren’t getting any softer with age..
At the moment I’m sitting on the sofa watching the MotoGP qualifying while tucking into the remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway. What is it about takeaway food that makes it taste so much better cold the next day?
It’s been quite a rush of late. The other week I spent a few days in Wales with Honda, at some place I can’t even pronounce let alone spell. We were at an off-road event for the Africa Twin, so I was on hand to pull skids and generally have a laugh. I didn’t think a 230kg roadbike would be any use off-road, but it was really impressive what you could get it to do.
I turned up at Silverstone for a chat show the other week. The event was full of car types in blazers and mustard coloured trousers. I rolled in wearing leathers; they didn’t quite get it! Where do you actually buy mustard-coloured trousers anyway?
That wasn’t the only time I was at Silverstone this month, I also managed to blag my way into the F1. It’s surprising just how many F1 types are motorbike fans, I was noseying at the cars and all the mechanics just wanted to talk about bikes! I had a quick chat with Damon Hill, who was pretty handy on two-wheels at Brands in his day.
I was chatting to Martin Brundle, who also rides, and saw Bernie Ecclestone walking by. You don’t get the chance to speak to Bernie every day and I just got the urge. It was going to go one of two ways – he would either tell me to piss off or chat. He was cool, used to run a bike team and after a quick natter about the TT he lent over and whispered in my ear ‘these boys have got no balls...’
I got a grid pass for the F1, which is full factory. It was proper chaotic as it pissed down with rain drops the size of 50p coins as the grid formed! I was soaked to my balls but I toughed it out despite getting banged and barged out of the way as all the mechanics went into meltdown! It was funny, I’m obviously not a big enough celeb in the F1 world to get picked up by the TV crews, so I just hovered around and tried to get in the back of a few shots! I even wore a shirt with a collar and a pair of boating shoes. Maybe I should also have had a jacket and mustard trousers...
Halfway through the F1 weekend I jumped in a car with Ewan and headed over to Cardiff for the speedway GP. How good is that? Two top-level GP events in one weekend. It’s an amazing event and a great night out. The 40,000-strong crowd went bonkers. The racing was awesome and although Tai didn’t win, I was glad Antoni Lindback did. He’s had a rough old life; he was orphaned in South Africa before a Swedish family found him in a slum and brought him up. He’s a nice kid, but his dreadlocks make him look like Predator when he is on a bike! A worthy winner, unlike myself apparently...
I did a bit of classic endurance racing at Spa this month, which has always been a dream of mine. It’s a proper old-school big balls track! I was on a Harris Magnum framed 1982 Honda with a chap called Steven Neate as my team-mate and we won the Legends class. But we were disqualified because, at under 50, I was too young! We were actually protested by some miserable old ex-racer, I mean, how petty is that? There wasn’t even any prize money at stake. I didn’t care but I felt a bit sorry for Steven. Although I was a bit distracted as on my way to Spa I discovered my credit cards and bank account had been cloned. I got a call asking if I had just spent £10,300 in John Lewis. My first thought was “what the hell has Becky bought now?” But she was sitting next to me, and then the rest of the banks started to call. It’s all sorted now, but I had to laugh as I’ve just got a John Lewis loyalty card through the post and my loyalty points balance is through the roof!
Before Spa I gave the 2016 Mugen a run up the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which was a nice change from the usual petrol bikes and the first time it has been there. I love Goodwood but the weather was terrible a few days beforehand. I took the McGuinness motorhome and the campsite looked like Glastonbury! I was rally driving it through the site and my pride and joy was up to its axles in mud.
The Goodwood ball was the usual drunken affair and the bike riders didn’t let the side down – even Tom Sykes sank a fair few beers, which is unlike him. I banjoed myself trying to get Steve Mercer drunk and we were the last to leave. I don’t actually remember this, but apparently I moonied as I left, while a few girls shoved flowers between my arse cheeks...
John McGuinness, road racer