TT star John McGuinness recently received an MBE (Member of the British Empire) in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. With 23 TT wins, the 48-year-old is the second most successful rider around the 37 ¾-mile Isle of Man course, just behind the great Joey Dunlop OBE (26 wins). However, this was about the only positive news in road racing for 2021 as, for the second consecutive year, the Isle of Man TT and North West 200 races were cancelled due to the global Covid pandemic. And now with no Classic TT either, it looks like another year without any international road racing…….
Adam Child, who was team-mate to John in the Superstock race at the TT in 2015, caught up with a somewhat irritated superstar as he reflected on his relatively unsuccessful years with Norton and his comeback from career-threatening injury – plus his joy at being awarded the MBE.
McPint meets the Queen… who would have predicted that!
C. So, do I need to call you Sir John now?
“Oh yes, my gong! And, no, you can call me what you want, but I’ve now got a few letters next to my name. MBE isn’t quite the same as attaining a doctorate but it is a bit wacky, isn’t it?
“It’s also a bit of a head scratcher because normally when you win something you do so by lining up on a grid and beating someone. But this was a nominated award: it’s the powers that be – prime minister, cabinet – giving you the thumbs up and a bit of recognition for my charity work.
“I try to give what I can: a pair of boots here, a pair of gloves there, blood banks, air ambulances, appearances. It all adds up when you think about it, even though I don’t really realise I’m doing it at the time.”
Did you know you were being nominated?
“I didn’t have a clue. I got an email that said, ‘UK Government’ and I thought I’d forgotten to SORN a car or something, so I was worrying. Then I saw it was NYOL – New Year’s Honours List – and the missis said. ‘You’ve got one coming.’
“She’d been chipping away behind the scenes along with the guy who nominated me. They need references from people you’ve worked with, so it was interesting to see the people who didn’t come forward – those who wrote me a reference and those that didn’t!”
“Yes, and I had to ring them and say, ‘Oh, that’s marvellous’, and then had to keep it quiet as it was embargoed. When it comes from Her Majesty the Queen you have to click your heels, don’t you! So only immediate family knew. It was a really nice end to a pretty average year.”
Do you officially change your name?
“Yes, I’m officially MBE. My electric bill came through the other day and that doesn’t have it on, but I have a letter here from our local Lord-lieutentant congratulating me. I’ve changed my name on Twitter; I was a bit embarrassed but Foggy’s got his on already. So I’m taking it, too. I’m not one to blow my own trumpet but… you know. Bit mad, isn’t it: John McGuinness MBE.”
Do you get to meet the Queen?
“I hope so, hopefully there’ll be a garden party once this pandemic is all over. It’ll be a cool thing to do.”
The IoM TT has been cancelled for 2021, was cancelled in 2020, while in 2019 you didn’t have a great fortnight with Norton, so where do you see yourself in 2022?
“Well I got on the bike for the 2016 Senior race and went the fastest I’ve ever gone before. Then I had the disaster of 2017 and 2018 when I was injured. 2019 was a disaster, too, and now 2020 and 2021 have also gone… so I don’t know, mate!
“In my head I’m still a young lad, but the brutal fact of the matter is I’ll be 50 years-old if it’s going to happen in 2022. At this moment in time the TT is on the radar as something I want to do, and for a lot of reasons. For myself, for a 100th TT start, and because I don’t want to finish my TT career up on The Mountain [John’s Norton famously lost an engine bolt in 2019, forcing him to retire from his most recent TT].
“We’ve all experienced mechanical faults and bike problems, but after all the years I’ve been racing I don’t want to end it sitting on the bales at the Bungalow with a DNF against my name. There’s a lot of boxes still to tick, a final roll of the dice, a final bow out… who knows?
“At 50, you can wobble round on classic bikes for another ten years, but riding a superbike with 230 horsepower down Bray Hill might be tough, but that’s up to me, whether I want to do it or not. There’s a lot of water to flow under bridge between now and then but at this moment the green light is on, so we shall see and wait patiently.”
So as we stand you would ride for Kawasaki?
“At this moment in time, yes, unless something changes. I’m a loyal fella, when my back’s against a wall we’ll compete against all the odds.”
What about the electric Mugen and the 600 class?
“Well, the 600 and Superstock bike is in Bournemouth with Bournemouth Kawasaki. Mugen, I don’t know. I’d like to think I’d still be part of their programme; I still speak with Mr Honda all the time. He was one of the first to give me a well done on my MBE. He could have put anyone on the bike in TT 2019 and they’d probably have done the same job I did, but they waited for my leg to get fixed. He’s a good man.”
If the TT goes ahead in 2022, which we hope it does, do you see your experience as an advantage or disadvantage?
“Good question. Thinking about race week in a selfish way, I’d probably want it to rain on the Monday and Tuesday, then be okay Wednesday and Thursday when I can use my experience and hope the fast buys break down – but it’s hard to find the perfect storm, isn’t it?
