Retro Racing: TT 2011 – One to remember
Racing Retro: During the Coronavirus shutdown of motorcycle Racing Lowdown will bring you some retro pieces. This post looks back to the 2011 Isle of Man TT and one of the most exciting fortnights in memory.
Having seen Ian Hutchinson dominate the 2010 Road Racing season change was in the air for 2011. Just before the Northwest 200 Englishman officially ruled himself out of contention by withdrawing his Shaun Muir Racing Yamaha and a door was left ajar for one of the most compelling and memorable seasons on the roads.
Following his historic five in a week success of 2010 Hutchinson suffered horrific leg injuries in a crash at Silverstone. Sixteen operations saved his leg but not his 2011 season. It was with a heavy heart that he finally admitted defeat and withdrew from his Yamaha debut but the Bingley Bullet would still appear at the TT to take part in a parade lap.
While Hutchinson was ruled out his surgeon commented that, “Ian is an incredibly determined man. I told him to prepare for a protracted rehabilitation when we first met. His courage and determination to has set new standards. To get as close as he is to competing is nothing less than remarkable.”
His determination would stand him in good stead when he returned to the roads.
Hutchy wasn’t the only injured rider that was capturing attention. Conor Cummins, who shocked viewers of the Closer to the Edge movie with his sickening crash at the Verandah, was somehow able to ride and race again. His performance at the TT, where he claimed a top six finish, was heartening for everyone.
“You can sit around and think about the crash and what happened but it doesn’t help,” reflected the Ramsey native. “You’ve still got to race here so it’s better to get on with it. I feel that I’m getting there now physically and mentally so I’m already looking forward to next year.”
Change was in the air for plenty of riders with Guy Martin and Cameron Donald switching rides with Martin moving to Suzuki. The Englishman was out to finally win his first TT. Having ten podiums to his name the support of TAS Suzuki could be what it takes to finally get over the mark. To aid this the team tested extensively in Spain and ran Martin in the early season BSB rounds.
For Donald the switch was also positive as it would take away pressure for the former TT winner and allow him to focus on getting the most from himself after a tough campaign in 2010.
Padgetts had dominated the TT with Hutchinson the previous year and the team were out to maintain their winning streak. A fitter, more focused Bruce Anstey would lead their assault. Fifteen time winner John McGuinness stays with Honda, now running the TT Legends colours, and was out to get back to the top step of the rostrum in 2011.
Michael Dunlop was starting to build his reputation as a maverick of the Road Racing paddock. Already a TT winner the 22 year old was a wild-card within the paddock as he opted against signing a factory contract to instead continue as a privater rider. The Northern Irishman had already built a reputation for being fearsomely fast but showed his loyalty by turning down the advances of factories.
“I’m where I am because of the people around me,” explained Dunlop. “They’ve put in the work, supported me and backed me to get here. It wouldn’t be fair to leave them.”In the Superbike class Dunlop will race a Paul Bird Motorsport built Kawasaki.
Northwest 200 starts the Road Racing campaign
BSB stars flocked to race on the roads in 2011 with newcomers opting to start their Road Racing careers on the Causeway Coast. The weather was a constant worry all week with the opening practice session held in changeable conditions and that set the tone for the week.
In practice Stuart Easton had a big crash at Station Corner and left the Northwest with leg and hip fractures that would also end his BSB season. At the time of his accident he had been third in the championship.
In practice Seeley led the way from the outset on the Superbike and the Superstock machines. The TAS Suzuki rider, racing in the British Supersport class this year, was second fastest on his 600cc mount.
In Superbike qualifying Seeley struggled with a misfire and Michael Rutter and Martin Jessop with the Ducati duo leading the way from Michael Dunlop’s Kawasaki and then Seeley’s teammate Guy Martin. Seeley would qualify on the second row but Cameron Donald and Gary Johnson both showed they would be contenders this year. Seeley made amends with the fastest time in the Supersport class ahead of Dunlop and Johnson.
The race day started very wet and in a changed schedule it was the Supersport bikes that went out for the first race. This was to the only race of the week. Seeley would win a five lap battle with Cameron Donald but heavy rain and a bomb scare put paid to any hopes of seeing further action on the Northwest coast.
John McGuiness Fifteen times a winner and out to get back to the top step of the rostrum
Guy Martin Gunning for his first TT win but a switch to the TAS Suzuki squad could be exactly what he needs. Setting off third on the road he joked that “if I can catch John McGuiness on the road the chances are I’ll be ok!”
