Last week’s Festival of Motorcycling, which incorporated the Classic TT races around the Isle of Man Mountain Course, may have faced its biggest challenge in the six years it’s been running with weather threatening to decimate the schedule but it came through with flying colours as another tremendous event was staged.
Poor weather during practice week saw three sessions completely cancelled and a fourth cut short and the schedule was continually being re-written. But whilst the feature Saturday and Monday race days were long affairs, all four races ultimately took place with only one – the Junior Classic – not running over its full race distance, a credit to the organisation and all concerned with the event.
Victorious return for McGuinness
A lot of talk prior to the event centred on the racing return around the fabled 37.73-mile course of John McGuinness and whilst, if truth be told, he had no real opposition in the Senior Classic TT race, he dominated proceedings and led from start to finish on the Winfield Paton to ensure it was a winning comeback.
The 23-time TT winner has had a long road to negotiate in order to get back to full fitness and whilst the Classic TT isn’t the main TT itself – with sterner tests guaranteed next June – the race and subsequent win will have done wonders for the Morecambe man’s confidence.
As expected, Dean Harrison ran away with the Superbike Classic race after lapping in excess of 126mph. The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider led from start to finish and was never challenged as he won by more than a minute. He also found time to take fourth in the Lightweight race, his first ever race on a 250cc two-stroke and it concluded an excellent year on the roads for the Bradford rider.
Johnston and Coward star
As well as McGuinness and Harrison, Lee Johnston and Jamie Coward also shone with Johnston finishing all three of his races on the podium. He won the Lightweight 250cc race on the Padgetts Honda, following in the footsteps of team-mate and victor for the last two years Bruce Anstey, and backed this up with a brace of thirds in the Senior and Junior races.
Coward also impressed as he proved his Classic racing credentials once more with second place in both the Senior and Junior events. He also took fifth place in the Superbike race despite having to make two pit stops as opposed to one.
This came on the back of his excellent results in 2017 when he became the first, and only, rider to lap the Mountain Course at more than 110mph on a British single cylinder machine. The Yorkshire rider is very much underrated and a debut win surely cannot be far away.
There was also a new winner crowned in the shape of Dominic Herbertson who won the Junior race on the Davies Motorsport Honda after early leader Michael Rutter went out with a rear wheel puncture.
The Northumbrian is very much one of the new breed of young road racers climbing up the ranks and, as well as his undoubted Classic prowess, it will only be a matter of time before he’s a regular in the top ten at all of the International road races.
Area to address
One area that somehow needs addressing though is the alarming rate of attrition in all of the races. The nature of the beast will always mean it’s an achievement to get the Classic machines to complete four laps of the Mountain Course but whilst the start line looked fantastic with all the riders and machines lined up, the races soon saw many of the front runners, and others, drop out.
By half race distance, large gaps had appeared in the field and the number of finishers across the classes was one of the lowest in the six years of the event. Improving reliability will be every race team’s dream but that will, possibly, only come, by relaxing the rules in order to utilise more modern equipment/technology.
But, of course, that goes against the spirit of the meeting so it’s an issue that is very much a balancing act and one that will need some careful thought.
Sideshows and parades delight fans
It wasn’t all about the racing though and the numerous side shows, displays and parades also kept the thousands of race fans thoroughly entertained with three personal highlights being John McGuinness completing a lap on the ex-Mike Hailwood Ducati, Bruce Anstey taking to the Mountain Course once more on the RC213V-S and the stunning collection of RC30 Honda’s.
Forty years since Hailwood made a fairy tale comeback, McGuinness took to the Mountain Course on the exact machine the legendary Brit took to victory in the 1978 Formula One race, an emotional affair for all concerned, none more so than for Mike’s widow Pauline whilst equally emotional, if not more so, was seeing Anstey pull on the leathers once more.
The Kiwi has been receiving treatment for cancer all year but did a lap on his Padgetts Honda and declared his intentions to be back racing at the TT in 2019 which will be a terrific boost for the event, his vast legion of fans and, of course, the man himself.
In addition, there were numerous bands playing throughout the holiday weekend, cinema shows in the evening and famous old machines and riders constantly milling around to ensure there was always something to look at or someone to chat to.
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 Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. 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.