2009 Isle of Man TT – Mad Sunday

June 7, 2009
Ian Kerr
Contributing Editor | Articles | RSS | Blog | Blog RSS

Our man in Europe, Ian delivers a monthly dose of those tasty rumors and hearsay from across the pond that make up our Euro Gossip column.

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(top) Lining up for a chance to ride the Isle of Man TT circuit on Mad Sunday.
(bottom) Some are more mad than others. 

After bad weather which disrupted the Saturday racing, Sunday dawned clear and fine in most places, if a little overcast in others. However, the local radio stations were broadcasting early appeals for anybody who could provide accommodation for visiting fans washed out from their campsites due to the rain!

Traditionally, the Sunday of race week is known as Mad Sunday. It is time when fans get the chance to ride the same 37.75-mile mountain course as those actually competing in the races. Unfortunately in the past as a result of some riders going a little too quick and riding beyond their capabilities this has resulted in fatal crashes, hence the title!

Recently though the day has gone off without too many problems thanks to the mountain section of the course and the main area that most want to ride being made one way. The reason is quite simply that this is still one part of the course that is not subject to any speed limits due to the remoteness of the tarmac ribbon that crosses the mountain that dominates the island.

In some areas now traffic cones filter riders down to single file traffic and some chicanes are put in place to slow things down a little, but in the main riders still get the chance to exercise their machines potential like their racing heroes. Other chose to use the day to cheer up their fellow riders by wearing fancy dress or even very little!

Unfortunately this year with the sun really coming out for the afternoon, this section of the course has been closed four times at the time of writing due to crashes and incidents as they are now described! Other riders are just parked up at strategic locations watching the action and enjoying the sun. Those with Vintage and Classic machines have their own run at period speeds on the more remote and quieter country roads that criss-cross the island.

Steve Colley  Sunday - 2009 Isle of Man TT Sunday - 2009 Isle of Man TT
(top) Steve Colley entertaining in Peel.(bottom) The Purple Helmets just prior to a humorous train-wreck.  

Other attractions are offered throughout the island to entertain and reduce the numbers of those circulating the course. Traditionally, the second largest town, Ramsey, hosts the first of two sprints along its promenade. Apart from genuine competition ‘straightliners’, you can also find a few race machines and there is always the ‘run what you brung’ class to allow fans the chance to try and find out how fast their machine will really accelerate in a straight line – always popular and oversubscribed as you might imagine!

This year Honda sponsored the activities at Peel, the third largest town, as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations. Stunt trials rider Steve Colley gave a masterly performance riding up and over seemingly impossible obstacles. Then he took out the front forks and did it all again despite a strong sea breeze blowing off a choppy sea.

He was followed by the local entertainment known as the Purple Helmets. These guys use very old and ratty small-capacity moped and bikes and try stunts that always add in failure much to the amusement of onlookers.

Honda’s celebrations actually started closer to Douglas, when a commemorative plaque was unveiled at the site of Honda’s original TT team’s garage in Onchan (the site of the old Nursery Hotel). Although this was designed to mark Honda’s 50th anniversary of racing, which started at the 1959 Isle of Man TT, the idea to compete was conceived earlier in 1954 by company founder Soichiro Honda.

As an ex-racer, Mr Honda realized the best way for his products to gain real credibility outside Japan and for him to fulfill his racing dreams and passion, would be to set his sights on winning races. Part of this aim would be to do the winning with his own products and at that time he saw the TT races as the most important races in the world to win to help him achieve his ambition.

He, of course, then made his aims public in March 1954 with a statement that included the following oft quoted words:

“I here avow my intention that I will participate in the TT race and I proclaim with my fellow employees that I will pour all my energy and creative powers into winning.”

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(top) Honda was celebrating their 50th year of racing at the 2009 Isle of Man TT. (bottom) The RC142 125cc  that Honda raced for the first time in the 1959 TT.   

Later that same year he attended the TT and realized that he had a massive task ahead of him. As a maker of primarily small-capacity motorcycles at that time, he was most interested in the 125cc and 250cc classes and decided to focus on the smaller capacities to start with, although he clearly needed longer to develop a race machine than he had initially thought!

