The 2018 Isle of Man TT Races received a shot in the arm at last week’s official launch with John McGuinness confirming that the chances of him being fit to race at June’s event are looking very positive and he hopes to start testing Norton Racing’s SG7 in mid-April.
Whilst attending the launch last Wednesday, McGuinness received a message from his surgeon saying he could start to have full-weight bearing on his leg once more – the news he’d been waiting, and wanting, to hear. Counting the days down to that moment hasn’t been easy and although the acid test will come when he first throws his leg over a bike again and rides in anger, he’s also sensible enough to know what’s achievable and what isn’t.
“I’d set myself the goal of walking onto the stage at the launch and getting the message from the surgeon was such a relief and a fantastic feeling. It’s not easy to do straightaway though as your confidence is a bit fragile and you have that ‘what if it breaks again’ feeling in your mind. You’re putting 100 per cent trust into those few words the surgeon’s told you. Walking in front of everyone was a bit emotional to be fair but it means we can start moving forward now and the aim is to be back on a bike and testing in mid-April.”
Intense testing programme lies ahead
That might be cutting it fine in some people’s eyes and leave him with far too much work to do in a short space of time whereby the goals are unrealistic but McGuinness doesn’t see it that way. In his usual laid back manner, he’s taking it all in his stride.
“People say it’s late in the day to be going testing but some people go to Spain in February and then don’t do anything for a month. All it means is that my schedule will be quite intense and crammed into a shorter space of time. As long as I’m on a bike in April and May, it’ll be ok so I’m not too worried. At the same time, I’ll know if the leg’s right or not and whilst there was always a bit of pressure to deliver at Honda, there isn’t at Norton.”
“I’m excited about all the rides that I have lined up but I don’t have a crystal ball so I know there’s still a long road in front of me. Time will tell if I’m fit enough to race at my full capabilities but with the cage off, I’ll be doing everything I can over the next two months to that become a reality.”
Norton aren’t planning to contest the North West 200, which precedes the TT by a week, but McGuinness does have rides in the Supersport and Lightweight class with MD Racing and KMR Kawasaki respectively. This will give him, potentially, four races around the 8.9-mile circuit to get back into the swing of racing.
Hutchinson’s campaign remains in doubt
Whilst McGuinness was all smiles, friend and rival Ian Hutchinson was a bit more subdued with the Honda Racing rider still unsure whether he will be sufficiently recovered from his TT crash last year to line up on the Glencrutchery Road in 2018.
The Bingley rider, who ironically replaced McGuinness at Honda this year, still has his left leg in an external fixator as surgeons continue to try and lengthen the bone but the process is proving a slower one than before. Indeed, his recovery schedule is approximately one month behind McGuinness which means the cage won’t be removed until mid-April – at the earliest. That’s the best case scenario and only leaves him six weeks to get fully prepared prior to practice getting underway around the Mountain Course.
End of April deadline
“I went for an X-ray the other week and half of me wanted the surgeon to say there’s absolutely no chance so I could stop putting myself through hell with training and using the frame. But on the other hand I wanted him to say it could come off next week,” said Hutchinson. “There’s nothing that can be done about it but I’m putting everything in for the day the frame does come off so I can get straight back on a bike. Realistically though, it has to be off by the end of April to be fit and safe and everything you need to race at the TT.”
Of course, he knows his body better than most and what it can’t and can’t withstand. He knows how to come back from such injuries whilst team-mate Lee Johnston will have completed a full testing programme by then and have the Fireblade fully dialed in. Everyone will be hoping he’s on the grid but the more time goes by, the slimmer the chances will become.
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.