Phil: We’re here at the Island Classic with Isle of Man TT legend, John McGuinness. John, first of all, welcome to Australia, and I’ve got to say, as a road racing fan, it’s great to have the… well the current star of real road racing, here in Australia for the Island Classic.
John: Yeah, it’s great to be here. I’ve been Cameron Donald’s teammate for a while, and I’ve kicked around with Steve Martin a bit in World Endurance and these guys are saying how great this event is and I should come across. I’ve been that busy, didn’t know what we’re doing, but give it a year or two, and Roger Winfield has brought the British team over here, he says, “Do you want to ride?” I said, “Yeah, why not?” You know, it’s good to be here, I’ve got here on Tuesday, had a look around, I got on Phillip Island. Cowes hasn’t changed much since I came in 2002, seemed a bit like 10pm the place was closed up, but yeah, we’ve got a couple of days kicking around in the sun and looking forward to the event.
Phil: Well, most people of course would know you as the current King of the Mountain, 20 TT wins, Joey Dunlop’s 26 I think it is, is in sight, is that your goal at the TT, to try and be the winningest rider?
John: Well, that would be the icing on the cake, for sure. But I’m not going for that, I mean, I’m in a position now where my bikes are good, my team’s good, I’ve got the experience and if we pick another one or two wins out of it, if we don’t, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m safe and enjoying it. I never thought… I would ever be sat here, I’m nearly 42 years old with 20 wins under my belt, it’s a bit of a dream for me to compete in the TT. You know, to win one’s amazing, even to finish a TT is amazing. But you know, I’ve got 20 wins and I’ve got good bikes around me and good team, there’s no reason why we can’t win a few more, but it’s not really a goal, and I never really had any goals, I just sort of fumbled through my career and ended up where we are, really. But we’ll just keep plucking away and see what happens, you know. Honda, the mechanics, the family, wife and kids, they all still give massive support, they’ll never stand in my way so we’ll just take it year by year and see what we can do.
Phil: You’ve mentioned that you’re 42, Joey Dunlop was still going well into his 40s, what is it with the TT that it seems to be more about age and experience that gets you the wins rather than youthful exuberance?
John: Yeah, it’s a bit of both, really. I mean yeah, there’s no substitute for experience and knowing your way around and knowing the bikes and, you know, you speak of Joey, I mean, he was 48 and he won three TTs in the week. Racing is so competitive, I just can’t see myself at 48 winning races. I don’t know whether Joey felt that at the time and you know, one thing’s for sure, what you’re not going to do, you’re not going to win a 125 two-stroke and then jump on a super bike and win on a Superbike, which made Joey’s wins that more incredible, you know? But, you know, I still feel good, looking in the mirror sometimes and I’m looking average, you know, the hair’s dropping out, there’s an extra pound in places on the old belly that I’ve never seen before, but when I get on the bike, I still feel great and again, I think Joey had the same attitude, he just kept going and enjoying it and the wins were coming and when you enjoy it and you’ve still got a bit of passion for racing and a bit of determination and a bit of skill and experience, you can still do it. I mean, I never did the TT until I was 25 years old, I did a little bit of growing up first, you know, you’re 18 years old, I think you’re a little bit young, you’ve got really no respect for anybody or yourself or certainly not for walls and trees around the Isle of Man, so it’s… you get a few years under your belt and then you mature and become a fast, smooth rider. We’ll just keep going, that’s it, really. I’ll never make predictions around the Isle of Man, I get focused and I get motivated by things and just trying to do the taking on track. In the last years we have done OK.
Phil: What is your favourite part of the Isle of Man TT track?
John: Well, I mean, this is amazing, I’ve got my own corner now, McGuinness’s, which is… you know, there’s 270 plus corners on the Isle of Man, and there’s one corner there, my favourite corner, it’s a little left hander which is taken just sixth gear, not flat out rpm, but full throttle, left under, just after Handleys, you know, it’s called McGuinness’s, you never see any spectators there, you might see three or four sheep in the field or a marshal or something, but you don’t really see any spectators, but it’s just… I’ve been making a couple of passes on riders around there in the early part of my career, when I won some of my early TTs and it just gave me a thrill to ride, past people round there, and they called it mine. But there’s so many places, I mean Bray Hill is spectacular, corners on the mountain, there’s so many different types of corners. I love all of it, really, there’s not really something that I don’t like about it, I just like all the corners for different reasons, different speeds and rpm and gears and bumps and jumps and turns and everything. So I like it all, but McGuinness’s is just something I’m pretty proud of. When I’m long gone, there’s still going to be McGuinness’s, you know? So it’s pretty cool.