So it was not until 1959 that the RC142 125cc race bike was deemed ready to take on the challenge of the TT, albeit on the 10.79-mile Clypse Course used for the ‘Lightweight’ race that year.

The first Japanese factory team to visit the TT consisted of four Japanese riders – Naomi Taniguchi, Giichi Suzuki, Junzo Suzuki and Teisuke Tanaka – plus Bill Hunt of the embryonic American Honda arm, acting as an interpreter as well as riding. Two mechanics, Hisakazu Sekiguchi and Shunji Hirota, along with team manager Yoshitaka Iida and team leader Kiyoshi Kawashima made up the nine man squad, many having never been outside Japan before!

Honda did not like 2-strokes, so the bikes were 4-strokes that looked and ran like Swiss watches.
While the Hondas had high-revving DOHC twin-cylinder engines, they were no match for the single-cylinder MV Agusta’s and 2-stroke MZ’s that dominated the 1959 Ultra Lightweight TT. But credible finishes in sixth, seventh, eighth and 11th places proved the Hondas’ reliability and secured the Manufacturer’s Team Award, not a bad result to say the least given other firms’ history!

Lessons learned, Honda returned with all-new hardware in 1960 when all TT races were run on the 37.73-mile Mountain Course. Most onlookers were amazed at the four-cylinder 16-valve RC161 entered for the 250cc race, with some pundits of the time questioning its durability.

They were answered by its finishing in fourth, fifth and sixth places. The team, including Australian riders Bob Brown and Tom Phillis, also collected four Silver replicas in the 125cc race, although Honda was still going to have to wait for his dream to come true with a top podium spot.

However, the reputation of Honda’s machinery was so impressive that the world’s top riders were soon queuing up to ride for the Japanese firm. Names like Redman and Hailwood were soon to become synonymous with Honda in the 1960s and it was the latter of these who was to make Honda’s dream come true just two years after the firm’s first race.
Mike ‘the bike’ Hailwood took both the 125cc and 250cc winners trophies for Honda, while TT veteran Bob McIntyre lapped at a sensational 99.58 mph on his 250cc RC162 four, to break both the Lightweight and the 350cc Junior lap records.

Away from the TT, Honda also won two FIM world championships, taking both the 125cc and 250cc titles. Those who had mocked the first Japanese TT venture in 1959 were no longer smirking!

The rest, as they say, is history and Honda’s racing record around the world would take volumes to detail as would its TT wins and dramatic races. However, Honda has never lost sight as to where it all began. Honda actually produced its 100 millionth two-wheeler in 1997, and notched up its 100th TT victory soon after.

During the TT’s festive 2007 Centenary year, Honda-mounted John McGuinness made history by breaking the magical 130mph barrier on his CBR1000RR Fireblade in the Senior race, with a lap record of 130.35mph. Added to this Dave Molyneux’s Sidecar double gave him an unrivalled 13 TT wins on three wheels. Honda hopes to add to its current 142 TT victories (John McGuinness has already upped the win total to 143 with his 15th career TT win in the Dainese Superbike TT opener – MCUSA ed).

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The Manx Museum has a fascinating photographic exhibit cataloging the history of the legendary Isle of Man TT. 

Apart from those attractions I have mentioned there are several exhibitions, for riders to look at. One is on Honda at the Manx museum as you might expect. However, the best one is a photographic exhibition with over 200 evocative black and white period shots dating back to the very first TT’s as well as more modern color plates. The curator of this display is one Bill Snelling, an acknowledged TT expert historian who uses his database of over 300,000 shots to entertain visitors. Needless to say the list of request for reprints each day is in relation to the number of visitors through the door. (Email: amulree@mcb.net)

For those who have just wanted to relax and enjoy the sun there is a plethora of books on sale and like most years a new one normally appears at this time on the TT. This year something pretty special has arrived in the form of The Nazi TT by local resident Roger Willis. In this soft-back tome he exposes the politics behind BMW’s TT win in 1939 and it certainly puts a different spin on racing. Extensive research outside the motorcycle world makes this a fascinating read. (Published by Motobuisness .co.uk ISBN 978 0 9562457 0 0)

So with the evening weather looking even better than the rest of the day it is just a case of finding a pint of local Bushey’s ale on the sea front at Douglas and speculate with others if the lap record will fall tomorrow, or any other record for that matter!