Michael Dunlop Already a TT winner the 22 year old is the wild-card of the paddock. Opting against factory contracts he’s out there on a wing and a prayer as a privater rider
Bruce Anstey The Kiwi has turned over a new leaf with the switch to Padgetts Honda. He’s more prepared-mentally and physically-than anyone can remember. He’s out to win another TT
Gary Johnson After a miserable run of form in 2010 Johnson was on the verge of quitting Road Racing but instead he doubled down and invested everything to try and win his first TT
Anstey the man to beat in practice
The opening days of practice were dominated by John McGuinness, now racing the TT Legends Honda, with a 129mph lap edging him close to the 130 mark from the outset. Having been strong at the Northwest 200 the Ducati of Rutter struggled on the opening night of practice. In the Supersport class it was Michael Dunlop from Anstey and William Dunlop with Gary Johnson and McGuinness rounding out the top five.
The sidecar paddock lost Bill Currie and Kevin Morgan during practice after a crash at Ballacyre. Currie, 67 years of age, had been competing at the TT since the 1960’s.
Michael Dunlop suffered an engine failure on the third day of practice at the end of the Sulby straight. He had set a 128mph lap on his Kawasaki on his first lap from a standing start. Dunlop had a technical on the opening night of practice on his Superbike so was struggling for mileage. Keith Amor, TT Legends Honda, crashed at Quarter Bridge on Wednesday and separated his shoulder and opted to sit out Thursday practice to be ready for final practice on Friday.
Martin was getting faster and faster with the Suzuki. Interestingly he was making few changes to the bike during practice week. This was in stark contrast to 12 months earlier when the Suzuki riders were struggling to find a good feeling. By Wednesday Martin felt that he was close to what the bike could do and now needed to make a few tweaks to make it handle better.
Thursday practice was run in near perfect conditions and with plenty of rubber down riders were pushing hard. A road traffic accident caused a delay to the start of practice with a helicopter to be called in. The sidecars went out first when practice began but a huge oil spill, which affected the track for almost one mile, meant that organisers had no choice but to the cancellation of solo practice due to time running out before the road closure was lifted. The decision to allow the sidecars out before the solo riders was criticised by some at the time.
For the likes of Michael Dunlop, short on mileage at TT 2011, the clock was ticking for him to get ready for racing.
While it was easy for solo riders to be critical McGuinness said: I’ve waited all day to ride my bikes and then this happens. The TT is hard enough without losing a practice session but the sidecars are part of the show. Engines can let go in racing and there’s nothing you can do. I think the organisers made the right decision to cancel the solos because it’s a high-speed section of the course where there is oil. Luckily, I’ve ridden all my bikes so I’ve had some practice.”
Friday dawned and having lost out on running the previous night the solos were first out on track and ready for action. Anstey laid down a marker with a 131mph short lap on his Padgetts Honda. Having returned to the pits it was possible that Anstey had been on course to set an unofficial lap record. Afterwards the understated Kiwi said, “it was a good lap. It was clean.” He’s ready for Race Week.
Michael Dunlop was now back on track and keen to press on with his Kawasaki. A 130mph showed he was feeling comfortable despite a lack of running. For the opening race of the week, the Superbike TT, McGuinness will start as the favourite but Anstey’s performance marks him out as a real contender while Martin has looked comfortable on his Suzuki with Dunlop, Johnson and Donald all having reason for confidence.
Sweet 16 for McGuinness with Superbike success
John McGuinness claimed his 16th career win at the TT. The Honda man is now within ten wins of Joey Dunlop’s record haul and while McGuinness refuses to draw comparison to his hero’s successes the goal was now clearly shifting to closing down on the record. Before the race began one of McGuinness’ rivals was immediately removed from proceedings with Ryan Farquhar sidelined by a mechanical failure. On Lap 1 it was McGuinness leading from the outset with the Number 1 on the road leading from Gary Johnson at the end of the first sector. Ansety was third with Guy Martin settling in well on the Suzuki.
Anstey was starting to come into his own on Lap 2 and he took the lead on corrected time McGuinness. The race was now settling down to being a battle between the duo with Johnson, Martin and Michael Dunlop losing ground. At the first round of pit stops Anstey held a lead of one second from McGuinness but the TT Legends Honda squad madeup a whopping 12sec in the pits. Dunlop also lost time with this stop.
On Lap 3 the battle for the lead was over with Anstey retiring at Quarry Bends to hand McGuinness a near 20sec lead from Martin and Johnson. With the race entering its second half Martin started to stretch his legs and open a lead for second. This was then helped by Johnson receiving a 30sec time penalty for speeding in the pits for his second stop. It looked as though Martin was set to finish on the podium for the eleventh time in his career but on the penultimate lap he retired coming towards Douglas. This promoted Donald to second position but the Australian was over one minute adrift of the leader. It was important for Donald and proved that he is back on form following his 2009 crash. Johnson, despite his penalty, running in third.
