45 BUT FASTER THAN EVER!
Michael Rutter is still winning after a career spanning almost 30 years – how the hell does he do it?
ÔHow long have I even been racing? I think my first year was 1989,” says Michael Rutter, who was 17 when he followed in his father’s wheel tracks. He didn’t expect to still be racing, and winning, some 28 years later, aged 45. At least, that’s how old we think he is – his actual age may well have been lost over years haggling a British Superbike ride as he moved from his mid to late thirties.
From short-circuit racing to road racing, British Superbikes to Grand Prix, Rutter has been there and done it all. This year he won the Lightweight race at the Isle of Man TT (as well as the North West 200), his first petrolpowered win on the Mountain Course in 19 years. It’s not just on the roads that he’s still enjoying success either.
Last year he finished fourth in the National Superstock 1000 championship – against many racers young enough to be his kids – with four podiums and a win. He also sits third in this year’s title chase with two races to go.
We went for a pint with the veteran ace to find out how, and why, he’s still dicing for wins in 2017…
Why the hell are you still racing? “I sometimes have to ask myself that question. Luckily, I’ve got a really good team around me, funded by Bathams, and for the last seven years it’s been really enjoyable because I’ve been able to do my own thing and go in whichever direction I choose.
“Roger Marshall once said to me that the biggest mistake he ever made was giving up racing. He told me to make sure I was 100% that it was right for me when I chose to give up, but even when I’ve had a bad year I’ve had something to enjoy. If the short circuits have been s*** then road racing has been alright, so that’s kept me going.”
In Superstock, you’re racing against some lads young enough to be your son? “It’s frightening. I remember looking up at people like Steve Hislop and Terry Rymer and thinking, ‘Look how old they look, why are they still going?’ But when you get to that age you still feel the same! The biggest difference now is if I’m going for an overtake I think about it instead of just doing it. It annoys me a bit because before I’d just do it.
“You do watch them and you think ‘oh my god’. All they need to do is just slow down a bit and they’ll find a sec- ond a lap! We’ve all been there, we’ve all done it and you learn with age.”
What do you make of their sunglasses and flat-peak caps? “They all go through stages, but we’ve all been there. Some of it is sponsorship, but it’s definitely that kind of era. It’s not as bad these days but there was a period about five or six years ago when everybody had to look like Tom Cruise.”
Your riding style doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years… “That’s the problem, it hasn’t. That’s what holds me back massively now. In 2000/02/03 you could get away with loads of corner speed, lean angle and using the side of the tyre. If I’ve got grip on the side of the tyre I’m OK.
“All this moving around the bike, sitting the bike up, I’ve tried to do it. Every time I go into a corner I try to get myself to sit it up but I’m stuck in my old ways.
“I brake with my all my fingers, too. Years ago, you couldn’t stop the thing without pulling on the lever like hell, so I really can’t get used to using just two fingers. I went around in Spain for a whole week just trying to use two fingers as we’d worked out I was losing so many tenths of a second in going for the lever in a corner. It didn’t go so well, so I thought, sod it!”
Do you regret not winning BSB in 2004? “That was the closest I ever came. It was the first time HRC had put loads into BSB and we were expected to win. Honda are so stubborn in their ways, brilliant in others, but we had some problems.
“Another element was the Michelins. When they worked they were a tyre from God, but unfortunately when they didn’t work there was no warning - they just threw you on the floor. They took an artic lorry full of tyres for me
‘I had nothing to lose, so I put my head down and gapped Foggy’
and Kiyo. The tyre bill was £450,000 for the year.
“Qualifying at Thruxton was a big turning point. The thing flung me through the air and I displaced one collarbone and cracked the other. I raced the same day but it wasn’t great; that put us a bit behind. Kiyo beat me as much as I beat him, so there were no team orders to help out at the end of the season. If I’d had a bit of help it could have been different.”
How much of an influence was your father, Tony, in racing? “Massive. He was F2 World Champion and I’d been to most circuits in England before I even started. I grew up through it and it’s amazing to be part of that, seeing both the highs and the lows. Dad went through a horrific crash in 1985 that put me off quite a lot. I’ve seen the upsides to racing but I’ve definitely seen the downsides too, when you’re adjusting bolts in your Dad’s head, it’s pretty horrendous.”
What’s your favourite racing memory? “World Superbikes at Brands Hatch in 1997. I can’t remember where we finished in the first race but the second one was a two-part race, dry and then it rained.
“Luckily about two weeks before we had had a wet race at Brands Hatch, so we already had a good setting fro the bike. I had absolutely nothing to lose and started to overtake people and found myself in P3.
“I got behind Foggy, who was leading, and I didn’t want to pass him. If I’d taken him out I’d have been shot. I followed him round for two laps but he was holding me up so I thought, sod it, I’ll go past him, got my head down and pulled a bit of a gap. Foggy was one of my heroes, so to pass him at Brands with all that crowd...”
What did you learn from your year in Grand Prix? “You need a good bike. I remember Kenny Roberts Jnr pulling out of the pits on the Suzuki as I was coming down the straight at Paul Ricard on a flying lap and he’d passed me by the end of the straight. I had absolutely no chance.
“I stuck at it though. Every season I’ve tried to finish what I’ve started. I wanted to do every GP, and I did. I nearly had a chance at testing the Red Bull Yamaha and you only need one bit of luck. If I’d had a go on one I could have gone a lot better than I did on that thing.”
How much longer can you go on? “It depends what I’m doing. I think on the roads, if I still enjoy it, I can do it for a few more years. Short circuits are getting more difficult with age. I’ve got a brilliant team and a brilliant bike, but I could do with being 20 years younger sometimes! The bike is capable of winning, but sometimes I’m not.”
‘The bike is capable of winning, but sometimes I’m not’
Rutter took his first petrol win at the T T in 19 years on the Paton S1-R
When Rutter retires, he can always become a pub landlord
No flat-peaks or sunglasses in sight for the elder statesman
Rutter’s racing career has spanned three generations
Rutter was second to Hislop in BSB in ’02
He might be in his forties but he’s still got it
Passing Foggy at Brands is one of Rutter’s highlights 2004 BSB was a close miss for Rutter
GP racing showed the importance of the bike
Rutter has the record for the most wins at Macau