The news that Swiss racing motorcycle manufacturer Suter Racing will make its debut at the 2016 Isle of Man TT Races with its Suter MMX 500, a 580cc two-stroke engined machine, will evoke memories of the past when it lines up on Glencrutchery Road for the Superbike and Senior TT Races.
Dominating the TT:
The 500cc two-strokes, as they did across the world, dominated at the TT in the 1970s and 1980s, winning countless races and setting lap records alike. As well as the 500cc Senior race, the machines also regularly came out on top in the Classic race – riders like John Williams, Tom Herron, Mike Hailwood, Graeme Crosby, Mick Grant, Joey Dunlop and Rob McElnea were all victorious during this golden era.
Williams, Grant, Pat Hennen, Dunlop and Steve Cull all set outright lap records on either Suzuki, Kawasaki or Honda machinery with Steve Cull the last to do so on a two-stroke, his lap of 119.08mph set on a 500cc RS Honda in 1988 and the first in excess of 119mph.
The decline of the 500s:
However, as the 1980’s progressed, the 500s went in the opposite direction as racing became more and more four-stroke orientated. The 500cc World Championship may have lasted until 2001 but it disappeared from the domestic scene long before that with a similar occurrence happening at the TT. Indeed, to find the last win by a 500cc machine at the TT, you have to go all the way back to the 1987 Senior race when Dunlop took his three cylinder Honda to victory in a wet and dismal Senior race.
Popular amongst the big names:
However, the last podium finishes were slightly more recent with Jim Moodie taking second place behind Phillip McCallen in the 1997 Senior and Ian Lougher claiming third in the same race in 1999. Those last few years of the 1990s saw a number of 500cc GP two-strokes on the grid, primarily the NSR500 V-twin in the hands of Moodie, Lougher and John McGuinness. Dunlop also practiced on one, but never raced, whilst Nigel Davies campaigned a YZR500 Harris Yamaha.
The lightweight machine was slightly down on top speed to the 750cc Honda RC45’s and Kawasaki ZX-R 750s but was expected to represent a firm challenge to the four strokes due to its nimbleness through the multitude of bends and corners. The reality was it came up just short.
Moodie led for a while in 1997 but ultimately lost out by 8.7s and that’s the closest the two-strokes from that era got. The Scot’s fastest lap was 121.80 and he went slightly quicker in 1998 at 121.92mph before retiring whilst McGuinness also broke the 121mph mark, his best finish being seventh in the 1999 Senior.
Lougher had a strong showing in both 1998 and 1999, finishing third in the aforementioned 1999 Senior race. His best lap then was 122.93mph which remained the fastest two-stroke lap ever around the 37.73-mile Mountain Course until Bruce Anstey’s record breaking feats at the last two Classic TT events in 2014 and 2015. Lougher was almost a minute behind race winner David Jefferies though in that 1999 race.
What does the Suter MMX 500 have to offer?
The Suter MMX 500 is the brain child of former 250cc Grand Prix rider Eskil Suter and is complete with all the expected modern day technology including electronic fuel injection and counter-rotating crankshafts.
The Austrian’s company, Suter Racing Technology, has a strong record behind him and won’t be coming to the TT as a bit part gesture. Winning will almost certainly be out of the equation but all concerned will be keen to put on the best possible show.
Suter developed, in cooperation with Swissauto, the MuZ 500cc bike which Dutchman Jurgen van der Goorbergh took to pole positions in the premier class and he was also responsible for the design and development of the Foggy Petronas FP1 900cc three cylinder machine that competed in the World Superbike Championship from 2002 until 2005.
Suter getting it right:
More recently, they have provided a chassis to the 600cc Moto 2 class claiming three consecutive manufacturer’s Championships between 2010 and 2012 with Marc Marquez giving them first rider’s title in 2012. It’s clear Suter knows what he’s doing when it comes to manufacturing motorbikes.
Lougher making a comeback:
The TT, of course, is a whole different proposition and the Mountain Course the ultimate acid test. Neither Suter nor rider Lougher, who has come out of retirement just to race the bike, will be undertaking the task though without having the confidence that the bike will be up to the task and able to perform. Just how well the bike performs will all become clear in those first two weeks of June but their benchmark should ultimately be Anstey’s lap of 126.261mph set on the Padgetts YZR500 Yamaha.
Are you excited to witness the return of Suter Racing? Will it reach the podium?
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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.