There is no doubt John McGuinness is a walking, living and quite funny legend of motorcycle racing. The fact that he is able to go racing, let alone walk again, is a testimony to his determination and passion for road racing, as in May 2017 that passion nearly brought it all to an end.
In Superbike practice for the North-West 200 in Northern Ireland, he had a massive crash through no fault of his own. The ECU of the new Honda Racing Fireblade he was riding looped out when an electronic glitch in the gearbox “auto-blipper”, caused the bike to accelerate unexpectedly. This was due to some early software problems on the race bikes.
His injuries were broken vertebrae, ribs and smashed tibia and fibula in his right leg. It was mashed, the fractures so severe the docs had to remove 50 mm of bone forcing his leg to be encased in scaffold with a fixator. During the rehabilitation he had to screw out the rods with a spanner a millimetre at a time to create a gap so new bone could grow. (Shiver!)
He was aiming to race at last year’s IOM TT but complications arose after the fixator was removed in March last year, putting his racing return back a couple of months.
The evidence of the injury was painfully evident at the recent InterFOS event in Sydney, his lower leg still severely swollen. He has had a special over-size boot and leathers made to compensate. You shake your head in admiration and amazement at what these riders put themselves through for that unbridled and unique rush of what only motorcycle racing can bring.
Following the 18 IOM TTs he has contested, including 23 TT wins, he stands in the books as the fifth fastest of all time to lap the circuit (132.701mph, 2015 Senior) and has covered around 49,500 miles (79,200 kms) or over 1300 laps of that iconic piece of real estate in the Irish Sea.
That’s not to mention his success and the miles of black ribbon he has covered in Northern Ireland, Macau and venues far and wide, all the way to GP.
One would think he would have had enough. Not at all. The passion still burns deep.
McGuinness has been to Australia a couple of times for the Phillip Island International Classic, with Team Winfield Classic Racing, but it was his first time to Sydney and the ‘Creek.
McGuinness, along with Michael Rutter, flew out from Sydney at 8am Monday morning after the event to head straight to the IOM press launch in Douglas for this year’s TT, where the soon-to-be 47-year-old will make his delayed debut for the Norton factory.
Before he bolted, Bracksy cornered him for a few questions.
John McGuinness Interview
Mark Bracks: So, first time to Sydney Motorsport Park, what did you reckon?
John McGuinness: “It’s sorta ticking a box thing for me, I’ve never been before so it’s exciting. It’s totally different to what you see on YouTube. I did a bit of stuff, trying to learn the track, but I didn’t realise it was as up and down as it is. I’ve been to tracks around the world, it’s just like another track innit. There’s some interesting bits. Turn one is mega, having a scratch in a few places, stop-start and then flows in some places. It’s good, it’s a bit bumpy, a bit old school, been around a long time this track.”
Bracks: What about the event itself?
John McGuinness: “I’ve loved every minute of it, the people are friendly, the organisers are friendly, all the competitors have been friendly. Roger and his team, we all get on well. We’ve been doing a bit together for a few years, I’ve been out of action for a bit, so, we got ourselves a bit nervous when we got here. Probably took me a bit to get going really, but I was always a little bit behind them guys really.”
Bracks: Is this your first serious ride since that incident?
John McGuinness: “I did the Classic TT and Macau TT. Macau is a bit, sort of my territory. This again is a new track, big heavy superbike, and I struggled a little bit. Being a second-and-a-half or two-seconds behind these guys I’m kicking myself, probably being a bit hard on myself. It’s gonna take a bit to get back to the sharp end, we’ve been safe, going OK.”
Bracks: That’s the other thing, you gotta keep in the back of your mind, anything could have happened out there…
John McGuinness: “When it’s dry and its hot and you’re hitting all the right spots on the track, and you have the rhythm, I did that wet race yesterday, it was OK, got in a nice rhythm, wasn’t a million miles worse than the other guys, but it was getting wetter and wetter, and there was more puddles and more puddles… You know having spent two years recovering to get back to where I am, if I did something – no disrespect to the event – I sorta got bigger fish to fry.”
Bracks: And it’s not as if it’s an event with sheep stations out there. You’re coming here for a bit of fun.
John McGuinness: “It’s a premier classic event in Australia ya know, the crowds been disappointing, maybe they don’t want to come see John McGuinness anymore.
Bracks: I don’t think that’s the case…
John McGuinness: “I feel a bit disappointed about the whole thing. In my head it was going to be sunny, in my head I was going to get some laps, and unfortunately we picked the wrong weekend. I’ve been watching the weather excited, and we just got a freak weekend. That knackered the job really. I got some quality riding Thursday, some riding Friday, some riding Saturday, Sunday’s a wash-out.
“It’s been a long way to come, and I don’t have to come, I come because I want to come, because I enjoy riding bikes and working with these guys. I’ve had some lovely comments from spectators, a few families kicking around, watching my racing at the TT, never been there, but would love to go there, and pleased to have a chat and a meet up.
“That for me is also part of the journey, you know, it’s not all about me and the racing, it’s the people and the fans. Without them we’re nothing. It’s ticked the box, I’ve had a look around Sydney, you know, it’s like Newcastle at home. It’s a town with a bridge in it, it’s just a bit warmer, that was about it. So yea I’ve had a bit of a nosey about.
Bracks: So you getting around the bike alright?