Phil: From one island with a fantastic race track to another island with a fantastic race track, Phillip Island circuit, haven’t been here for about 12 years I think it was you’ve said this morning, has the circuit changed much?
John: I think the layout’s the same, it’s so smooth, it’s difficult to get a feeling from my bike, I just feel like floating around in a boat, but you know, it’s an iconic track, it’s one of those tracks that’s on your bucket list, I suppose. I suppose your Monza and your Assen and Phillip Island and Daytona and these events are such big, iconic events and just I’m proud to be here, you know, we’ve had a good time, enjoying a bit of sunshine, working with some good people. I met Barry Ditchburn yesterday and some of the iconic names and Rob Phillis and these guys that you grew up with, watching, and that were doing the business in the 70s, 80s, 90s and stuff. And I met Brendan Roberts today, he was our Superstock Champion in 2006, in British, so yeah, it’s, like one island to another, I’m just buzzing, just thrilled and get out there and get amongst it. I think it’s going to be a lot more competitive and a lot harder than I’m going to make out. I’ve seen some of the lap times, lap sheets from last year and had to put them back down again, I’ve seen some 36s or 35s, I thought…ya know… I think I did a 42 when I came on my Supersport bike in ’02, when I was Karl Muggeridge’s teammate, but yes, we’ll just put some petrol in the bike and we’ll give it a spin there and it’s the first time the bike’s turned the wheel, it seems to be all good, so we’ll just keep chipping away. —
Phil: Tell us about the bike that you’re riding this weekend.
John: Yeah, it’s a Harris… a Harris, I’m not really sure what it is. I think it’s based on an XR 69 frame with a Honda engine in it so it’s just a good all around package and, you know, Roger’s put the bike together and I think Gary Johnson is going to ride it in the Classic TT and it’s got all new bits on it and it seems OK out there. It’s certainly got my attention, sometimes you don’t give these classic bikes and some of the guys that ride the classic bikes as much respect as they need, you know, I’ve got on it, turned the throttle on and things on the back wheel and it certainly got my attention, so better concentrate here. It’s amazing, really, I mean I worked, it’s only the first session and we’re tramming on a bit and working on the side and we’ve got the bike to spin a little bit and that was good fun out there, so I’ll keep going.
Phil: Most people of course know you from the Isle of Man TT, but the last couple of years you’ve been doing a lot of endurance racing on proper racing circuits rather than the real road circuits. Do you think that that’s probably helped you come to places like Phillip Island and adapt a little bit more quickly than what it would a few years ago, when you were doing mainly the road circuits?
John: Yeah, I mean, I’ve always done some short circuit. I mean I was British champion in ’99, I finished third behind the late Kirk McCarthy in 600 championship in 01, and ’02 we went World Supersport and I’m there or thereabouts. I mean, I’m three-quarters of a second off the pace now, that’s at British Superstock level, but it’s still not a bad pace, but for me, I stick with my priorities and what people know me for is the roads, the TT, NW, Macau and other bits, so… But I don’t think, there’s no substitute for being on your bike, you can’t just rock up to the TT and whip a bike out and go to races, you’ve got to be sharp, you’ve got to be bike-fit, you’ve got to be strong mentally and everything and the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed and that’s what I do it for. I mean, I still enjoy it, you know? I’m just a little bit behind the ball, but you know with World Endurance, it wasn’t all about being the out and out fastest. We finished fourth in the World Championship in 2012 with Cameron as my teammate and Simon Andrews and we did a good, solid job. We were going OK and I really, really enjoyed it and I’ve done 500 Grand Prix and all sorts of bits and bobs, but had never done endurance, so we did a three-year, we had a go at that for three years and we did OK and that’s something that I’m proud of again and there comes a time where you just can’t quite cut it at that level and we’ll do other events like this. But when it comes to the TT, that’s my fighting ground, if you like, that’s my thing so I feel good when I get there and I get the most motivation when I go there and stuff.
But I still love being on my bike. You know, off-road bike, mini bike, I’ve got a speedway bike, I’ve got you know just 40 bikes in the garage and I’ll just whip ‘em out and tear around on them. I’m 18 in the head but 40 in the body, so I just wish we could turn the clocks back.
