Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 Isle of Man Classic TT

For the fourth year in a row, Team Obsolete had been invited by the Classic TT organizers to participate in the Lap of Honour and Jurby Festival.  This year we shipped over the Arter Matchless 'Wagon Wheels', so named because it was perhaps the first bike to race with cast magnesium wheels.  This is the bike that Peter Williams developed and used to finish 2nd in the Senior TT three times, behind Ago on the MV-3 in '70 & '71, and Jack Findley on a water cooled 500 Suzuki twin in '73.  Chasing Findley, Peter did a 102.72 MPH lap, a single cylinder lap record that stood until Robert Dunlop won the inaugural Ultralightweight TT on an RS 125 Honda in 1989.
In addition to the T/O entourage of Rob Iannucci, Josh Mackenzie (who had done much of the prep on Wagon Wheels), Josh's girlfriend Cristy, Mike Gontesky and Stu Carter, Peter Williams himself came over.  Peter hadn't been there since 2000, and people were very glad to see him and be able to say hello.
The Arter Matchless 'Wagon Wheels' at Team Obsolete HQ
Mike and I arrived Wed., 23 Aug., and we picked up a rental car and van.  We got oriented and uncrated the bike.  Thurs. morning, Rob and Stu arrived and I took Stu around for a lap of the course. That afternoon, Josh and Cristy arrive and Fri., after signing on and Scrutineering, I took them around for a lap.  We stopped for a cup of tea with a couple we had met at dinner at the hotel the night before who lived on the course near Cronk-y-voddy crossroads.  They suggested the we get lunch at the Milntown Cafe, just outside Ramsey.
This year's Transit Van
Saturday was the first day of racing and we went to Barregarrow to watch the Senior Classic from the top.  This is a very fast, blind bend that then drops down a steep hill at the bottom of which it bends again and the bikes bottom their suspension and drift (or wobble) to the curb.  Initially is was close between John McGuinness on the Paton and Dean Harrison on an MV 3.  Harrison pitted at the end of the second lap, but McGuinness wait until the end of the 3rd lap and established a clear lead with a new lap record.  Maria Costello ended up a very popular 3rd on another Paton.
The view across the circuit at the top of Barregarrow
We had parked on the outside of the circuit but were spectating on the inside.  I had thought we'd be able to walk across the circuit between races so we could drive into Kirkmichael for some lunch, but it turns out that wasn't permitted.  So, to kill time until the next race, we walked up the road that headed toward Brandywell on the other side of the course.  We walked maybe a couple of miles with beautiful views of the Irish Sea behind us when a guy on a dual sport bike came up a trail towards the road we were on.  He stop to open the gate, so I held the gate open while he rode the bike through.  We got to talking and he said that he almost thought that I was Dave Roper.  I admitted the awful truth.  Turns out we had been in a race together at Brands Hatch many years before.  He was just coming from a seemingly abandoned property that he was considering buying so that he'd have a place to stay when he came over to the Island twice a year from England to watch the races.
We saw these Bantam trials bikes (and the Cub) at several places around the Island including here at Barregarrow.
We walked a bit further, then turned around and went back for the next race, the Classic Lightweight. This time we watched at the bottom of Barregarrow where the bikes are screaming downhill very near their absolute top speed with the riders almost brushing their left shoulder on the corner of a house at the apex while their suspension bottoms.  When I raced there, I often thought about the strength of materials at that point.  Definitely one of the most spectacular places on the course to spectate.  This race was mostly populated by TZ250 Yamaha and RS 250 Honda two strokes.  Bruce Anstey dominated appropriately, having won the last 250 Lightweight TT in 2002, and broke John McGuinness' 250 Lap record from 1999 with a 118.744mph lap, the fastest 250 lap ever around the Mountain course.  Ian Lougher was a clear 2nd, but over a minute behind.  And, we were still stuck on the inside of the course and had to wait for a practice to finish, while getting eaten by the midges, before we could get to the van and drive back to the paddock and load the van with Wagon Wheels and gear for the Jury Festival the next day.

