Are All TT Wins Equal?

June 16th, 2015 | In: Isle of Man TT, Road Races

Does a one-lap race on a battery-powered bike deserve to be given the same status as a six-lap Superbike TT? Stuart Barker explores the true value of a TT win.

In taking his 23rd TT win this year, John McGuinness is now just three race wins short of the all-time record of 26 held by the late, great Joey Dunlop. The legendary Irishman was 48 when he took his last TT win in the year 2000 (in fact he won three that year) while McGuinness is still only 43 so he still has plenty of time to catch, and even surpass, Dunlop as the greatest TT rider of all time.

TT Senior Race 2015 John McGuinness record lap: 132.701mph

A TT Zero win should not rank alongside a six-lap:

While no-one can deny that McGuinness’ Senior win this year was hugely deserved and amongst his finest ever victories, his two wins prior to that have come in the one-lap TT Zero race in which the only serious competition came from his own Mugen team-mate, Bruce Anstey. And to some TT purists – and Joey Dunlop fans – a TT Zero win should not rank alongside a six-lap, or even a three-lap or four-lap, race with a full grid of combustion-engined bikes.

Is it really fair?

In theory, McGuinness could keep returning to the Isle of Man each year and, even if he only won the Zero race, he could match Dunlop’s record within three years. Would that be fair?

Well, fair’s got little to do with it. McGuinness doesn’t make the rules and if a one-lap race on a battery-powered bike in a field of just 9 starters and 6 finishers (with the last place finisher in this year’s race averaging just 73.15mph – a full 46mph less than McGuinness!) is deemed worthy of being called a TT, then that’s down to the race organisers and not John McGuinness.

John McGuinness Isle of Man TT
Image from Mark Walker on flickr

Can the Billown Circuit really compare to the Mountain Course?

It’s not the first time in the TT’s long history that there has been some debate about what qualifies as a full TT win. As recently as 2009 the Lightweight 250 and Ultra-Lightweight 125cc TT races were held on the 4.25-mile Billown Circuit on the Isle of Man – a course that bears absolutely no relation to the punishing 37.73-mile TT Mountain Course. Nevertheless, wins at Billown allowed the likes of Ian Lougher and Chris Palmer to up their overall tally of TT wins.

In John McGuinness’ defence, Joey Dunlop also took advantage of the smaller classes to increase his tally of TT wins.

After suffering serious injuries at Brands Hatch in 1989, it took McGuinness several years to become competitive on big bikes again so, in the meantime, he specialised in the smaller classes and first equalled, then bettered, Mike Hailwood’s all-time record of 14 TT wins by winning the Ultra-Lightweight 125 TT in 1992 and 1993. But at least Joey’s 125cc wins were held on the full TT Mountain Course and were over four laps.

Discrepancies in machinery:

If we’re going to explore the theme of TT wins that might not be as high value as others, we also have to look at the huge discrepancies in machinery over the years. No-one would deny the greatness of Giacomo Agostini but he racked up his 10 TT wins with practically no competition at all. Between 1968 and 1972, he won every Junior and Senior race bar one, and that was only because his bike broke down.

Following the withdrawal of Honda – and every other manufacturer – from 1968 onwards, Agostini had the only factory bike on the grid. Everyone else was mounted on old British Singles which were from a different era to the MV multis and couldn’t hope to get anywhere close to them.

The MV’s performance advantage was such that Agostini was lapping everyone up to second place in some Grand Prix races! But then, that was hardly Agostini’s fault. And at least when Mike Hailwood was still racing on a factory Honda, Ago proved he could beat the best of them as well as those on lesser machinery.

Too many wins in one week?

Another factor that has a huge impact on the total number of TTs any single rider can ever hope to win is the actual number of races held each year. When the great Stanley Woods racked up his 10 victories in the 1930s there were only three classes – Lightweight 250, Junior (350) and Senior. With so many more races being held in recent years, it’s possible for a rider to build up his overall win tally far quicker than in the past.

Ian Hutchinson offered up perfect proof of this when he took the unprecedented step of winning all five main solo races in a single week in 2010. Had he entered the TT Zero race, it could well have been six and that would have put him level with the likes of John Surtees and Geoff Duke in terms of overall wins – in just one week!

No comparison:

Few people would suggest that victory in a one-lap TT Zero race at an average speed of 87.43mph (the winning speed for Rob Barber in 2009) means as much as winning a six-lap Senior TT at lap record pace (132mph) on a 220bhp Superbike against all the top TT stars on equivalent, factory-supported machinery. There’s simply no comparison.

But as far as the record books are concerned, a TT win is a TT win, and if John McGuinness – or any other rider – beats Joey Dunlop’s all-time record of 26 wins by taking victories in lesser TT races, their claim to being the greatest of all time will be legitimate. No matter how much that might rankle with the purists who read beyond the basic statistics.

Now it’s time to give your opinion on the matter! Do you think all TT wins are equal?

Stuart Barker is a freelance motorcycle journalist and author. A former MCN reporter and features writer, he is now editor of the Official Isle of Man TT and Classic TT programmes and has contributed to most major UK motorcycling titles including MCN, Bike, Ride, Superbike, Two Wheels Only, Fast Bikes, Classic Bike and Classic Racer. His books include biographies of Barry Sheene, Steve Hislop, Niall Mackenzie, David Jefferies and Evel Knievel as well as a centennial history of the TT races.