We ride Joey Dunlop’s Honda’s at the Goodwood Festival of Speed

"Keep her above 40 degrees and she’ll run sweet. Above 70, begin to worry but if it hits 80 switch her off because she'll seize" says Barry from the Joey Dunlop Foundation, flanked by my Chief Mechanic for the weekend, Steve Harris, brother of the bikes owner John whose dealership Joey raced for.

They’re talking about a 1994 Honda RS250 – my steed for my debut run up the Goodwood Hill during the Festival of Speed. The Honda lines up alongside other historic and iconic bikes raced by Dunlop during his road racing career to form ‘The Dunlop Dynasty’.

It’s a perfect replica of the bike he’d raced with great success through the 80s and is owned by John Harris – “a friend not a sponsor,” says the man himself. In fact, John tells me Joey had been sitting on that very bike just 24 hours before he was killed in an accident in Estonia in 2000.

 

Onboard Joey Dunlop's Honda CBR600 at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2017 | BikeSocial
Join Michael Mann on board Joey Dunlop's 1998 Honda CBR600 and take a ride up the Goodwood hill

At that time it belonged to another racer but within months of Dunlop’s untimely death, Harris had tracked it down a bought it. He said, “The combination of RS250 and Joey, it was the perfect combination. He fitted it perfectly and was almost unbeatable on a 250 in the 90’s”.

As I'm nearing the start line ahead of the 1.16-mile climb, lined by thousands of petrol heads, the digital temperature gauge is climbing. The finely-tuned machine is ticking over nicely but I’m conscious to keep it running so as not to suffer the near-certain poor ending of a bump start on the live Goodwood YouTube feed and in front of world champions and TT winners.

It's into the early 70s now and I make my move. Ushering esteemed motorcycling personalities out of the way as my little 250 is about to boil its guts if it doesn't get moving soon.

 

Michael Mann rides Joey Dunlop

They see, or possibly smell, the 2-stroke and offer an understanding nod.

And we're almost off. I follow a Foggy Petronas, shuffling towards the starter. The ill-fated homologation special 900cc triple from 2003 heads off and I'm next. The FP1 disappears around the first corner and I select first on the road-shift pattern ‘box and feel for the clutch bite point. I'm waved off and make sure I give the little Honda plenty of gas. First gear is tall and it splutters through 6, 7, 8,000rpm but clears and I find second before a dainty tip into the first corner soaking in this dream. Out of the trees and I glance left and right at the crowd ahead before a quick look at the temperature gauge. It’s dropping like a stone. Relief. 

Michael Mann with Joey Dunlop

I’d been entrusted with a bike belonging to a guy who regards the day his friend died as the “saddest of my life”. This responsibility is at the front of my mind. I can’t mess it up. My wife and son are on the outside of the track near the bridge, a quick wave before opening the throttle and up to the left-hander at Molcombe. It’s before 10am yet the grandstands are packed, the sun’s out and there are thousands more watching on the live feed. This really is a bucket list-ticking moment.

The RS250 is lighter than air, small in dimension but big in heart. I already feel at home here despite being far taller and heavier than the 26-time TT winner.

Zipping past the chequered flag and there’s a run between the trees and bales for a good few hundred yards where you’re on your own. And breath. It’s almost over, already.

 

Michael Mann, Lee Johnston and Sam Sunderland laughing together

I flick the kill switch, lean the RS250 against a post and sit on a straw bale alongside two-time TT winner, Gaz Johnson, who talks about how good the Triumph Supersport bike is with the changes he made, to the rear sprocket specifically, after the first Supersport race. He reckons he'd have won if the rain-terminating second race had run.

Sam Sunderland, the first British winner of the Dakar Rally comes thundering up the hill on his Red Bull KTM, not on the tarmac but on the grass. He parks up and sits next to us laughing about nearly being taken out by a sidecar as he pulled a wheelie up the hill.

I must be in some kind of computer game where I’ve created my avatar. Other than Dakar and TT winners, there’s Giacomo Agostini, Freddie Spencer, Freddie Sheene, Michael and William Dunlop, Bruce Anstey, James Hillier, Trevor Nation, Troy Corser, Maria Costello, Jenny Tinmouth and Gordon Sheddon.

