Three weeks on from TT 2022 and the debate concerning its future gains momentum as the two important bodies, the IoM Department for Enterprise and the ACU, become involved in an intensive enquiry as to what went wrong.
There is little doubt that following the extraordinary, but not surprising, amount of mainstream publicity given to the deaths of five competitors that something has to be done. But what?
There is no question of this event being abandoned. It is a) worth far too much money to the Isle of Man and b) there isn’t a single rider who would say that the desire to take on the 37.73-mile circuit, with all its risks, had changed. But there is one category which has become a big topic of conversation - sidecars.
Bikesportnews.com talked to Alan Founds, this year one of the commentators as he recovers from a crash at Brands Hatch. But a successful sidecar competitor in Europe, a champion in the UK and occupier of the podium more than once in the TT with 2016 being a highlight for the Founds family with brothers Pete and Alan finishing second and third.
BSN: Much of the discussion is around the design of modern sidecars and whether they capable of handling the TT course. As a competitor and designer would you say the TT is the place for the modern sidecar? And what is your view on the current design with very little suspension, wide tyres. Do you think there should be some change on what we have now?
Founds: I think sidecars belong at the TT. I don’t think they’re too fast for the TT and I don’t think the course has made it more dangerous. There are some things that can be done, things that have probably been overlooked. The rules and regulations are very archaic, very old fashioned. They got updated when LCR designed its chassis way back in 2005 and only got altered because the LCR chassis didn’t conform to the design specifications. The ACU, in its wisdom, took it upon itself to revise the regulations. What didn’t get revised were other safety regulations.
In the years that we’ve had the TT, the sidecars have gone faster and faster. We know that a 600cc engine is probably doing way more than it should be in doing three laps of the TT and pulling the weight of a sidecar and two people. So, the strain on an engine is quite intense. The Birchalls will only do about six miles with an engine before going to race because the engine simply won’t last.
So we make the bikes lighter and more aerodynamic so that we can process the air around them a lot more efficiently. But they are smaller and lighter. That’s happened in the last couple of years, and you will see it with Dave Molyneux and the Birchalls. But there has never been a safety aspect thrown into it. I was reading the regulations yesterday and came across this which said: ‘All fairings must be mounted in such a way that if one fairing bracket is dislodged or broken the fairing must be able to support its own weight’.
Well, I know for a fact that every fairing out there at the moment has a mounting at the front, the very nose of the fairing, my own included. Now if that broke, in anyway, that fairing would fall on the floor and the regulations say it’s not allowed to do that. But how do you get around that other than something stronger or another bracket?
That is the only thing I can see from safety regulations which would stop a fairing becoming a danger if, for example, it came out of its locator, broke or the fairing integrity was compromised. That would be symbolic with what could have happened at Ago’s Leap with the two sidecars, unfortunately. It’s possible it was something to do with the fairing and the aerodynamics which made them just turn right. These are,
of course, just assumptions and we can never go on those.”
BSN: A couple of things we have heard, one of which is about the suspension, only about two inches on today’s sidecars which must make life a bit difficult in certain bumpy areas.
Founds: That’s an option, it’s not a regulation. There’s nothing to stop you having telescopic forks like a motorbike if you want. And suspension like a truck on the back if you wanted. But we try to make things smaller and a bit stiffer. And the handling of sidecars is fantastic. I don’t think the suspension is an issue, to make it softer would cause more problems.”
BSN: The other thing is that with such wide tyres and such narrow handlebars, do you have less control when you get into difficulty?
Founds: “I think that’s a false claim. The bikes don’t need much steering unless it’s Ramsey Hairpin or Governor’s Bridge. The regulations say we must have 20 degrees of steering and we’ve probably got about that. If the bike does get out of control, you don’t have to do a lot to correct that. Very little input does a lot, and we can adjust all this.
I think that because these things happened at the very same part of the course surely - and we shouldn’t make assumptions - it’s either a very unlucky coincidence or something was going on at that part of the course rather than the sidecar itself.
But sidecars have been dragged into it. I know that resurfacing had been going on between Quarter Bridge and the bottom of Bray Hill. Ago’s Leap? I’m not sure.”
BSN: Was it more bumpy than before?
Founds: I’m not so sure. It’s a big coincidence, isn’t it?
BSN: It is a coincidence that two outfits crashed at more or less the same place. Is there anything you think should be looked at or is this just an accident and we move on.
Founds: One hundred per cent we should definitely look at minimum weights. It’s a way of exercising control. When a bike leaves the ground, the air has a bigger influence. The benefits are also that the racing will be closer and more exciting. And the regulation covering the securing of the fairing, which I must admit I hadn’t read, is maybe not being caught by the scrutineers. And they do a great job but perhaps they haven’t seen it either…