Many motorcycles in the Isle of Man TT go up in smoke. Many don't finish the race.

Up in Smoke

An Article by Mike Nicks




McGuinness in trouble

McGuinness in despair after a crash in practice at the Senior

Up in Smoke


That’s how a lot of bikes go on the Island.  Many don’t finish the race. 


All of the old city to city motorcycle and car races were banned long ago, and most of the long-closed circuits of the classic era have been shortened and tamed.  The 1903 Paris-Madrid car spectacle was staged for one year only, the 800-mile Milano -Taranto motorcycle spree ended in 1956 and the Mille Miglia car race expired in 1957 after a 30-year life.  Grand Prix motorcycle racing abandoned the 8.76-mile Spa-Francorchamps in 1978, the 14.2-mile Nurburgring loop in the 1980, and the Targa Florio on the 45-mile Madonie circuit in Sicily terminated in 1973.

But the 37.73 mile Isle of Man TT Mountain Circuit survives, an anachronism in an era when safety precedes spectacle — and the re-invention of the former Manx Grand Prix classic races as the Classic TT in 2013 has only served to magnify its appeal.  The Classic TT is less perilous for riders than the June TT event; riding a 200 bhp, 195mph BMW S1000RR in the modern Superbike TT has the effect of multiplying the amount of corners you experience compared to a 50bhp 500cc Manx Norton with a 135mph top end.

The riders who lap at 130mph-plus speeds are the heroes of the TT, but for me it’s the bike builders and team owners who represent true grit in the Classic TT.  The Mountain Circuit is a bike-slayer: to get through practice week with an intact motorcycle is an accomplishment.  To put together a machine that finishes one of the four-lap 150.92-mile Classic TT races is an achievement.  To create one that has the speed and the durability to win a Classic TT, with young firebrands such as Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison at the throttle, fresh from TT bikes with slipper clutches and mass-produced dependability, is the ultimate.


Many bikes in the Isle of Man TT go up in smoke. Many don't finish the race.


Many bikes in the Isle of Man TT don't finish the race.

Many bikes don’t make it to the grid, even among the top teams.  Black Eagle Racing withdrew Michael Dunlop’s 500cc MV in practice week.  Team Classic Suzuki owner Steve Whitman lost an engine and had to withdraw one of his three XR69s.  Lincolnshire collector John Chapman paid £250,000 for an Italian-built 500cc MV triple, but it expired with a holed piston on its first lap.  “That’s £11,000 a mile it’s cost me,” Chapman rued.  Winfield Racing suffered a nipped-up motor on John McGuinness’s Paton and had to make an engine change.  Ripley Land Racing, chasing the first 110 mph lap by a classic single, also swapped an engine on Michael Rutter’s Seeley G50.  Metal carnage was everywhere.Yet still they come back, called by the mystiquee of the Mountain Circuit.  This attitude of many bike builders is summed up by the experience of the Brian Richards Racing Team, whose G50 is owned by 35-year old Angela Craig.  Its twin-cam, four-valve engine is a radical departure from the soho, two-valve standard G50, and is designed and manufactured by Molnar Precision. With 60bhp at the rear wheel and two-time Lightweight TT winner Ivan Lintin as the pilot, the team hoped to approach the 110mph Brit-single barrier, but the G50 stopped with a seized big-end on the first lap of the Senior race. “We will be back each year until we are fully satisfied with our performance,” promised Duncan Dunbar, an ex-Mercedes-Benz Formula 1 engineer who is supporting the team. 


Another one bites the dust

Another one bites the dust

Many bikes in the Isle of Man TT go up in smoke. Many don't finish the race.



The MV 500 was withdrawn




Here we see the Mountain Circuit addiction at work.  This year’s Classic TT race programme was expanded to four events with the additionn of the new 250cc Lightweight TT.  It attracted 55 entries, mainly of Yamaha TZs and Honda R5s, but only 21 bikes survived the race.  This had an air of predictability, given the paucity of spares for these bikes.  But what happens in classic racing is that once a new event or championship is established, the cottage industry of parts makers that nourishes the sport begins to make components. We can expect more entries and finishers in subsequent years.   The tuner-rider pairing of Clive Padgett and Bruce Anstey is the most versatile in racing.  From parts in his Batley motorcycle shop, from acquaintances and the internet, Padgett built a Honda RS250 in four days, and Anstey won the inaugural race.  In one season this pair have now campaigned Honda Fireblade Superbike and Superstock machines, a Honda RC213V-S (the MotoGP-derived V4road bike), a CBR600 Supersport bike and, at the Classic TT, a ’92 Yamaha YZR500 V4 two-stroke and a V-twin RS250 stroker.


Many bikes in the Isle of Man Classic TT go up in smoke.



The most unexpected win this year went to Michael Dunlop and Black Eagle Racing MV triple in the 350cc Junior Classic.  Dunlop’s absolute TT lap record of 133.962mph is almost 10mph quicker than the top speed of the 56bhp baby MV, and he is known as a robust rider who stomps down through the gearbox of his slipper- clutch equipped modern bikes. 


You wouldn’t have bet on the MV surviving past practice week.  In addition, the MV required a pit stop, whereas the more frugal Honda K4 twins could run straight through.  But Dunlop overcame a 30-second deficit at one point in the race to give the Keys their third Class TT victory with their 500cc and 350cc close copies of originals ridden back in the ‘70s by Giacomo Agostini.


Michael Dunlop wins the 350cc Junior Classic TT

Michael Dunlop wins the 2016 Okell's Classic TT on the Black Eagle Team MV


Many bikes in the Isle of Man Classic TT races go up in smoke.

Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop raced MVs for Black Eagle Racing

Many bikes in the Isle of Man Classic TT races fail to finish.