TT 2017: Honda Racing boss, “If a rider doesn’t want to race then I don’t want them anywhere near a bike”

Rachael Clegg
By Rachael Clegg
CleggRachael Creator of crazy art-nude historic motorsport books and calendars, journalist and artist.
Guy Martin, Johnny Twelvetrees and Neil Tuxworth

“Things could be worse, we could be having a week like Theresa May’s,” said Honda Racing’s team manager Jonny Twelvetrees as he waves goodbye to one of the worst TTs in Honda’s 58-years of  racing on the island.

John McGuinness, one of the marque’s most successful riders in its entire history, was ruled out of riding after a technical issue caused him to crash at the North West 200. 

With McGuinness out of action the team focussed on their other rider, truck mechanic-cum-TV star Guy Martin, to race the brand-new Fireblade SP2.

This TT’s relentless rain - the worst the event has seen in decades - meant that practice sessions were few and far between, vastly cutting much-needed track time for the bike and rider. This was a particular problem for Martin, who hasn’t competed at the TT since 2015. Then, in the superbike race, Martin crashed at the notorious Doran’s Bend after hitting a false neutral.

When interviewed after the race Martin said that there was ‘a box full of neutrals on the bike,’ which meant he lacked the engine braking to negotiate the tricky section. He described the bike as a ‘Jonah’: “It doesn’t like me and it doesn’t like John.”

Martin sustained an injury to his wrist and decided not to race in Wednesday’s Supersport race and also withdrew from racing in the Senior race.

Twelvetrees said, “Everyone has bad TTs but I didn’t want this year’s to be one. The team was absolutely buzzing at the start and everyone was working so hard with the new bike, which was everything we were asking for; more horsepower, a spot-on chassis and a bit of electronics as well.”

“We developed a really good bike and we headed off to the North West and John had his crash there and that brings it home to everyone, especially in road racing. We’re all really shaken up by that. But equally, credit to the team, they are all really professional and they said ‘right, we are going to throw the kitchen sink at the TT and get behind Guy and do everything in our power to give him the best package possible.”

The team weren’t expecting an epic victory but nor were they expecting a week of set backs, a crash and a withdrawal from entry.

“We always knew a win would be a long shot, particularly having seen the results at Cookstown and the North West but it’s our job to make a bike go as fast as it possibly can with that rider.”

He said: “Obviously even before arriving we looked at the weather forecast and we knew we would be up against it.”

But they made allowances and asked Guy Martin’s former team boss Wilson Craig if they could run his 600cc machine under Honda Racing livery. In theory, this would give Martin as much practice as possible on the track, especialy as practice sessions are split into classes.

“You can do all the testing you like at Castle Combe but it’s not the same as coming to the Isle of Man. We came here and Guy had a lot of feedback for us from the first night’s practice in terms of what he wanted the bike changing. We thought we had got to a good platform in terms of engine characteristics and chassis-wise it was fine but unfortunately before Glen Helen he came off. Thank God he’s alright because it was a bloody big crash. But that knocked us back.”
Guy Martin sits out the Senior

According to Twelvetrees the crash has nothing to with the SP2’s technical composition. “Nothing happened on the bike. It was a false neutral. The gearbox and everything was fine… But the bike was moving very quickly. 

“After that we were fully prepared for Guy to say to the team ‘guys, thanks for everything you’ve done but I don’t feel that I can ride.’

But Twelvetrees says that never came until the afternoon of the Thursday before the Friday Senior race. In light of events at the TT the team are having a week off to evaluate what’s happened and ‘regroup.’

“It’s a case of we’re all going to go away and stop thinking about bikes or racing and then we’ll regroup and figure out what our plans are.”

Honda has dominated the IOM TT races since it first came to the island in 1959 with the bird-like 125cc machines. The Japanese marque has driven Joey Dunlop, Mike Hailwood, Phillip McCallen, Ian Hutchinson, Bruce Anstey and John McGuinness - among many others - to staggering speeds and podium successes.

“To say we’ve had an awful lot of success here is the biggest understatement,” says Twelvetrees. “But it shows that you can’t have them all and even with the best laid plans sometimes it doesn’t work out in racing. But that’s the beauty of it and that’s why we all love racing. But of course that doesn’t make it any easier for the team and Guy himself. We all have the dream of winning.”

As for the future of the SP2, he said: “Guy’s talking about development of the bike but when it comes to development that’s non stop. It doesn't stop. The bike is never fast enough. You can never go fast enough and you can always make life easier for the rider and make him more comfortable on the bike and push on more. But we will press on. In BSB Jason O’Halloran has gone to the top of the time sheets above Shakey Byrne on the same bike.”

As far as being ready for the TT is concerned, Twelvetrees says the power is there. “As I have said many times it has been our job this two weeks to develop the bike for Guy. But for whatever reason he still wasn’t happy with the work that we’ve done and ultimately if he doesn’t want to ride I have full respect for his decision.”

“If a rider doesn’t want to race then I don’t want them anywhere near a bike… ultimately it is the rider’s decision and I’m pleased that he has done what he’s done. If you have to ask yourself ‘should I be doing this?’ then you already know the answer.”

The team’s next road race is the Southern 100, which takes place in the south of the Isle of Man in Castletown. But who will ride?

“Guy’s on the schedule to ride at the Southern, that’s our plan A but when we go back we will evaluate and talk to him a bit more and see what he fancies. I chatted to him last night and he said  ‘I think we are in a good place with the bike to have a go at the Southern’ and we will go from there.”

Speaking about the Southern 100 after the TT Zero - in which Martin came second - he said: “Hopefully I’ll be there on the Honda if the lads will let us have it. If not we’ll dig something out of the shed.”

If there’s one thing to be learned from this year’s TT - apart from to invest in decent wellies - it’s that wins cannot be taken for granted. But as Twelvetrees says: “That’s why we love racing.”

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