Of all the great folk in bike racing, few are as top as John McGuinness. That’s ‘top’ as in amazing, legendary road racer. And ‘top’ as in lovely, funny, interesting, good old boy. We grabbed him at a rather drawn-out PR event the other week for a catchup:
Are lap speeds at the TT getting a bit much now. Michael Dunlop is going on about 134mph? Is it going to end in tears?
“Woo! Well, possibly not. I mean, nobody’s done an ideal lap time have they, I mean all the sectors put together. I know it was over 134 last year, I’ve not really studied all the sectors. But we’re competitive lads, the bikes are always getting a little betters, the tyres get a bit better, and we’re going to push.”
Will better bikes open up faster times? A lot of folk expected more from Honda’s RC213V this year.
“You can’t just turn up at TT with a bike, and pull it out of a crate. Only person who could possibly have done it was Clive Padgett, and he did do it, I mean Bruce was hurt in the North West and he got another knock in practice, but with a year of development on it… But you never know with Bruce. He gets out of bed on the right side, he’s unbeatable: the other side he’s not on form. We’ve not seen the true potential from the RCV so I don’t know.
“That Honda of mine was still competitive, them BMWs are strong, the Kawasaki is new, there’s a new Suzuki next year – we’re all fighting. We’re all pushing. And sometimes it’s not just about the lap time, it might not get beaten next year, the conditions might not be right, someone might break down. I mean I think a 127-8mph lap on a 600 is fucking motoring! Compared to a Superbike, the Superbike is point and squirt, a little bit, but on a 600 you are railing to get 128mph.”
From that angle, the Classic TT bike lap times are perhaps even more impressive?
“Well that Paton I rode did 138mph through the speed trap and I did a 113.3 lap, so it’s not bad is it? The thing’s singing along for long periods of time you know? Superbikes too, [Michael] Dunlop’s a bloody good rider, you hear all the stories about this is illegal, that’s illegal, the bike he rides. But it wouldn’t make a shite of difference, the best rider still wins, no matter about the bike.
Do you think Michael Dunlop’s wires are all connecting to the correct terminals?
“Yeah, I do, Michael is a lot smarter than people give him credit for, and he’s super-experienced. People forget he’s got a lot of experience, he was doing Manx GPs at 18 years old. He’s got Manx, TTs, Classic TTs, he’s done a lot of miles round there, he’s put the effort in. I thought at the beginning he was quite steady, then I thought in the middle of his career he was a bit loose, and now I think he’s settled down again a little bit. He understands the mechanics, he understands what works around him. And what works for Michael doesn’t work for other people. He’s raw, you know.”
Do you think he’s got such a high skill level, that he can appear to be out of control, but is actually well within his limits?
“I think some of his style is a little contrived, he puts in little wheelies, and fannys about a bit, but that’s when you see someone who enjoys what they’re doing. He’s in a rhythm, he’s enjoying himself. He shows in his riding, his determination, you know. Hutchy shows his determination through sheer work, he’s probably not got the same natural ability of Dunlop but he makes up for it in other ways. You know, Dunlop would eat a Pot Noodle wouldn’t he? I don’t think Hutchy would?”
Is the new Fireblade going to put you where you need to be in terms of machinery for TT 2017? [Note – we spoke to John just before Honda released the info on its new Fireblade.]
“Well it’s got to hasn’t it? It’s got to help. I mean I don’t really know what the bike is myself, all I am is excited, I mean the fire is burning in my tummy. I just want them to come out and go, this bike is amazing – which I’m sure it will be – and get into the program, know what I mean? I’m chomping at the bit to go racing, and I can’t really do any more than I’ve done over the years. You can only piss with the dick you’ve got can’t you? And it’s time for a new bike, and it’s on its way”
What will the preparation schedule look like for the new bike? Say it appears in Jan/Feb, what’s the plan?
“You’ve just got to attack it haven’t you, you’ve got to go testing in Spain, just mileage, mileage onto the engine, miles on the bike, just have a look. I can’t see the chassis being massively different, there’s nothing wrong with the Honda chassis. It just lacks a few gee-gees and some electronics, which it looks like they’ve addressed. So, just get on the bike, get riding and get the feeling.
