Pure-bred racing machines will be back on the Island
Forget the laptops and ECUS required by modern race bikes. The upcoming Classic TT is all about spanners, files and pure-bred racing machines
Its official name is the Classic TT, but you could call it the Tuners’ and Fettlers’ Grand Prix. For this is an event where the bike builders, mechanics, horsepower seekers and team owners are the real stars.
Fettling? It’s a word they used in classic times: a fettler files, drills, lightens, eases, massages, modifies and devises. It’s what you do in classic racing, where you can’t buy a mass-produced production bike, throw a few off-the-shelf racing goodies at it, and have a reliable and competitive machine. For the Classic TT you can buy a complete Manx Norton, a 1216cc Suzuki XR69, a 500cc Paton twin, or a replica MV Agostini triple, but you’ll still find yourself fettling. These bikes are built in tiny quantities, so they need constant vigilance and attention to survive a week of practice and a four-lap, 151mile race over the TT course.
Among those fettling hard for the Classic TT are Mitchell Kay, the 24-year-old engine building prodigy in the Black Eagle Racing team. Mitch has designed a short-stroke 500cc MV triple for either Michael Dunlop or Dean Harrison to race in the Senior Classic. Honda specialist John Davies, of Davies Motorsport, is doing headwork on his CB500 engines for William Dunlop and Alan Oversby to gain two to four horsepower more. His 350cc K4s will have a new dry clutch to minimise drag on the engine and keep the oil cleaner. He’s shaving 6kg from his bikes by using different hubs and more titanium, including a 3kg-lighter titanium exhaust system made by Oversby.
If the racing side of the Classic TT doesn’t stir you, there’s every reason to take your road bike to the island. You see every kind of classic there, from pre-war bikes – the Vintage MCC has a big presence – to British kit such as Greeves twins and rockers’ metal from the 50s and 60s, Italian exotica, German and American hardware… everything really. As the Isle of Man lacks motorways, its roads are ideal for bikes designed for a time when engines were not expected to sustain constant high-speed running.
Back on the track, two special bikes featured in recent issues of Classic Bike get their own one-lap parades. Michael Dunlop will ride Black Eagle’s recreation of the 500cc Gilera four on which Bob Mcintyre recorded the first 100mph lap of the Mountain Circuit, 60 years ago in 1957, while former Senior TT winner Steve Plater will ride Team Obsolete’s 250cc Honda six to mark 50 years since the sixes last wailed on the Mountain Circuit. That was 1967, when Mike Hailwood won the 250 and 350cc events.
In this year’s races, underdogs Padgett Racing and rider Bruce Anstey, with their 1992-spec Yamaha YZR500, will try to wrest Superbike honours from Michael Dunlop on Team Classic Suzuki’s XR69 bruiser. In the Senior race, Michael Rutter will try to squeeze a 110mph lap from Ripley Land Racing’s Seeley G50, with Patons and MV triples also vying for podium positions.
The originality police would be appalled at some of the bikes that are eligible for the Classic TT’S slightly hotrod-ish rules. But race chief Paul Phillips wants to stage a classic-themed spectacle, and in that he succeeds. What is refreshing about the Classic TT is fettlers and riders don’t have banks of computer screens to tell them where they’ve lost three-hundredths of a second. They have to work it out for themselves. It’s real racing on the world’s only surviving long-lap public-roads circuit.
1 Bruce Anstey smokes them on his Yamaha YZR500