 

Packed grandstands at the Goodwood Festival of Speed
"Keep her above 40 degrees and she’ll run sweet. Above 70, begin to worry but if it hits 80 switch her off because she'll seize" 
Barry Steels The Joey Dunlop Foundation
Michael Mann sits on Joey Dunlop

No more than 10 minutes later and we're off again on our return journey back down half the hill and into the paddock. Not one-by-one this time but more like a Le Mans style start as riders scamper to get back down. A quick bump start and who do I find myself behind? None other than Ago, the 15-time World Champion and 10-time TT winner. I keep 100 yards back mainly because I can't hear the Honda over his MV!

Rolling back into the paddock with the marshals blowing their whistles and parting the crowds like Moses and the Red Sea. I stall the bike but who cares, I just paddle back. And it's over.

Hold on, I’ve got a run on Sunday morning too.

Michael Mann stands next to Joey Dunlop
Mattie Griffin does stunts on a motorcycle

This time Dave Hancocks, Mr Fireblade, Honda test rider and R&D legend, asks if I’m riding the RS250 again. I’m not, so he swoops. He says what are you on. This time it’s the bike Freddie Spencer rode the previous day, the ‘98 CBR600 Joey had raced and won on in the wet just 24 hours before he was killed. Owned and prepared once again by John Harris Motorcycles, this was the bike Joey finished 4th on in the 2000 Junior 600 TT (having won the 125 race earlier that day).

“It’s not quite fuelled right so give it plenty off the line,” says Hancocks.

Those words stay with me as I ride from the collecting area down the hill with the other 30 bikes to the start line. BMW’s professional stunt rider Mattie Griffin unlocks his top drawer of tricks and warms up nearby before his run. I chat to Ian Mackman, ex-Norton factory rider who is in charge of Josh Brooke’s SG6 that cantered to two top-10 finishes at the 2017 TT, despite having the number ‘1’ plate on it run by team-mate David Johnson.

There’s no temperature gauge to worry about this time just Mr Hancocks’ words ringing in my ears. There’s also an electric starter. I give the 600 a big fist and pootle up the hill. I don’t feel worthy enough to offer a wave. The bike is what they want to see, not an unknown non-TT winner! The grandstands are full, the standing crowds are easily six deep and I’m smiling.

 

Michael Mann rides Joey Dunlop

Again the gearbox is a road shift pattern and I make sure the Honda can be heard but the climb is over too quickly before once again coming to rest against a post at the top of the hill. Troy Corser follows me on a race-prepped BMW S1000RR before ripping through a rear tyre doing a huuuuge burn-out outside the Riders Lounge.

And on the way back down I think, I may never get to do this again, so I waved at everyone. As I step down from Cloud 9, the bikes are prepared to head back to the Motor Museum in Jurby on the Isle of Man.

 

Joey Dunlop

John Harris – long time sponsor and friend of Joey Dunlop

John Harris wasn’t at Goodwood but I spoke to him about his relationship with Joey Dunlop and the work he does with The Joey Dunlop Foundation afterwards.

They met in 1991. Harris said, “We bought a Honda CBR600 and were doing British Supercup in ‘91. Part of the contract with Honda we had to use that machine in a number of meetings. One day Neil Tuxworth (Honda Racing boss) called asking if it would be ok for Joey to ride the 600 at the TT in ’91. I thought it was a wind-up.”

Harris first met Joey about 10 mins before the Supersport 600 Race. He went on to finish 6th and said that he’d enjoyed riding the bike.

Afterwards, Harris made contact with Joey’s manager in late ’91 and went over to see him in ’92. Joey wanted to race the Regal series, the TT and the NW200 on the bike and their friendship grew from there.

Harris said, “If you did your best then that, in his book, was good enough. He was a great guy and a great loss.”

He wanted to put something back into the Isle of Man so The Joey Dunlop Injured Riders Fund was set up after his death which was later renamed The Joey Dunlop Foundation. The charity provides specialist accommodation for visitors to the Isle of Man with a disability. A house at Braddan Bridge was opened in 2010 by Joey’s wife Linda and John McGuinness.

An extension to the facilities was due to be opened at the TT on Mad Sunday by Linda, Gary, Michael and William Dunlop but the weather-affected TT meant the opening was postponed and is due to now take place on Sunday 27th August, during the Classic TT.

For more information, please visit http://www.joeydunlopfoundation.com/

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