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!