“It’s incredible to have won another TT,” said McGuinness afterwards. “I didn’t think that I’d win another big bike race here and I got stressed about the pressure of starting first on the road. Anstey was fastest in qualifying but races are different. We had a great fuel stop and then when I saw a gap of one minute I realised something must have happened to Bruce and Guy.”
Eight for Anstey
The opening Supersport race was won by Bruce Anstey but only after the race had to be restarted following the death of Derek O’Brien.
The highly rated Irishman, a former Manx winner, crashed at Gorse Lea. For Anstey, who had set the fastest time of practice week, the win was his eighth TT success.
Keith Amor, who had spent three days in hospital following his practice crash, rode fantastically to finish on the rostrum. The winning margin was eight seconds and afterwards Anstey was clearly frustrated with his performance and the bikes potential.
The hallmark of any top rider is being ready for the next race and the Padgetts Honda rider was clearly thinking about the second Supersport race of the week when he said, “I was struggling to carry the corner speed I wanted. The bike didn’t feel like I wanted it to out there so we’ve work to do. You can’t take anything for granted with the 600’s so we’ve got to keep working because I struggled in this race. Before the restart I was always in the wrong gear so we’ve got work to do. I’ll take the win though!”
A monkey off Michael’s back
Mechanical gremlins came to the surface once again for Michael Dunlop during the Supersport race. An oil leak ruled him out of proceedings and must have left the Ulsterman feeling that TT 2011 was slipping through his fingers. Later that afternoon however he changed the narrative by wrapping up his second TT win with success aboard his Kawasaki Superstock machine. The foundation of Dunlop’s win came on Lap 2 when he took the lead from Guy Martin on a lap where he was almost 15s faster than his rival. From that point on Dunlop was in control.
“That was hard work,” said Dunlop afterwards. “The bike never missed a beat and after this morning’s race I was starting to think I’d not get another TT win! My team did a mega job and this is the only way I can repay them. That was great, the fans were going bananas out there cheering me on!
“It was so important for me to win again and to win on a big bike. It had been a disaster until this race with the problems in practice and it was frustrating. It’s such a relieft to win another TT and we did it in style. I had a point to prove out there and I won it easily.”
Martin would drop to third at the flag and while it was another TT podium for the Suzuki rider, the eleventh of his career, it was another missed opportunity for him to claim his first win. McGuinness managed to pip Martin on the final lap for second. Having claimed a podium earlier that day fourth was the reward for Amor at the flag as he battled through the pain barrier with his injured shoulder. To complete eight laps so fast was a very impressive feat. Anstey, winner of the Supersport race, retired on Lap 1 while Gary Johnson ran out of fuel. Newcomer Simon Andrews finished eleventh and edged closer to a 125mph lap on his impressive rookie TT.
Rescheduled Supersport sees a popular first time winner
Bruce Anstey had won the opening Supersport race of the week but rain brought an early conclusion to the second race amid controversy. With rain in the air, damp patches around the track and tension in the paddock the top riders did not want to race.
“I thought,” said McGuinness. “That it was an unwritten rule that we don’t race here in the wet any longer? I was first on the road and the organisers are saying that it’s only wet under the trees”
He wasn’t the only rider concerned with Keith Amor heavily criticising the decision of race organisers to run the race in already damp conditions by saying, “I don’t want to race in these conditions. There’s damp patches and if you hit one of them at 140mph it’s over very quickly.”
If the race is on riders are always going to race but when the red flags came out on the second lap it heralded the end of proceedings. At that point Michael Dunlop had opened a ten second lead on his Yamaha from his brother William. The race was halted due to rain starting to fall again but the flags didn’t come soon enough for Amor with the Scot crashing at Union Mills where he also nearly took out McGuiness.
While Amor and McGuinness were angered by the organisers Michael Dunlop, out in front and feeling that a TT win had been taken from him, said, “you’ve got to race. It wasn’t too bad to be honest. There were a few big slides.”
The race was re-scheduled for later in the week and Gary Johnson claimed his first TT victory. The Honda man was hugely impressive to claim the win and finally allowed him to show the promise and potential that injury had hampered for years. McGuinness had an inspired race to finish second, one of his strongest races on the 600cc machine in years, with Martin claiming a second podium of TT 2011.