You can normally tell. The roads are the roads though, aren’t they? And you can never really tell till you go bombing off down Bray Hill. That’s the true test. I mean we test a lot at Castle Combe, and people wonder why? But it’s a bumpy, fast track, and I can probably tell within half an hour round there if the bike is going to go in a straight line. And we’ve got the North West as well. They don’t go backwards. Honda never go backwards with anything, they’re not going to go backwards. I want something to get my teeth into.”
Are you doing Macau this year?
Yes – it’ll be the 19th I’ve done, I think, on the bounce. First year I went was 98, I first rode a 500 there, Joe Miller’s 500 two-stroke. It is a unique place, it’s the environment, the climate, the people, the diet, everything. You know, when you’re a simple northern lad eating pie and chips and that, then you get there and you’re eating Asian food, it’s 35 degrees, 90 per cent humidity, your world changes a little bit. So we all have a laugh and a joke, but it’s a tough race, and a very unique track, because it all looks the same. It’s all yellow and black, and all you see is barriers, barriers, walls, walls, you get sort of tunnel vision if you like. It’s a tricky, quirky little track.
“And all this talk about riding at 85 or 90 per cent is a lot of shit, the boys are wanting to win, and they’re having a go. And I know we all have a laugh and have a beer, but it’s not a laugh when the helmets are on, and it can’t be. It’s got to be safe, we’ve all got to be safe. I think when we do get there, the place is treated with massive respect by all the riders."
How do you see the Classic TT? People talk about cheating should be allowed and that sort of thing. Is it a bona-fide race meeting or a festival and a bit of a lark like Goodwood?
“It’s absolutely serious! It’s a massively touchy subject and something needs addressing, and what the answer is I don’t really know, They were on about the petrol tank on the Paton I rode and we got dispensation to use it, and it’s pathetic a lot of it, I don’t know what it is.
“I don’t go there to wind everybody up, I don’t go there to piss people off. All the old riders, I respect all the old guys, they’ve raced for years and years, I don’t want to create any aggro. I don’t have to be there, you know? I’m only trying to help, its got a few issues, it needed something, you know the classic TT has picked it all up.”
The changes of late have made a difference though? The introduction of the 250 2-strokes this year was great.
“When I finished racing I was a fan, I went out with my radio and my sandwiches, and sat in the hedge, I sat at Crosby. I watched that young kid win the Senior Manx, Tom Weeden, these kids are the future, and they’re going to go into the TT eventually and be the next thing, so it definitely needs it. But the cheating thing, they just need to make it black and white, or they need to introduce some prize money or something. I mean I’m not hanging about on that Paton…”
You never do the Superbike race there, why is that?
“There’s nothing competitive in the Hondas. You need an 850 Kawasaki…”
Will you get a run-out on a Superstock bike at Brands Hatch for the last round?
“No, I don’t think so. It’s all a bit difficult, I went to Donington and watched it – one lad was upside down and got his legs broken, then there was someone else off at the Old Hairpin, then it was red-flagged. Lads are pushing, you know, it’s difficult and it’s frustrating and I’m not prepared just to drop straight in. Especially for the last round. I’d love to – Brands Hatch full circuit is fabulous, and we have some great tracks in the UK: Oulton Park, Cadwell Park, brilliant tracks. But it’s just, I get frustrated. I’m going to do Scarborough, it’ll be my 20th year at Scarborough, the 70th year of Scarborough itself. Ago’s going, so is Granty, few of them boys, so I want to go and do that, and I always do the Stars of Darley, then Macau. And then draw a line under 2016, time for Christmas!”
Will you get more money from Honda now that Neil Tuxworth has retired?
“Hahaha, I hope so! I hope so! He’s not retiring though, he won’t retire, he won’t! What’s he going to do? He’s not going to go and play bowls is he? It’s all he’s done all his life! He’ll still be in the workshop, switching the lights off because the electric bill’s too high.”