‘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?
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