Guy reaches the end of the roads
After 14 years of road racing, Guy Martin is hanging up his leathers. For the first time, he explains his struggles and his reasons for stopping Continued over
It’s been a tough year for Guy Martin, John Mcguinness and anyone else involved in the Honda TT project. Back in February, it looked like the Big H had the dream line-up with an updated Fireblade ridden by two top riders. But that dream turned into a nightmare with bike problems, a career-threatening crash for Mcguinness at the NW200 and Guy racing alone at the TT. A crash in the Superbike race and a withdrawal from the Senior TT wasn’t what anyone was looking for.
Since then it’s all gone more than a little bit quiet. The question was what would happen next? No-one knew. Guy didn’t race at the Southern 100 but was using the Moto Time Attack event at Cadwell last week as a public test session. We tracked him down, and away from the autograph-hunters, in the refuge of his transit, he was anything but quiet…
Guy on why he decided to race again
“Neil Tuxworth came around for his tea in October saying, ‘Why don’t you ride the Honda?’ He came two or three times and I liked the fact that he came around to my house. I like him as a bloke – he’s a dog man. He said, ‘Do the meetings you want, do it how you want.’ I said, ‘Get me Marquez’s bike and I’ll be there like a shot.’ And he went off and actually asked. He said, ‘I can’t get Marquez’s bike, but I can get you a ride on it. But you can’t race it at the TT as Honda don’t sell the bike to the public. But you can do all this with the Fireblade.’
“I really had a think about it but I had a filming job – three weeks in China – and I couldn’t give him the answer, so I said, ‘Thanks, really appreciate it but I can’t say yes, so it’s a no.’
“Then I got back from China and came to a classic event on my road bike with old racers. Tuxworth was there and he said those bikes were still there for me. I was biking home from work the next day and I thought, ‘F**k it! I’ll go bike racing!’ For no reason – like a moment of madness. But I’ve still no regrets about doing it.”
Guy on the terrible TT
“I’ve been racing there long enough, and I’ve always applied the same method to the TT: for the first few nights of practice, don’t make any changes because it’s all about circuit knowledge and getting your eye in. You’re not carrying the momentum and it means you load the tyres and suspension more as you’re gassing it harder and accelerating from a lower speed. Once you get faster there is less forward and back transition on the bike as everything flows more. I said to them the first couple of days, ‘Don’t make any changes.’ But I could tell what the problem was – it was the engine. The way it delivers the power – right at the top. [The team first tried a Cosworth-tuned engine, before experimenting with Superstock and Bsb-spec motors – MCN.]
“It still wasn’t fast and it was a pig to ride – the way that the power came in. It was like having an Alsatian on a lead and it’s ripping your arm out. It feels like the most angry thing in the world, but then you let it go and it just licks you to death.”
Guy on the quest for speed
“I said to the team, ‘Whatever we do, once we get those problems out of the way, the bike’s not quick enough – it didn’t have the speed.’ After the NW200, I was talking to engine tuner Jack Frost. Our superbike does 220bhp on a proper dyno, but we were struggling to do 190mph with it. The data from the team said that I’m rolling off here and rolling off there, but that’s what you do, even at the NW200 – noone is to the stop, you’re just managing the bike. Jack said that with those sort of numbers we should be doing 210mph.
“He said, ‘You’ve got some kind of aero problem’ and suggested getting the bike to the Elvington top speed trials. So straight off the phone to him, straight on the phone to [team manager] Johnny Twelvetrees and I said, ‘We’ve got to test it where there is nowhere to hide.’ We took the bike and started off at 187mph, then mucked about and mucked about and we got it to 192mph.
“My technician Roger Smith said that Hutchy’s bike only did 196mph at the TT. True, but if the Blade can’t do it at Elvington, it’s never going to do it at the TT. There are lots of places at the TT where it feels like the front is going to wash, like the wind is getting under the bike. It’s the strangest sensation.”
Guy on the TT crash
“With the problems with the Superbike engine we put the Superstock one in for the Superbike TT. I did one lap of practice and jumped out of gear a couple of times but I thought it was just me getting used to it. Then in the race it jumped out of gear going into Dorans Bend. That was a crash! I was lucky, lucky, lucky! I jumped off the bike – no, I was chucked off the bike, had to run across the road. I got back to the bike and was shouting and screaming, calling it all the names under the sun.”
