Monday, July 09, 2012

John McGuinness: “Everything about the TT has changed…”


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John McGuinness can lap the 60km Isle of Man TT circuit at average speeds of 211km/h. Don't know about you, but for us, that makes him the God of motorcycle road racing...

With a very impressive 19 wins at the Isle of Man, 40-year-old John McGuinness is currently at the top of his game. One of the fastest, most talented motorcycle racers in the world, McGuinness – sometimes referred to as the Morecambe Missile – holds the outright lap record at the IoM, averaging 211.75km/h around the 60km TT circuit in 2009. If that doesn’t make him the God of motorcycle racing, we don’t know what would.

We’ve always been huge fans of the Isle of Man TT, even if we do think the risk factor is a bit too high – given the number of fatal accidents that happen there every year, it never ceases to amaze us that the race actually hasn’t yet been legislated out of existence. And, of course, we have nothing but respect and admiration for the talent and sheer bravery of the men who choose to race at the IoM despite all the dangers.

We recently had the opportunity to put some questions to John McGuinness, who’s been racing at the IoM for 17 years now, about what it’s really like to race at the Isle of Man, and here’s what he had to say:

On finding motivation and whether it gets more difficult with every passing year

The motivation is as strong as ever and the day it isn’t is the day I won’t do it anymore. I can’t imagine being at the TT and not wanting to win races. I wouldn’t say it gets more difficult but there is always the threat of the younger, fitter riders on my heels. Having said that, all the racing that I have been doing in EWC with the Honda TT Legends means I am bike-fit. In terms of preparation, I’ve done a lot of hours on the bike and it is definitely paying off.

On what has changed in the last 15 years

Everything about the TT has changed. It’s bigger, it’s more organised and there is definitely an increased awareness of safety. Over the last few years the interest in the TT has really grown and you can see it all around the paddock. Bigger trucks, better bikes, lots of investment from sponsors. It’s great to see such interest and that can only be a good thing, but you wouldn’t want the event to lose its charm.

On dealing with risk

The risk is all part of it and it’s why a lot of people do it. You don’t think about what could happen, you just get on with the job. If there is an incident on track I don’t look and I don’t ask questions until the job is done. My wife and family are very supportive and always have been. They come to every race. My mum always says to me “Make sure you win but don’t go too fast” – I don’t know how she figures that one out! The wife sits in the grandstand with the other families, radio in her ear and her fingers crossed.

On what it takes to win at the IoM

It’s a combination of all of those things [experience and knowledge of the circuit, sheer bravery, talent, the right motorcycle, the team…] and it all has to come together at the right time. Without one or the other, the wins wouldn’t come. I obviously have a really good knowledge of the circuit now, but there are subtle changes every year and without a great bike under me and good team around me I wouldn’t be winning.

On how his TT race-winning Honda Fireblade is different from the stock CBR1000RR

My TT bike is not actually too far away from what you can buy in the Honda showrooms. As with any race bike, it spends more time at the top end of the rev range so the engine is tuned to give more top end power. The engine produces around 210bhp compared to about 170 on a stock bike. The chassis is based very closely to the stock bike, as it is a great bike on the road already. We just upgrade the forks and shock to cope with the high speed bumps and braking from 320km/h down to 50km/h. The same goes for the brakes, there's nothing wrong with the road bike brakes but we do have to be upgraded for the TT course, as they have to cope with so much more and very heavy use, from high speeds down to low speed.

On whether the top MotoGP riders would be able to do well at the IoM TT and whether John himself might do well in MotoGP or World Superbikes

I think they’ve got enough talent to go well and have success, but if they came for the first time they would get blown into the weeds! It would take a good three years to be really competitive but there’s no reason why they couldn’t be if they really wanted it. The other way round, at the stage I am in my life now, at my age and at my fitness level I would definitely struggle!

On whether he’s ever been tempted to go racing in MotoGP or World Superbikes

I actually did compete in the World Supersport Championship in 2002 while still doing road racing. I combined the two and of course I wanted to be a short track world champion, but my career took a different path and I’ve excelled on the roads. I also did three 500 GP races as a British wild card in 98, 99 and 2000 and scored points in all them. I was offered a GP ride in 1999 but the package wasn’t competitive so I changed direction. I would consider doing a wild card again, but I would struggle now.

On his racing rivals, whom he admires most

It has to be Joey Dunlop, alongside David Jeffries. I didn’t race with DJ for very long but he was by far the fiercest competitor I have ever raced against. He did the treble three times in his last three TTs so he was pretty special. Of course, Joey is the most respected rider for me, that goes without saying.

On electronic rider aids like traction control and ABS etc.

Cars, motorbikes – they are all made to go faster than we are actually allowed to on the roads. We use ABS on the world endurance bikes and I think that’s a positive thing. If your average rider sees us using it they might realise that it’s not such a bad thing.

On the experience of racing a Mugen electric bike in the TT Zero this year

It was really good fun. Very, very different to the normal bikes but still fun. The technology is interesting and it will probably be the direction we go in the future, by the time I’m old and decrepit!

On what he think the IoM TT race organizers can do to get more involvement from motorcycle manufacturers, racing teams and sponsors

They are already doing a lot. The event is bigger and better than it has ever been. All the media stuff I had to do during the TT is testament to that. There is so much interest now from all over the world, and not just from the motorcycle media either. The TT is going beyond the motorcycle world now and that is great for manufacturers and sponsors.

On the partying scene at the IoM TT and how it’s changed in recent years

It is much different now! In the past it was a lot more relaxed and a much smaller event so we’d all go out on the beers, but now the whole thing is taken much more seriously. In 2006 we won three races and I remember being out on the town until 5 a.m. with my mechanics. We were eating chips, cheese and gravy on the seafront and watching the sun come up at 5.15 a.m. with the seagulls stealing our chips! You haven’t done the TT unless you’ve done an all-nighter and fed the seagulls at sunrise! Nowadays though it’s much quieter for me. I have the wife and kids and we spend more time together as a family.

Quick Shift
Favourite cuisine: Chinese
Favourite music/band: I’ve never bought a record in my life, but I like a bit of an 80s power ballad! Anything from Duran Duran to Madonna.
Motorcycle he lusted after when he was a teenager: Joey Dunlop’s factory RVF750
Dream car: Now I’m a bit older, a Rolls Royce Phantom
Favourite place to go on a holiday: I don’t go on holiday much but it’s nice to be anywhere with the kids
Favourite film: TT3D: Closer to the Edge
Favourite actress: Kate Winslet
Favourite drink: Gin and Tonic

We thank John McGuinness for taking time out from his busy schedule to do this interview for Faster and Faster. And, of course, we wish him all the best for the future - may he win many, many more races at the Isle of Man...!

“John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John “John

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