AARON SLIGHT

Our Stafford Show special guest talks to CMM!

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS -

Idon’t like you and I don’t like the news­pa­per you rep­re­sent. Keep out of my way from now on.” It’s Au­gust 1996 and I’m stood in the swel­ter­ing pit-lane of the Sen­tul race­track in In­done­sia. Aaron Slight is jab­bing his fin­ger into my chest as he ut­ters those words. He’s half my size but I’m scared. Scared be­cause those dark, un­blink­ing eyes are bor­ing into my skull and the right hand and fore­arm that the jab­bing fin­ger is at­tached to are very heav­ily scarred, cour­tesy of an al­most ca­reerend­ing crash at Suzuka in 1990. He’s also got a brightly coloured Mo­hi­can hair­cut. On track or off, you re­ally don’t mess with Slighty. I’d writ­ten some­thing in the weekly pa­per about a war of words be­tween Aaron and his then-team-mate Carl Fog­a­rty. Honda didn’t like their two fac­tory stars bick­er­ing and told them off. The pair of them then told me off! By the fol­low­ing round at Sugo, the nor­mally friendly and af­fa­ble Aaron was back and all was for­got­ten. Aaron Slight is guest of hon­our at The 24th Ca­role Nash Clas­sic Mo­tor­cy­cle Me­chan­ics Show (Oc­to­ber 14-15) and what a guest he will be. Now, we could now harp on about Slighty be­ing ‘the best rider never to have won a World Su­per­bike ti­tle’ but that would do the man a dis­ser­vice as there’s so much more to find out. Along­side the seven poles, 13 World Su­per­bike race wins (plus one at Hock­en­heim in ’99 where the re­sults went back a lap) he also took 42 sec­onds and 32 thirds, all of which gave him the two run­ner-up spots in the WSB cham­pi­onship. There are other re­mark­able achieve­ments, such as three back-to-back Suzuka 8-Hour race wins (’93-’95) the 1991 Aussie and Pan-pa­cific Su­per­bike cham­pi­onships and a Mem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit Award. Per­haps the most im­pres­sive of all was com­ing back to race just 12 weeks af­ter ma­jor brain surgery, when – at the start of 2000 – a two cen­time­tre bleed was found on Aaron’s brain. This con­di­tion had clearly

not only af­fected his run-up to the 2000 WSB cam­paign, but also his 1999 cam­paign, where he fin­ished an out-of-sorts third over­all. Look­ing back now, how does he feel about his amaz­ing ca­reer? “I came from a small town in New Zealand so when I look back, it’s been an amaz­ing ride. At the time lots of great Kiwi rac­ers came on the scene and I think if I was around just five years later it wouldn’t have hap­pened that way. It’s a tough road for a Kiwi to make it on the in­ter­na­tional scene so you have to take any op­por­tu­ni­ties with both hands.” And take them he did, but the road out of Master­ton was a long one. The young Aaron first showed an in­ter­est in rugby but soon bikes took hold, fol­low­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day to the Wan­ganui cir­cuit to watch some rac­ing. Per­suad­ing his fu­ture un­cle to lend him a go on his Yamaha GT80MX started it all and there was no look­ing back. More dirt bikes and then dirt rac­ing cour­tesy of lo­cal spon­sor­ship from Gre­gory Mo­tor­cy­cles all helped and were backed by Slighty’s own knowl­edge work­ing for Gre­gory’s as a me­chanic. The move to road-rac­ing hap­pened aged 18, when he fol­lowed pal Pe­ter Black­wood onto the Tar­mac, but tragedy struck soon af­ter when the pair de­cided to en­ter a flat-track race for fun, a race in which Pe­ter was to lose his life. Back in the 1980s, most of the rac­ing oc­cur­ring Down Un­der was pro­duc­tion based. Aaron rode TZRS, RZ350S (RDS to us) and an RZ500 but his first big four-stroke stuck in his mind. “My Yamaha FZ750 was an awe­some bike,” re­calls Aaron. “It was my first big four-stroke. All the hype was about the five-valve head and that this was gonna be the big thing. I was rac­ing with Robert Holden and he was the man to beat along­side Bob Toomey but our rules were open pro­duc­tion so they had GSX-R1100S and I had a 750! They were sure I had some­thing like an 860cc mo­tor in there, as I would leave them for dead and when they caught up, I was out­brak­ing them mo­tocross style! The FZ wasn’t a full-on race bike for the road like the GSX-R750 but it did things as good or bet­ter. I won an F1 race be­cause – when we rolled up onto the grid – it was sprin­kling with rain and all the F1 bikes had slicks or full wets on, but my pro­duc­tion tyres were half-and-half and I won even though I was spin­ning and slid­ing! I beat Rob and Rodger Freeth that day on their F1 bikes, so it was pretty special.” Dur­ing the late 1980s/early 1990s, Aaron was cross­ing swords with the very best of the Down Un­der tal­ent. Not just Ki­wis like Holden, Si­mon Cra­far and An­drew Stroud, but Aussies like Michael Dow­son, Pete God­dard, up-and-com­ing rid­ers like Mick Doohan and later Daryl Beat­tie as well as veter­ans like Rob Phillis – a rider who would be­come Aaron’s team-mate in the Team Kawasaki Aus­tralia squad. Win­ning the 1991 Aus­tralian Su­per­bike cham­pi­onship would lead to Aaron mak­ing the step to World Su­per­bikes, where he won his first WSB race at Al­bacete in 1992. More wins didn’t come, as he was of­ten asked to play back-up to Scott Rus­sell, es­pe­cially dur­ing the Amer­i­can’s cham­pi­onship year of 1993. For 1994 came the call from Honda to ride the new RC45 V4, the re­place­ment to the leg­endary RC30. He would be paired with pre­vi­ously dom­i­nant Texan (on a Du­cati, at least) Doug Polen. “That V4 even­tu­ally be­came an amaz­ing piece of kit,” re­calls Aaron. “For the years we raced it, we were do­ing ev­ery­thing to beat a big­ger ca­pac­ity V-twin. If we wanted some­thing to make the bike bet­ter, Honda would make it. One year we tried five dif­fer­ent swingarms to get the tyres to last longer. When I rode it for the fi­nal time at Sugo in 1999 it was a mas­ter­piece. At that fi­nal ses­sion they put

