Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents -

Mike delves into the not-so-sub­tle art of cheat­ing in mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing


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...

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