“This is special,” said Johnson afterwards. “To win a TT against so many good riders is amazing. After last year I was fed up with racing and it was either quit racing or invest everything I had and try and makeit work. We made sure every detail was how I wanted it and it’s paid off with this win. At the start I knew I was as well prepared as I could possibly be.”
Michael Dunlop, who was leading the original race, suffered a mechancial failure. Cameron Donald retired less than two miles from home while running second. Conor Cummins brought cheers from everyone by having a strong showing to finish sixth just twelve months after his horror crash in last year’s Senior race. The Manxman proved his fitness and for TT 2012 he’ll line up as a contender once again.
Pre-race Favourite vs Crowd Favourite
It had been a roller coaster of emotions at TT 2011 for many riders but it was capped off with a classic battle for the blue ribbon race; the Senior TT. McGuinness vs Martin. The pre-race favourite vs the crowd favourite. The serial winner vs the serial bridesmaid.
This was a race where both riders gave it everything they had and banished any doubts about Martin’s class. He was simply beaten by a better rider on the day but only by the narrowest of margins. Martin led on lap one into Glen Helen and afterwards said, “it was an achievement in itself to beat John to there. He’s strong in that section and it’s about time someone pushed him! I’ll be back next year to try and beat him.
For McGuinness this win, when added to his Superbike success marked 17 wins on the island, and afterwards he gave credit to his team for their work in the pits.
“I knew that with a good pitstop we’d have a real chance and I did well on laps 3 and 4. Guy gave it a real go out there. I really enoyed my racing this year and it’s brilliant to get my 17th TT win.”
By the final laps of the Senior TT riders are fully dialled in. They’ve spent two weeks getting up to speed and now is the time to show exactly what they can do. Coming through Rhencullen local rider Dan Kneen made sure that everyone remembered him from the 2011 TT.
Having finished fifth in the Superport race last year Kneen was already a coming man on the roads and much was expected of him. TT 2011 was a tougher slate for Kneen however following a winter crash that left him with a neck injury. Bad weather at the Northwest hit him hard and left him short of track time heading to the island. He did well in the Supersport class, finished seventh in the Supersock race but having retired from the Superbike race, with handling issues, he was short on track time with his Kawasaki ZX10R.
“The season has been tough because I had a crash when I was testing in Jurby, I raced at the Northwest, but I was far from fit. At the Northwest I only did one lap on the Superbike so coming to the TT I was in at the deep end with that bike. In practice it was hard work to get the bike to cope with the bumps. In the Senior I ran wide in the second right at Rhencullen and the bike never got settled to hit the jump like I wanted to. I hit the jump slightly off line but when I landed the bike hit hard and I got out of shape. It was only at 120mph but you’re going to have moments like that around the TT course. It was one of those things and I went on to finish the race 12th. When my dad saw the video of the moment he asked me, ‘what the hell were you doing there?’ In a moment like that all you can do is hang on as hard as you can and ride it out. After that moment though I did slow down because the bike had been shaking before that. It was a tough TT.
Fastest Newcomer: Simon Andrews
Simon Andrews, a BSB regular, finished the Thurxton BSB weekend and headed straight for the island where he became the second fastest newcomer of all-time. He admitted that the mental strain of the TT meant that his focus at Thurxton had already shifted to the roads. It was a whirlwind for him as he jumped on a flight and by the time he landed in Ronaldsway Airport the interviews had started and the pre-race briefing took place with other riders en route to the paddock.
Almost instantly upon arriving at the Grandstand it was time for practice and time to get his first taste of the Mountain Course. “Hectic,” was what Andrews called it. “We arrived and I went through scrutineering with my leathers and helmets and was told that we had three minutes until practice started! I had a couple of bananas and then headed down Bray Hill. I had no time to do anything other than focus on the job. At the Northwest it took me a couple of sessions to get dialled in and I’d spent a lot of time preparing for the TT to make sure I’d be comfortable. I never rode around there on a road bike and that actually helped because it just felt like a race track from the first lap.
“The track is hard and on your first laps you are taking it easy but the course flows more the faster you go. There were some sections I struggled but the Mountain was good. The riding style of the TT is all about setting up the exit of the corner and at some places you’re on the gas before you get to the apex of the corner. You try and use the power to keep the bike stable and not push too hard on the front on the entry.
“I did my fastest lap [a 125mph] on the final lap of the Senior. The rear tyre was knackered because we did all six laps with the same tyre because the Superstock bike doesn’t have a quick release rear wheel. It was an emotional fortnight but I wish I’d done the TT years ago. It’s good fun and the atmosphere is great.”
Picture Credits: Tony Goldsmith, Kevin Clague, Stephen McClements