The JPS Nor­ton team

? The last gasp of the old Bri­tish in­dus­try brought mas­sive rac­ing suc­cess

Motorcycle News (UK) - - New Bikes -

The JPS Nor­ton team put the pride back into Bri­tish mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, win­ning Bri­tish cham­pi­onships against the might of the Ja­panese. The unique ro­tary-en­gined Nor­tons were not only amongst the best-sound­ing race bikes of all time, they also looked amaz­ing in their sil­ver-gold-and-black liv­ery. It’s no won­der they’re still much missed. But what ac­tu­ally hap­pened to the JPS Nor­ton team and why did it quit rac­ing af­ter the 1992 sea­son?

When did the team start rac­ing? Nor­ton guru Brian Crighton built the first Nor­ton ro­tary race bike in 1987. It was based on Nor­ton’s 588cc wanke­lengined In­ter­pol model that was be­ing used by var­i­ous po­lice forces in the UK. Crighton worked at Nor­ton but built the bike with­out any help from the fac­tory. When it took third in its club race de­but at Dar­ley Moor, the fac­tory de­cided to get in­volved. In 1988 the bike started win­ning na­tional races with Steve Spray at the helm, and that’s when JPS stepped in and agreed to be ti­tle spon­sor for the 1989 sea­son.

There was his­tory be­tween JPS and Nor­ton wasn’t there? Yes. Peter Wil­liams won the 1973 For­mula 750 TT on a Jps-spon­sored Nor­ton as far back, al­though the liv­ery was white, red and blue rather than the later black, sil­ver and gold.

Did suc­cess come overnight? Yes. In 1989 Steve Spray won the 750cc TTF1 Supercup Bri­tish cham­pi­onship on his RCW588 ahead of Terry Rymer on a Yamaha OW01 and Carl Fog­a­rty on a Honda RC30. Team­mate, Trevor Na­tion, also won races and fin­ished in fourth place over­all.

Didn’t Crighton split with the team? Crighton was pro­moted to Se­nior Devel­op­ment En­gi­neer at Nor­ton in 1990 and didn’t have time to de­vote to the race project so ex-honda Bri­tain boss, Barry Sym­mons, was brought in. The team en­joyed more suc­cess in 1990, with Na­tion win­ning the MCN Su­per­bike se­ries and Robert Dun­lop tak­ing third place in the For­mula 1 TT on the Isle of Man. Na­tion went one bet­ter to fin­ish sec­ond in the Se­nior later in the week. Dun­lop also won both Su­per­bike races at that year’s North West 200. But Crighton and Sym­mons did not see eye to eye and, af­ter a se­ries of rows, Crighton quit Nor­ton at the end of 1990. Did Ron Haslam ac­tu­ally en­ter the Bri­tish Grand Prix on a JPS Nor­ton? He did! Sym­mons signed re­turn­ing Grand Prix hero Haslam to part­ner Trevor Na­tion on the new NRS588 in 1991 and Haslam took race wins and fin­ished sec­ond to Rob Mcel­nea on the Loc­tite Yamaha in the Supercup Bri­tish cham­pi­onship. But he sent fans into a frenzy when he scored four points for 12th place in the 500cc Bri­tish Grand Prix as a wild card en­try on the Nor­ton.

So where did it all go wrong? Haslam suf­fered a badly bro­ken leg at Snet­ter­ton in 1992 and de­spite good re­sults from stand-in rid­ers like Terry Rymer and Mark Farmer, the Nor­ton was no longer as dom­i­nant as it had once been. Robert Dun­lop still man­aged a fine sec­ond place in the Supercup cham­pi­onship (the fore­run­ner to BSB) and Steve His­lop fa­mously won the Se­nior TT on a Nor­ton – but it wasn’t a JPS bike.

Why was Hizzy not on a JPS Nor­ton when he won the TT? Be­cause of the in­her­ent dan­gers of the TT, JPS de­cided it no longer wanted to be associated with the event so missed out on the ro­tary Nor­ton’s great­est achieve­ment. In­stead, Sym­mons leased a bike and, with back­ing from Abus Se­cu­rity and on an all-white bike, guided His­lop to that most fa­mous win.

Was 1992 the last sea­son for the JPS Nor­ton team? Yes. JPS with­drew its spon­sor­ship af­ter 1992 and the of­fi­cial Nor­ton team folded, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Crighton had con­tin­ued with his own rac­ing project and Ian Simp­son won the 1994 Supercup Bri­tish Cham­pi­onship on the Duck­hamsspon­sored ‘Ro­ton’ with team-mate Phil Bor­ley com­ing sec­ond. Af­ter years of com­plaints that the ro­tary Nor­tons had an un­fair ad­van­tage over their four­cylin­der ri­vals, Supercup or­gan­is­ers fi­nally changed the rules for 1995 and Crighton’s Ro­tons found them­selves out in the cold.

Where are the JPS bikes now? All the JPS Nor­tons and Duck­hams Ro­tons now take pride of place in the Na­tional Mo­tor­cy­cle Mu­seum in Birm­ing­ham and many still take part in clas­sic events. If you ever get the chance to hear them run, don’t pass it up. They’ll still make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

His­lop took one of the most fa­mous TT wins of all time on the Nor­ton in 1992

Rocket Ron sent fans wild by en­ter­ing the 1991 Bri­tish GP on the Nor­ton

Steve Spray beat both Foggy and Rymer on his Jps-backed Nor­ton

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