Ian Lougher stopped in an early practice at St. Ninian's Crossroad with a fuel problem
The team went to a very good Indian restaurant a short way from the hotel and Charlie Williams stopped by our table and told a very funny story about Peter Williams (no relation) streaking at a prize giving ceremony at the Finnish GP in the early '70s.  I was in line at signing on with Charlie, winner of 8 TTs from '73-80, when he told me about falling off trying to catch Peter at Brands Hatch. He said he never saw any racer use as much of the road as Peter.  It started to rain while we were eating dinner, but stopped before we walked back to the hotel, and rained some more before dawn but the next day was beautiful and that's the only rain I saw the 8 days that I was there.
Jurby is a WWII airfield in the north of the Island where they've laid out a 1.7 mi. circuit.  The Festival has static displays of classic racers as well as lapping divided up into different groups based on year and capacity.  The Lap of Honour riders get two sessions of their own and I was able to do 9 laps in each on Wagon Wheels, on the track with Freddie Spencer, Pier Francesco Chili, Mick Grant, Graeme Crosby, Phillip McCallum, Hurley Wilvert, Maria Costello, and many others.  John Cronshaw rode one of the George Beale replica 250 Honda Six. Wagon Wheels worked well and it's a great opportunity to check everything out before doing the Lap on the Mountain circuit the next day.
Once again, there was a huge crowd at the festival.
At Jurby with Rob Iannucci and Cristy.  Cob Smith photo
That evening we went to the embarrassingly titled 'Heros Dinner'.  I sat next to Dan Cooper, winner of the 2005 British 125 Championship and participant in over 40 TT races, at our table.  Charlie Williams was M.C. and he recognized all the TT winners before he interviewed John McGuiness and Bruce Anstey then Freddie Spencer, Graeme Crosby and Pier Francisco Chili.  Rob Iannucci had created a new trophy, The Peter Williams Trophy, for the best finisher on an AJS or Matchless motorcycle in the Classic TT, and he and Peter presented it, to be awarded the next day after the Junior Classic race.  Australian Cameron Donald, winner of two of the 28 TT's he's been in and someone who's done a 131+ mph lap of the IOM, came over to our table and told Peter and Rob that he really wanted to win that trophy.  He loves the Classics as well as the modern Superbikes and his dad raced a AJS 7R and he was to be racing one the next day in the Junior Classic.
So, the next morning, I went to spectate somewhere relatively close to the paddock and missed the turn for Union Mills and ended up at Crosby.  But, there was no good place to spectate there and I went back to Union Mills and watched from the Railway Inn.  Michael Dunlop won the race on an MV350-3, with Michael Rutter 2nd and Alan Oversby 3rd, both on Hondas.  But, sure enough Cameron Donald was 4th and first single on the 7R, becoming the inaugural winner of the Peter Williams Trophy.  5th was Dan Cooper, my table mate from the night before.
I saw this Benelli 2T and Gilera CX125 while spectating at the Railway Inn in Union Mills
Then it was back to the paddock to prepare for the Lap of Honour, which included a small panic over a failed tire valve core and an over full fuel tank.  John McGuinness was first off, then Steve Plater, then Freddie Spencer (on his third lap ever around the Mountain circuit; he told me that he'd never been around in a car), then me.  Steve Parrish came by me first, riding a hopped up Norton 961, then Graeme Crosby on a XR69 Suzuki, then Brian Reid, Ian Simpson, and Mick Grant.  I passed Freddie, then Croz.  Croz passed me back along one of the straights, I passed him braking for Sulby Bridge, then try to take it in 2nd gear, bogged it, then missed the downshift and totally hashed it up and Croz went by again.  Leaving Ramsey, Glen English came by with both feet off the pegs on the 500 MV-3 he was riding, looking like he was trying to win the parade.  It felt really tight going around Governor's Bridge with limited steering lock and my hands about one foot apart inside the fairing, but I made it without hitting the kerb or tipping over.  The bike worked great, the weather was glorious, another day in paradise.  The Lap of Honour is wonderful because it accommodates everyone from Freddie Spencer, who just wants to cruise and wave to the fans, to Glen English for whom it's a chance to get the juices flowing again and experience the thrill and satisfaction of going quickly.  We went to the prize giving that evening and Cameron Donald was presented with the Peter Williams Trophy.
The next day, we crated the bike, then I took Peter for a lap around the course in the van.  He hadn't been around since 2000 and he couldn't get over how long it was between corners, he remembered doing it at race pace and we doing it at close to legal van speed.  He told me of a scary slide he had at Union Mills, of having Alan Barnett crash in front of him at Doran's Bend, of being proud of how he did Rencullen, of a tank slapper at the kink in Sulby Straight, of how he felt that he never got the corner between Mountain Box and The Black Hut right (I feel the same way but somehow I think Peter not getting it right and me not getting it right are two very different things), of how one had to get Windy Corner right in order to do The 33rd flat out (the two are separated by almost a mile), of how much he loved the Hillberry/Cronk-ny-Mona section, and how he fell off one on the incredibly slow Govenor's Bridge.  As we crossed the start/finish line, I said that we could turn at St. Nininan's Crossroads to go back to the hotel, to which Peter replied "or, you could do another lap".  So, we did. What a treat to do a couple of laps with one of the real masters of the circuit.
That afternoon we went to the Norton Rally at the Shore Hotel in Laxey, where Peter sold a bunch of the revised edition of his book "Designed to Race".  There were a number of interesting bikes there and I got to chat with Mick Hemmings and Art Bone.
One of the many beautiful bikes at the Norton Rally
That evening, we had dinner in Douglas with one of Peter's old friends, Billy McCosh and his wife Denise.  They're Irish and Billy did his racing on the public road circuit with his greatest success at the Ulster GP at Dundrod.  Billy told a story of his first race at the IOM.  A friend of his, who had raced the TT several times, happened to watch Billy go through Glentramman in practice and told Billy that he wasn't doing it right.  He advised Billy to stop at Glentramman in the next practice and wait for Peter Williams to come through.  He did and said his jaw dropped when Peter came by.  That was typical of the respect one hears for Peter.
Rodger's '61 Greeves 32T 
Ken with his '56 British Anzani 325 Greeves.  Ken and Rodger were staying in our hotel on the Prom

Daily transport at the Classic TT
A very clean CL350 at the Norton rally, of all places
A Norton Navigator 350
Just like my first bike: a Ducati Diana
A Motosacoche ready for the Parade
A Moto Guzzi Dondolino
A Bultaco Metralla racer
Your typical commuter bike: an H-1 Kawasaki with nitros
A Velo MAC spotted in the paddock

A 'field expedient' oil cap
All the horn and headlight needed to make this Bantam legal
ES-2 Nortons were thick on the ground

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