“The thing now with the TT is that everybody’s good. A few years ago, the guys who did the British championship would be a bit sharper or a bit fitter – more dialled into the situation. But nowadays everyone’s dialled in; they all know what to do. In just three or four laps of practice Hickey (Peter Hickman) will be dialled in. Okay, people like Davey Todd and Paul Jordan might find it a little more difficult, but your top flight jockeys will be doing 130 mph laps from the start, I tell you.”
What about the old guard like Michael Rutter and Bruce Anstey? After all Anstey hardly rides a bike for ages and then bangs in a 130mph lap…
“Well, if you could bottle what Bruce Anstey is made of we’d all be supermen, wouldn’t we? I don’t know what his DNA is but he’s a magician. But Rutter’s very clever, very savvy, he’s got his people around him and [his sponsor] Bathams Brewery. He just goes in there with his massive load of experience and is always there or thereabouts, and James Hillier will be the same. Hutchy [Ian Hutchinson] knows the bag, and he’s fit. Gary Johnson will go alright. There are plenty of lads to fill that top six like Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison.
“I’m 49-years-old and there comes a time when you have to roll over, but I don’t want to. Hardest thing is to keep going and it’s difficult to answer questions in January 2021 when your next TT is June 2022. So, at this moment in time, I’m still a top-flight TT rider and I’m ready to go down Bray Hill. But…”
How hard will it be for everyone to switch back to road racing after two years of only racing on short circuits?
“We’ll all have a clean sheet of paper again as there’ll be updated models, new bikes, including new Hondas – it’s really hard to know what the reactions going to be. I hope everyone just treads carefully to start with before they start running. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on everybody, a lot of expectation too, and everyone will be buzzing and jumping out of the traps – and sometimes that it isn’t the answer.”
I see how the likes of you, Bruce and Hutchy are able to jump from the short circuits to the roads quite easily.
But Peter Hickman and several other top short-circuit riders will have done three years of intense racing in BSB.
Could they struggle?
“Selfishly, I want that theory to be right, but I don’t think that will be the case because these guys are hungry for it. If you’re riding BSB week in, week out, and you have a good test programme, you could get going at the TT straightaway. It’s not a fitness thing for those guys anymore and the bikes seem to handle well these days.
“I’d like to be a fly on the wall when they come in after first TT practice and they’re blowing out their arse. That will be tough. Then everyone will go away, and they’ll sleep on it and it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”
I can’t imagine the TT course changing too much during this break from racing. But did you see any difference in the circuit after the one-year break for foot-and-mouth in 2001?
“It was no different. I never really thought too much about it as I was still ripping up trees in 600s and off to World Superbikes. Everyone was flying in 2002.”
What do you think about the overall prospects for the TT next year?
Do you think it will be stronger than ever or might some riders and teams be missing?
“No. No way. It will be flying. A lot rests on the TT. Davey Todd’s thing is the TT, the centre of my racing is the TT, James Hiller’s thing is the TT, Davo Johnson is the TT. All these riders are underpinned by the TT, and once it’s gone your sponsorship will be gone; your values, your drive… all gone. So everyone will be chomping at the bit to go. They’ll have missed it. It’s the only place in the world you can set off down Bray Hill and ride a superbike on the road.”
I was just wondering if some of the big teams might not want to go back, especially if they’ve not missed it, and whether some of the riders outside the top 20 might not go back?
“The Factories have gone already. The TT has been dominated by big family teams in recent years, like Silicone Engineering (Kawasaki) and Padgett’s (Honda). Even Bournemouth Kawasaki is a family run team.”
When was the last time you were on the Isle of Man?
“For the 2019 Classic TT, the longest time I’ve been away for a long, long time. I’ve been every year since 1982. I went when I was 10 years-old with my Dad and I’ve been every year, sometimes two, three or four times a year. I miss it. I miss the people, my friends, the craic with the racing. Let’s just hope there’s not another curve ball and it gets taken away from us.”
I think the Isle of Man depends on the TT too much to let it go…
“I just hope health and safety doesn’t go mad, it’s such a pure thing to do.”
Jumping ahead is the plan to race in the Ducati TriOptions Cup at BSB rounds this year?
“Yeah, I’m having a go at the Ducati Cup in BSB to keep sharp.”
Thanks John, I’ll let you go back to bed, your Royal Highness. Do I have to bow now?
Yorkshire born Adam Child, or Chad as he’s known in the industry, is a multiple UK record holder, former MCN senior road tester and has been professionally bike testing for 20-years.Chad has attended more than 350 bike launches, covering over a million road test miles, he is also an international road racer, with race wins at Oliver's Mount, podiums in New Zealand and two top ten Isle of Man TT finishes.Chad is just as happy elbow-down on a race track, kicking up mud off road, or restoring classic bikes. Chad launched his own company, Chad76Media in 2019, and you can follow his adventures on Twitter and Instagram.
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