‘I’M NOT RAC­ING YET. I’M JUST RID­ING ROUND’

Guy’s re­turn to road rac­ing has been trou­bled so far. Is there light at the end of the tun­nel?

Motorcycle News (UK) - - TT 2017 PREVIEW - By Stephen Dav­i­son ROADS REPORTER

It seems like a life­time since that heady day in Jan­uary when Honda an­nounced Guy Martin was to ride their new Fire­blade at the 2017 Isle of Man TT. The Lin­colnshire man was com­ing back to the roads after a year out cy­cling and he would be John Mcguin­ness’ team-mate in the mighty Honda Rac­ing squad.

“It’s a Honda on Dun­lops,” Guy re­peated at the an­nounce­ment in Louth, ex­press­ing in a sim­ple mantra the rea­son be­hind his come­back. It would be fair to say that since then things have not gone ac­cord­ing to plan.

A fort­night ago Guy fin­ished 23rd in both 600cc races at the North West 200, his only rides at the event. Honda with­drew their su­per­stock and su­per­bike ma­chines after John Mcguin­ness was in­jured in a crash which he had in­di­cated was caused by the bike not shut­ting off as he ap­proached Prim­rose cor­ner.

Worse still, it was re­vealed by Honda that Mcguin­ness had also blamed the April crash, in which he dis­lo­cated his thumb dur­ing test­ing at Cas­tle Combe, on a sim­i­lar prob­lem.

The race bikes were then grounded as Honda stud­ied the data from the ECU on Mcguin­ness’ su­per­bike. Guy, who has re­ported no such prob­lems with his bike but has strug­gled to find his feet with the elec­tron­ics, was forced to play a wait­ing game. Hardly ideal prepa­ra­tion for what was be­ing billed as the race of his life.

If Honda are in cri­sis, so are Guy Martin’s chances of win­ning the one race that has so far eluded him in a brilliant road rac­ing ca­reer. The 35-year-old has fin­ished on the podium in 16 TT races but has never stood on the top step. In most of his clos­est races he was de­nied by Mcguin­ness on a Honda on Dunlop tyres. Per­haps Guy felt it was time to ad­mit if he couldn’t beat his neme­sis then he should join him.

Even be­fore Honda’s with­drawal, Guy’s qual­i­fy­ing time at the North West 200 was nearly 6mph slower than pole-set­ter, Michael Rut­ter’s best lap. On the stocker he was 15 sec­onds a lap down on his former Tyco BMW team-mate, Alas­tair See­ley.

The North West 200 is not one of Guy’s favourite tracks but his early sea­son out­ings on the stocker ver­sion of the new Fire­blade at Tan­dragee, Cook­stown and the Scar­bor­ough Spring Cup were no more en­cour­ag­ing. In his first road race since breaking his back in a crash at the Ul­ster GP in Au­gust 2015, Guy crashed out on the open­ing lap of the Tan­dragee 100 Open race, tak­ing down Paul Jor­dan.

The fol­low­ing day Guy prac­tised and took part in just one race at Oliver’s Mount be­fore pack­ing and go­ing home as he fin­ished way off the pace set by Spring Cup win­ner, Dean Har­ri­son on his Sil­i­cone En­gi­neer­ing Kawasaki.

On his re­turn to Ire­land two weeks later Guy said there was “noth­ing to gain” by tak­ing part in the Cook­stown 100 fea­ture race after a poor show­ing in the open­ing su­per­bike en­counter that saw him lap three sec­onds slower than race win­ner Derek Sheils on a three-year-old GSX-R1000. The Lin­colnshire racer fin­ished eighth in the Su­per­sport race on the Wil­son Craig Honda, 14.24 sec­onds be­hind race win­ner, Adam Mclean. But he had ac­tu­ally qual­i­fied faster on the 600cc ma­chine than he had on his Fire­blade su­per­stocker.

After weeks of putting a brave face on his strug­gles with the new Honda, Guy fi­nally ad­mit­ted at Cook­stown that he was “dis­heart­ened” by the per­for­mance of the bike.

“I am strug­gling to find con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween me, the bike and the tyres. I’m not rac­ing yet, I am just rid­ing round,” he said. The prob­lem seems to be in the bike’s ECU – this is the first time Honda have had to deal with a ride-by-wire throt­tle, where there is no phys­i­cal link be­tween twist grip and en­gine.

The late ar­rival of the new su­per­bike has also de­layed de­vel­op­ment and ham­pered Honda’s cause. The new Fire­blade hasn’t exactly set the world alight in ei­ther the World Su­per­bike or en­durance se­ries but de­spite all the doom and gloom, there are glim­mers of hope.

Be­fore his crash Mcguin­ness had been far­ing a lit­tle bet­ter than Guy dur­ing North West prac­tice and in pre-sea­son test­ing at Cas­tle Combe the 23-times TT win­ner had been lap­ping close to his best times. In MCE Bri­tish Su­per­bikes Ja­son O’hal­lo­ran has man­aged a podium fin­ish on the new bike this sea­son, al­beit with the Aus­tralian’s Fire­blade fit­ted with a Motec ECU. This may be Guy’s sal­va­tion.

After Cook­stown Guy said he felt “we are maybe 90% there with the bike. Every­thing re­volves around get­ting the elec­tron­ics right. It is a great bike up to about 90% but when you want to push hard, to get out of shape and spin it up, it won’t let you. It just doesn’t give me the con­fi­dence to be able to do that at the mo­ment.” Time is run­ning out for a fix.

Guy Martin has a vast amount of ex­pe­ri­ence of rac­ing the TT and has faced very sim­i­lar strug­gles in the past. In 2015 the truck me­chanic-cum-tv pre­sen­ter was locked in bat­tle with the new Tyco BMW, com­plain­ing as he won the Scar­bor­ough Spring Cup that the elec­tron­ics were not do­ing what he wanted.

“When I close the throt­tle 10% the bike’s brain thinks I want it shut 100% but I don’t! When I want 5% I want 5%, not what the com­puter says,” he com­plained.

By the end of TT fort­night Guy had joined the elite 132mph club on the Tyco BMW as he fin­ished fourth in the Se­nior.

Guy has an­other TT ride that doesn’t in­volve the Fire­blade – aboard the Mu­gen in the Zero TT race. Given his trou­bles and the rapid pace dis­played by Dunlop and Hutchin­son 12 months ago, Guy might con­sider an electric bike vic­tory as an ex­cel­lent re­sult from TT 2017.

‘WHEN YOU WANT TO PUSH HARD, TO GET OUT OF SHAPE AND SPIN IT UP, IT WON’T LET YOU’

Su­per­bike prac­tice at the NW200. Honda with­drew the bike from the race

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