IT'S ALWASY BEEN PART OF RACING, SAYS MIKE, BUT IT ONLY WORKS IF YOU'RE NOT TOO BLATANT ABOUT IT
Mike delves into the not-so-subtle art of cheating in motorcycle racing
‘THE GREEN MISSILES HAD GOT TOO FAR AHEAD WITH THEIR CHEATING’
Probably the sagest line ever written on rule-dodging in racing is this one: ‘Don’t get behind on your cheating, but don’t get ahead, either”. This was the philosophy of Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling, journalists at Cycle magazine in the USA, when they fielded their Ducati 750SS, the ‘California Hot Rod’, in the 1970s.
Racing against the Butler & Smith BMW (rumoured to displace 1200cc), the California Hot Rod was highly modified – against the rules, but not in a way that could be easily measured. The builders of the Kawasaki ZXR750S who were excluded from the 2016 Superbike Classic TT were clearly not aware of the Cook/schilling adage. Green missiles were ripping through the Sulby Straight speed trap at 175mph – they’d got too far ahead with their cheating. John Mcguinness won the 500cc Senior Classic TT with an oversize fuel tank on his Winfield Racing Paton. It was 0.7 litres oversize, according to Classic TT organiser Paul Phillips, who gave the bike special dispensation to compete.
The incidents led to a storm of rumours in the paddock and on social media. There were 400s in the 350cc Junior race and 550s in the Senior, it was alleged. It was like a throwback to the British shortcircuit scene of the 1960s, when allegations that someone was running a ‘big motor’ Manx Norton often rippled through the pits. Now that knuckles have been rapped, entrants for the 2017 Classic TT have been forewarned: engine capacity, fuel tank size and the fuel itself will be checked if you finish in the top three. The scrutineers can also ask for other machines to be examined, and any competitor can lodge a protest against anyone they suspect of getting too far ahead.
The 2016 furore doesn’t seem to have deterred anyone from coming back. Young fireball Dean Harrison, who was one of the disqualified ones in 2016, will return with the same Silicone Engineering ZXR. Black Eagle Racing, who gave Michael Dunlop a winning 350cc MV triple last time out, will this year focus on providing the fastest man on the TT circuit with a 500. Dunlop is also said to be organising the manufacture of crankshafts for Honda RS 250s, which suggests that he might himself ride in the fledgling Lightweight Classic TT. Andy and Richard Molnar will be back with their Manx Nortons, after missing last year through pressure of work (although their promised fourcylinder Norton is behind schedule and will not be present).
The dominant bike in the Superbike race is Steve Wheatman’s 1216cc Suzuki XR69, which is allowed to run, under Classic TT rules, a 16-valve engine – an XR69 that was never seen in-period. For 2017 the 749cc ZXRS will be permitted a 2mm overbore – legal big motors, as it were – to make them more competitive.
“The race is not meant to replicate history,” says the aforementioned Paul Phillips. “It’s a class created to make an interesting and exciting spectacle.” Opinions vary on this. Commentator and former World Superbikes rider Jamie Whitham advocates the application of more period rules, as in the Goodwood Festival of Speed. One thing is certain: whether you’re spending £5000 or £100,000 to put a bike on the Classic TT grid, you want to be certain that the rider next to you is on a piece of honest kit, otherwise you won’t go back.
On the subject of dispensations, Paul Phillips says: “Everyone has homed in on John Mcguinness, but we have given similar dispensations throughout the field if they have an issue that’s going to give them no significant performance advantage, but would chuck a lot of cost at them. In this type of event, it’s sensible to be co-operative.”
That’s alright, but does this open the door to a top team trying to arm-lock the organisers by rocking up at the last minute with an illegal bike and pleading for a dispensation? No top team equals disappointed crowds...