So, what of the Honda V-twin that be­came the all-con­quer­ing Honda VTR1000/RC51? Slight was the man do­ing the de­vel­op­ing but fate de­creed that he wouldn’t get a fair crack at the ti­tle on it… He says: “I was at a test just af­ter I’d missed out on the 1998 ti­tle and I was fol­low­ing Shinichi Itoh and found I was 23km/h slower on the Firestorm-pow­ered test bike down the straights, but just a sec­ond behind on lap times. I knew that if we got some power in this thing, we’d be laugh­ing. You’d have 30% more torque on the big V-twin which you could use more than any top-end.” Aaron had a tough time in 1999 as he was “of­ten pulling dou­ble test­ing duty on the VTR and the RC45. I’d had the best year ever in 1998 but started 1999 feel­ing pretty shit. I knew I was fit­ter than ever and a bet­ter rider than ever, but I spent 1999 feel­ing con­stantly fa­tigued. Lit­tle did I know that a mal­formed vein was putting pres­sure on my brain and would bleed out while test­ing the VTR at East­ern Creek: thank­fully an MRI scan in early 2000 found it.” Aaron came back for the fifth round of the 2000 World Su­per­bike cham­pi­onship. He’d never win a WSB race again, but he’d won the hearts of race-watch­ers the world over and – in an emo­tional fi­nale – he threw his Cas­trol Honda leathers into the Brands Hatch crowd at the fi­nal race of the sea­son. Aaron earnt well from bike rac­ing and to­day – af­ter a num­ber of years tour­ing car rac­ing and Porsche Cup rac­ing – Aaron in­vests wisely, in­clud­ing in his dad Rex’s busi­ness: Mitre 10 Mega Store, which has 40 big hard­ware shops lo­cated across New Zealand. He adds: “In my small town rac­ing ca­reer I didn’t make the dol­lars that Carl Fog­a­rty did: he opens his mouth and makes dol­lars! “Here, back home in Master­ton I’m just Aaron Slight and I’m grounded. I’m mak­ing things hap­pen with my money and in­vest­ing here and there. The pond is so small here. I did look a bit green eyed at peo­ple af­ter rac­ing and the op­por­tu­ni­ties they have around the world, but there wasn’t any­thing else to do here. No com­men­tary work, man­age­ment or any­thing like that. This is why com­ing to the CMM show at Stafford will keep me in the bike scene.” a new crank in it, which gave 1.5bhp more. I asked what that was for and was told it was a devel­op­ment part for the fu­ture four-stroke Honda Mo­togp V5 en­gine. Lots of the RCV211V’S tech came from the RC45 race bike – in­clud­ing some cylin­der head and crank tech. Our 750cc V4 was by then pump­ing out close to 190bhp, so think about it: if you’re adding an­other 30% dis­place­ment, the power from adding an­other cylin­der is huge.” It’s a shame that Slighty’s time on the V4 was one of those ‘what ifs’. While 1994 was a pure devel­op­ment year, he still man­aged to be in the fight for the ti­tle and hand­ily beat his team-mate. There were im­prove­ments in 1995, but with Polen’s early de­par­ture Aaron shoul­dered most of the devel­op­ment and raced for most of the year alone in the team. He beat Foggy on iden­ti­cal bikes in 1996, but the V4 was still suf­fer­ing in com­par­i­son to the Du­catis. The next saw the mer­cu­rial tal­ents of John Kocin­ski take the ti­tle, but only af­ter the whole Cas­trol Honda set-up was spun around and fo­cused on the lit­tle Amer­i­can and (it has to be said) the many wet races suited him. It re­ally should have been Slighty’s year in 1998, but the man just had no luck. The huge list of mis­for­tunes is too long to re­count, but in­cluded be­ing knocked off by back-mark­ers, a me­chan­i­cal blow-up at Monza, elec­tri­cal is­sues at Don­ing­ton, year-long brake is­sues with the Brembo mas­ter cylin­der and a duff Miche­lin tyre at the sea­son-en­der at Sugo, which saw him the brides­maid once again by 4.5 points to Foggy.

