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.