Phil: Don’t we all? The circuit here at Phillip Island, as you said, is an iconic circuit, but how much of a thrill is it for you to come and race at this excellent meeting but also with the riders in your UK team, the strongest UK team ever and the legends that the Australian team has got in as well, like, so you’re talking to Steve Martin and Shawn Giles, you’ve mentioned Cameron, who’s your team mate, Brandon Roberts. But also, you’ve got guys like Ryan Farquhar, you would’ve raced plenty of times on the road circuits, along with Jeremy McWilliams and all the other guys in the UK team.
John: Yeah, you’ve said it, I’ve got so much respect for all the guys, Ryan has been a sparring partner now for 20 years on the road and you can ride wheel to wheel with Ryan, he’s not going to stick you up a kerb, or into a hedge or anything, you know. I respect him and what Jeremy’s done at Grand Prix level, he’s a 250 Grand Prix winner, pole position man here, and Gary Johnson’s going good and even Mike Edwards. You know, a lot of people, they don’t know Mike Edwards, but he’s won the Macau Grand Prix, he’s won NorthWest, and he’s still a fast little bugger and he can turn it on when he wants to, but, obviously, the Aussie team is just, you said it there, with Steve and Shawn Giles and all them boys, Cameron’s good and Brendon’s a champion so we’ll probably not have much chance, but I’m going to keep these things going, we’ve got good mechanics working on our bikes, I think we’ve done a good team, put on a good show, you know? Our bikes, are garages are full, are nice, prepared, Suzukis and Yamahas and yeah, it’s a good, strong field, it would be lovely to try and beat off some of them, even just race with them. It would be disappointing if some of the bikes just tear off in the distance and you’re not as competitive, you might finish fifth or sixth, but if you’re a competitive fifth or sixth and enjoy your racing and keep these boys honest, it will be good. I just hope a lot of people turn up for the event, come down, say hello, get amongst it a bit. I’ve won a few TTs, but I’m still a bricklayer from Morecambe, North of England, I haven’t changed that way. So I’m just an out an out bike enthusiast, really, that’s since TZs, ya know, and my dad used to race TZ750s, 350s, RG500s and it’s just in my blood, really, to see some of the old bikes, the old sidecars.. the Yankee boys are all excited next door and we’ve been high fiving all day so it’s good fun, you know? Let’s hope we have a good crowd and everybody enjoys it and on Sunday night we all… let’s hope there’ll be a pub open later somewhere a bit later than half-ten so we can tell some stories about it. What do you drink, you lot drink bourbon, don’t you?
Phil: No, we like the beer here just as well.
John: Just a bit of beer, and-
Phil: But it’s cold.
John: Yeah, well, perfect.
Phil: Now, just to finish on a bit lighter note, I think I’ve read a story somewhere… You mentioned that you’re from Morecambe, Morecambe’s probably famous and infamous for the story where I think it was the lot of the pickers were out on the sand flats looking for shells when the tide comes in very, very quickly there. But you know I’ve read a story somewhere that the same thing almost happened to you when you were young as well.
John: Yeah. Me and well she’s my wife now, she was my girlfriend at the time, we’ve been together 25 years, back when her dad was a fisherman, so yeah, times were hard, it was tough, there was recession, I went to college to be a bricklayer and the country was in recession, so I went fishing and mussel picking and that’s the only way I could afford to go racing and yeah, I’d get a little bit greedy on the sands and had the tractor out there and the trailer, if the wind’s in the right direction and it’s a big tide, you can get cut off from the shoreline and yeah, it becomes a bit of a worry and have to throw the bride on the back of the trailer and leave some of the mussels and get off the beach and into the shore. But yeah, those cockle pickers, they were 50 metres from where I lived, right outside my front door. And you know it wasn’t a good place to be, they didn’t have the experience and that place can catch you out, you know? Anyway, it didn’t matter what you can do, mother nature will pull your trousers down and have you, so I nearly got caught out with the Mrs, but I learned my lesson and after that we at certain times we was off, but that’s how I paid for my early racing on my KR1-S Kawasaki and my early TZ250, living from week to week, day to day and just beg, stealing and borrowing to go racing. But in the early days I wouldn’t give in, I just thought I’m going to be a top TT rider and nothing else is going to stand in my way, but it was tough in the beginning. I never had a rich father who chucked a lot of money at me, but I just boxed my way through my career and here we are, 2014 Phillip Island, still playing at it.
Phil: Well, John, it’s been an honour for me to talk to you today, and best of luck on the weekend, although I don’t think you’ll need it, I think you’ll be right up there and battling with these guys, but have a great weekend.
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