Carl Fog­a­rty: if one ri­valry needs to be brought up it’s this one. Carl would re­mark that ‘no-one put pres­sure on you like Aaron did’. To­day per­haps the pair have both mel­lowed. Slight says: “We saw Carl a few years back at Monza as we still talk to Michaela and she ex­plained how he’s changed – and he has.” With Slight’s vo­cal chal­lenges over the years in World Su­per­bike about the rules be­tween the four-cylin­der ma­chines and the twins, it was strange that he never made the swap to Du­cati. He says: “The rea­son I wouldn’t, was that I wanted a signed con­tract in front of me, whereas the Du­cati way was more ‘turn up for the first test and we will see you there!’ I re­ally only had year-on-year deals and I wanted a signed con­tract. I got that from Honda.” Talk­ing of con­tracts, back then the 8-Hour was vi­tal to any Ja­panese fac­tory’s agenda: “The 8-Hour was at the top of my con­tract then it talked about World Su­pers. It was the same for Mick in 500s. The 8-Hour was great back then, as you had all the grand prix rid­ers and the su­per­bike rid­ers rac­ing to­gether. I think my three wins there came from me­chan­i­cal sym­pa­thy. I’d even roll off if it meant I didn’t have to do an­other lap at the end of the race. The rac­ing there hasn’t moved on as much. I heard they did 216 laps at the 2017 8-Hour race on a 1000cc bike with rider aids, but in 1995 we did 212 laps in 8-Hours on 750s with no elec­tron­ics…” And what about 500cc GPS: many felt Slighty would be well-suited to a 500cc two-stroke. His first chance came when he abortively flew to Europe to ne­go­ti­ate with Gi­a­como Agos­tini to join the Marl­boro Yamaha team. That fell through as it was de­pen­dent on Ago steal­ing the ser­vices of Kevin Sch­wantz, where Aaron would be the team num­ber two. He also had talks with Garry Tay­lor of Lucky Strike Suzuki, but these too led to naught. His loy­alty to Honda al­most got him in. Aaron re­calls: “It was at Phillip Is­land and the GP team had a three-day test there. I did the last af­ter­noon only and was two sec­onds slower than Mick Doohan, 0.4 behind Alex Criv­ille and Loris Capirossi and faster than Itoh. I was like; ‘where do I sign?’ Honda said: ride for noth­ing in 500cc GPS or ride in WSB and get paid. Itoh was Ja­panese and the Euro­peans brought money to the teams. The NSR500 was a lovely mo­tor­cy­cle, built to do the job, but if GPS had gone four-strokes ear­lier, per­haps things would have gone bet­ter?” To­day Aaron says that life is good. He and wife Me­gan re­turned back to Master­ton in 2004 af­ter liv­ing in Monaco dur­ing his bike and car race years. Now with a 10-year-old daugh­ter, Slighty fits in the odd bit of driver train­ing with As­ton Martin and Lam­borgh­ini while help­ing coach sports teams at his daugh­ter’s school. He’s now draw­ing up his own plans for their new house (he was good at maths and tech­ni­cal draw­ing at school) and he may well re­store his old TZR250 prod­die race bike, should he get the time. Hey, Slighty, write about it for us!

WORDS: BER­TIE SIM­MONDS PHO­TOS: MOR­TONS ARCHIVE/MARK WERNHAM COL­LEC­TION

The Slight style was awe­some to be­hold: hunched over the front, search­ing for grip.

His hair­styles got wilder...

Lead­ing greats like Gobert, Cra­far and Ed­wards at Don­ing­ton in 1996.

BE­LOW: Check the Maori tat­too on his Arai.

ABOVE: Aaron was a Honda man for seven years.

ABOVE: Three of the best su­per­bike rid­ers of the 1990s: Carl Fog­a­rty, Scott Rus­sell and Aaron Slight.

BE­LOW: Aaron win­ning one of his three back-to-back Suzuka 8-Hour races.

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