After a troubled week of practice due to the often-fickle Manx weather, race weekend at the Isle of Man Classic TT saw superb, sunny conditions and, as per previous years, there was plenty of entertainment both on and off the Mountain Course.
The undoubted highlight was the winning return of Bruce Anstey, a victory that saw not a dry eye left in the house, but whilst fellow veteran John McGuinness was also back on the top step, the event saw tears of a different kind for David Johnson and Jamie Coward as they claimed their maiden victories around the famous 37.73-mile circuit.
The life and career of the late Steve Hislop was rightly celebrated, 30 years after he posted the first ever 120mph lap, whilst road racing legends including Giacomo Agostini and Carl Fogarty were totally accessible to race fans at various events during the course of the festival. Indeed, with superb racing as well, it was another triumphant Classic TT.
Exactly two years after he last raced a motorcycle, Anstey returned to the Classic TT and it was like he’d never been away as he took a fairy-tale victory in the Lightweight race. After two years of battling cancer, Anstey had the all clear to race and with his health thankfully restored, he was never headed in the three-lap race and it’s no exaggeration to say it was one of the most popular wins ever seen on the Mountain Course.
It was the third time the Kiwi had won the race but whilst the victory was to be celebrated, the biggest victory was simply seeing Anstey back in action particularly as many thought it would be a sight we’d never see again. It’s been a tremendous, hard-fought battle for the now 50-year old but he was waved and cheered through every bit of the 113-mile race and it was a victory not just for him but for all cancer survivors.
The pleasure and happiness on Anstey’s face, not just in the race but during practice week as well, was clear to see and from being barely able to walk and with his chances of survival looking slim, you’ll be hard pushed to see a more popular and emotional sight than of him standing on the top step of the podium last Saturday evening.
One of the greatest road racers of his generation, Anstey rightly deserved the plaudits he received.
Back on top
After an extremely disappointing campaign at the TT races in June, McGuinness was another road racing great to get back to winning ways as he took his third Senior race victory in four years. Riding the Winfield Paton, the Morecambe man was the clear favourite for the win and he duly delivered although similarly-mounted Stefano Bonetti pushed him hard throughout.
The Paton clearly has an advantage over the other machines in the field but McGuinness still had to do the most difficult thing in all of the Classic TT races – get the bike to finish. His technical know-how and mechanical sympathy again came into play and it was another popular win during the course of the Bank Holiday weekend.
With the Norton project seemingly over, the TT career of the 23-time winner is at a bit of a crossroads with the likes of Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison having picked up the Superbike baton he’s carried for so long. He was non-committal on his plans for 2020 and it may well be that the Classic TT becomes his focus from now on. Only time will tell.
Anstey and McGuinness weren’t the only popular winners of the festival as Johnson and Coward completed their apprenticeships with maiden victories around the Mountain Course, both riders having worked tirelessly and progressed massively since they both, ironically, made their debuts in 2010.
Australian Johnson went straight to the TT that year with Coward opting for the Manx Grand Prix but they both stood on a TT rostrum for the first time earlier this year with Johnson taking third in the Superstock race and Coward going one better in the Lightweight encounter.
They both richly deserved those results and were highly popular winners at the Classic event too, particularly Coward’s success with the Yorkshire rider having taken six previous podiums on the older generation machines. He was overcome with emotion in winner’s circle, further proof of exactly what it means to succeed on the toughest, most demanding circuit in the world and whilst Johnson was more exuberant in the immediate aftermath of his first place, his joy was equally unbridled.
Whilst the race winners grabbed the headlines, one of the most impressive riders of the week was Southern Ireland’s Derek Sheils who, after taking fourth and sixth in the Junior and Senior races, concluded his festival with the runners-up spot in the Superbike race, his first ever appearance on a TT rostrum of any kind.
Consistently the best rider at the Irish National road races, Sheils has, perhaps, not got the results people would have expected around the Mountain Course but last weekend, he most certainly did. His results were particularly impressive given it was the first time he’d competed on the Junior and Senior Classic machines whilst his Superbike ride was one of the highest order.
Quiet and unassuming, Sheils is one of the most under-rated riders currently plying his trade on the roads and his week on the island could give him the impetus and belief he needs for next June’s TT.
Whilst the Classic races were packed with previous TT winners and podium finishers, one of the biggest stories of the weekend was the performance of 19-year old (yes, 19!) James Hind. He put in a stunning ride to finish third behind Anstey and Davey Todd in the Lightweight race despite a 30-second penalty for speeding in pit lane dropping him down the order to ninth.
Second in the Newcomers Manx Grand Prix last year, the Market Rasen rider had completed the first lap in a sensational second place before the aforementioned penalty but a final lap in excess of 116mph saw him tear his way back up the leaderboard and deny 10-time winner Ian Lougher, no less, the final podium position.
He also unofficially broke the Junior Manx Grand Prix lap record during practice week and is without doubt a star of the future as the TT organisers almost certainly look to nurture his career.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.