John McGuinness: “I can move around, but I just want to hit the brakes really hard. I just haven’t quite got that upper body strength yet. I need to do a bit more riding, I’ve been doing a bit of moto-crossing, plenty of enduro, a bit of mini-biking, but not much road riding. I rode in November, but this weekend has given me a bit of a kick up the ass, a rude awakening.
“I’m just not quite in shape here. All the top TT riders have been, Hickman’s doing a bit, Harrison is doing a bit, Hillier is doing a bit, ya know, they are all just getting that one step ahead of me. So when I get back, I need a bit of a program to go and do some riding. Otherwise I’m going to get humped – my pants pulled down.”
Bracks: You’ve got these new challenges, getting fit and being able to ride the bike…
John McGuinness: “It’s a new chapter with Norton, a big thing for Norton, a big thing for me. Had a lot of success at IoM TT and the North West, long may it continue, but realistically I’m not sure really. The Norton; Josh Brookes got it around 131.8, so it’s definitely got pedigree, I know my way around, got the experience, if I can line all the planets up and go reasonably fast we won’t be a million miles away. Coming from laying on the ground with lots and lots and lots of broken bones to being able to do it has been a big journey and a big exercise. Nothing left to prove now.”
Bracks: You’ve done everything, 23 TT wins, you very nearly paid the ultimate price, for something that wasn’t even in your control.
John McGuinness: “I didn’t want it to finish that way. The easiest way would be to say that’s it, and roll over. I want to retire on my terms, not on someone else’s terms.”
Bracks: Has this given you a rekindling, an enthusiasm?
John McGuinness: “It has given me a focus to get fitter, stronger, and back to the position of where I was. Not just for racing, for me, myself and the rest of my race. There’s other things outside racing, I got kids springing up, if I didn’t have a focus and a direction, my leg wouldn’t have got better. It would have been easy to eat burgers and chips and beer, some asshole will say I’m bitter and twisted about it, but I just have to pick myself up. I’m looking in front not behind now.
Bracks: So that’s all settled.
John McGuinness: “Just getting back to where we were. I’ve got a new place at home, life’s good really outside of racing as well.”
Bracks: So when you retire, will you have to work, or has racing been good to you?
John McGuinness: “I can probably tread water and put groceries in the fridge. I don’t know, I mean, what I’ve got now racing, is way way more than I ever expected when I was started at school, not doing any listening. Laying bricks when I was an apprentice, I’ve come a long way. But I mean I’ll always stay involved, someone will invite me here, or there, won’t they. Get a quid here and a quid there. Old Parrish can’t do it forever can he, I’ll kick him out of the job one day.”
Bracks: Come and join the comedy team mate! Thanks John.
NB: John McGuinness was to debut on the Norton at the North West 200 in mid-May. But overnight NW200 organisers have rejected their entry. The reason being that Norton wanted John on a 1200cc version of the Norton at the NW200. While special dispensation can be made by NW200 organisers in certain cases, they were not willing to stretch the boundaries to allow a 1200cc entry. It is yet to be ascertained if Norton will modify their entry and have John on a litre capacity motorcycle for the NW200, as the man stated himself above, he does need track time.
Fastest 25 riders of the IOM TT course
1. Peter Hickman (BMW) 2018 Senior 16m42.778s 135.452mph
2. Dean Harrison (Kawasaki) 2018 Senior 16m46.742s 134.918mph
3. Michael Dunlop (BMW) 2016 Senior 16m53.929s 133.962mph
4. Ian Hutchinson (BMW) 2016 Senior 17m00.384s 133.115mph
5. John McGuinness (Honda) 2015 Senior 17m03.567s 132.701mph
6. Conor Cummins (Honda) 2018 SBK 17m04.431s 132.589mph
7. James Hillier (Kawasaki) 2015 Senior 17m05.779s 132.414mph
8. Guy Martin (BMW) 2015 Senior 17m05.907s 132.398mph
9. Bruce Anstey (Honda) 2014 SBK 17m06.682s 132.298mph
10. Josh Brookes (Norton) 2018 Senior 17m10.994s 131.745mph
11. David Johnson (BMW) 2015 Senior 17m12.165s 131.595mph
12. Michael Rutter (BMW) 2016 STK 17m15.924s 131.118mph
13. Gary Johnson (Kawasaki) 2016 Senior 17m17.291s 130.945mph
14. William Dunlop (BMW) 2014 Senior 17m18.016s 130.853mph
15. Lee Johnston (BMW) 2015 STK 17m18.037s 130.851mph
16. Martin Jessopp (BMW) 2018 SBK 17m18.910s 130.741mph
17. Cameron Donald (Honda) 2013 SBK 17m19.007s 130.729mph
18. Steve Plater (Honda) 2009 Senior 17m20.91s 130.490mph
19. Dan Kneen (BMW) 2017 STK 17m22.051s 130.347mph
20. Keith Amor (Honda) 2011 Senior 17m23.41s 130.177mph
21. Phil Crowe (BMW) 2018 SBK 17m25.176s 129.957mph
22. Ryan Farquhar (Kawasaki) 2010 STK 17m25.77s 129.883mph
23. Sam West (BMW) 2018 Senior 17m27.118s 129.716mph
24. Steve Mercer (Honda) 2016 SBK 17m30.299s 129.323mph
25. Ivan Lintin (Kawasaki) 2018 STK 17m31.442s 129.183mph
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