Managing expectations is tricky. Ask Ducati. Their hiring of Valentino Rossi six years ago to form an Italian dream team quickly turned into a nightmare. And now history looks like repeating itself with Jorge Lorenzo struggling to get into the top ten.
It is certainly not what promoters, sponsors or, indeed, fans, having parted with their hard earned cash, were hoping for. Passing the blame parcel soon becomes an art form but little of it seems to attach to the star rider. It’s tyres, handling, electronics etc. with the previous year’s successful performers being conveniently forgotten.
You can argue that Lorenzo is on a brand new motorbike with a manufacturer for which he has never ridden. But you would think a three-time MotoGP World Champion could adapt to new things like using the back brake more quickly than he has. Lorenzo is undoubtedly talented but he has only ever raced a Yamaha in the blue riband class. Is he slowly being exposed as MotoGP’s most expensive one-trick pony?
Hiring superstars is a risk which team owners and managers face. And it is high risk because it is usually accompanied by signing a big cheque with no guarantee of a profit or even getting your money back. And it is not confined to world championship racing.
Honda signed Guy Martin to ride alongside John McGuinness for the TT. Road racing’s answer to Fred Dibnah is not fit to lace McGuinness’ boots so far as the TT is concerned but Honda have probably got their money’s worth before a wheel had even turned. In fact to the point when bosses became almost embarrassed as a venerable piece of weekly newsprint seemed to turn into a Martin fan mag giving him more front pages than Valentino Rossi and Norton combined…
It is said that it is better to travel in hope than to arrive and this surely applies to the truck mechanic as he tries to win his first TT. In the two years since he last took part, which was followed by a serious crash at Dundrod, speeds have increased markedly with Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop producing lap times which even the great McGuinness is a little astonished by.
And will the Hondas be fast enough? They certainly haven’t distinguished themselves in either World or British Superbikes as the teams wait for new engines and other parts to arrive.
Martin’s return did not start well with a crash at the Tandragee but following a less than impressive practice period there was little chance he would get near to the likes of Derek Sheils. It was followed by a quick dash to Scarborough’s Spring Cup for a bit of track time on the Honda. Neither event, it would seem, particularly rewarding. But Cookstown followed by the North West - which he has to do to for his licence - should sharpen the Lincolnshireman up.
The difference between TV star Martin and all the others is that he doesn’t have to do it. Although Honda and TT boss Paul Phillips will have signed a reasonably fat cheque to get him halfway across the Irish Sea, it is probably a lot less revenue than one of his shows or his books will generate.
He is a remarkable character the like of which we haven’t seen before. The crowd at the Tandragee was testament to his drawing power - pity in true Irish fashion that it poured down and the big race had to be cancelled.
But what attracts road racing fans, the most knowledgeable in the world, is to see him winning. Or at the very least being at the front. That is their expectation. He and they are currently travelling in hope…
Martin is not the only remarkable man figuring in the TT. Another is Norton owner Stuart Garner who seems to have the knack of raising money to fund his brave venture from governments and banks in Europeans and the UK. His latest fund raising effort, a cool £3 million from Santander, made the front page of the Sunday Telegraph business section. No doubt it made Josh Brookes and Dave Johnson smile as they prepare to do battle on the Mountain Circuit.