Guy on handling self-doubt
“I know the truth. People say, ‘You’ve lost it.’ I couldn’t give a f**k. The Tour Divide changed me. Spending all that time by myself, just riding and riding gave me time to think, and I just thought I should have packed in racing five years ago. You get into a routine like Groundhog Day, testing, preparing for the season, then racing. The next thing you’re doing it all over again.
“I thought I’d do the Tour Divide
‘I know the truth. People say that I’ve lost it. I couldn’t give a f**k’
after the crash at the Ulster. I was so close to being paralysed or killed that I thought, ‘F**k it, I’ll do the mountain bike race,’ and I put myself through the mill to get ready. When I got to the end of it I thought I’d never doubt myself again. It changed me. Before, all the way though my life, I’ve doubted my resolve. I’ve always felt I’ve been the weak link, that I’m not good enough. And then I’ll go out and have a couple of good results, everything goes OK and then I’m OK, too.
“So, before the first TT race I explained all of this to the team and I said, ‘We’ve gone through all the problems, nothing’s going right and I’m starting to doubt myself. I know that everything needs to be right for us to win and we need to know that things aren’t right and that we need to develop, learn and move on.’ I said we aren’t going out here to win and we need to know that. Don’t try blaming me. Roger, our technician, he’s a f**king great bloke, but he’s always on the computer saying I’m not holding it flat here or there and putting the blame on me. It’s true, I’m not, but there’s more to the story than just data.”
Guy on fixing the Fireblade
“They’re making headway in British Superbikes. I think a lot of that is the riders adapting their style to make the most of the bike. I’ve not had enough time on the bike and not ridden with the electrics enough. The biggest issue is the throttle closing. It’s not direct enough. Sometimes you want to close the throttle to get some weight on the front wheel to help it turn and it’s not responsive enough. The bottom line is, it’s not quick enough for the roads at the moment but on the short circuit that doesn’t affect it. Very rarely on a short circuit does a BSB bike go above 170mph.”
Guy on finishing international road racing
“I think I’m done. Doing things like this Cadwell test is just confirming that. I haven’t said it out loud – just to you. I’m still going to race my classic, I’m still going to do Time Attack on the Martek, if they’ll bend the rules and allow turbos.
“Why am I doing it? What have I got left to prove? There are old riders, there are bold riders, but there aren’t enough old, bold riders. John Mcguinness is an old, bold rider, but only just.
“People say, ‘You haven’t won a TT,’
‘After riding in the Tour Divide I thought I’d never doubt myself again’ ‘I said we aren’t going out here to win and we all need to know that. Don’t try blaming me’ GUY MARTIN
but it’s only a motorbike race. People say, ‘You’re only saying that because you haven’t won one,’ but I’m not bothered. I just like riding bikes.
“Riding for Honda is great, but I don’t need to do it. It’s not my job, it’s never been my job and I’m not enjoying it. Racing is getting a bit corporate, but I understand it’s got to survive, evolve.”
Guy on going back to Ulster
“Is this the end? Yeah. I don’t want to get to 40 and think I’m not as quick as I used to be. Going back to the Ulster GP would be to do right by the team. But that’s not the right reason. I know I don’t want to go back.
“I don’t use racing as a measure of success. I made my mind up, I love racing bikes but I love building them more. I only started racing because I crashed my 50cc road bike after making it go faster and faster and I thought I needed to do a bit of racing before I did myself in. To start off, I didn’t care where I finished, in those first few years I liked building bikes more than racing them. Maybe now I still do.”
Guy on the future
“I still like riding. All my energy will be put into my classic – and I’m going back to Pikes Peak, too. The plan is to do Time Attack with it at the back end of next year, then in 2019 head to Pikes Peak. I’ll put my energy into that.
“Have I grown out of racing? I’ve done OK. When I was in the podium press conference for the electric TT this year I couldn’t believe I’ve had 17 TT podiums. I’ve won about 15 Ulster GPS and four Southern 100s, three of them consecutive – only Joey’s done that – plus lots of consecutive Scarborough Gold Cups. I don’t know the exact figures as they’re not that important to me. They haven’t made me a better person. I haven’t cured cancer.”