FREE FEATURE: TAKING ON THE TT!

Have you ever wondered what Boothy gets up to on his days off? No? Well we haven’t either but that’s not going to stop him telling us all about his experience at this year’s Isle of Man TT…

If you’ve never been to the Isle of Man TT Races before then you don’t know what you’re missing. Just like I didn’t know what I was missing for the first 21 years of my life. That soon changed, though, when I booked a trip over with a few mates to watch the 2011 TT.

For me, it was the acclaimed party atmosphere and the Manx beer that were the greatest draw to the island, rather than the actual bike racing itself – at this point I was racing full time in the British Superstock Championship so I was having my fill of bike racing at home… or so I thought.

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My first experience as a spectator was, I suppose, similar to that of most – frequented by sharp intakes of breath, elongated swearwords and disbelief. It was incredible, and I knew the second I saw the first bike fly past that needed to have a go. So I did.

Ok, it was 5 years later but that’s because in the early 2010’s I was writing more bikes off than Carole Nash (which was taking its toll on my body and my wallet). Come 2016, I’d learnt to stop crashing (you just go a bit slower) so I entered the TT. It wasn’t as easy as just ringing up and entering, though. As a total newcomer to the Mountain Course (unlike some TT newbies, who have previously competed at the Manx GP), I had to prove to the organisers that I was committed to getting myself fully prepared by completing in at least 6 race days during the period leading up to the TT, as well as spending half a dozen weekends over there going round and round and round in a hire car learning the course, all of which I did. And the hard work paid off. My first TT was an awesome experience, lapping at 123mph on a BMW S1000RR and winning the Vernon Cooper award for the Fastest Newcomer.

Fast forward to this year, and after having had my 2017 TT rug pulled from under me at the eleventh hour, I decided not to rely on other people to bring me a bike across. I thought I’d bring my own. The only problem with that was my Kawasaki ZX10-R was already very ‘used’, and there were more than a few of my close friends and acquaintances that suggested that the old ‘Ten’ was far too old and worn out to tackle the TT course on, most vocal of which was my chief mechanic, George (who is also my father). But what does he know?

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In 2016 I raced a 600 too, which was great because it meant I got a few more laps in practice week to familiarise myself with the 37.7 mile course, so I persuaded my mate Mish to lend me his Triumph Daytona 675R. Perfect.

It was great to have the Supersport bike with us, but I’m not much of a 600 rider. The real focus was on the big bike, but I didn’t give myself any majorly ambitious targets. After having missed last year’s TT, my aim was to match my S1000RR lap speed from 2016, and I knew that with 15 or so fewer ponies in the Ten, it would be no mean feat. In 2016 we used Metzeler tyres, mainly because at the time I was using the similar Pirellis in the British Championship, but since my BSB days are now a distant memory, I thought would opt for Dunlops. I know the Metzelers would have been fine for me to wobble around on, but I had tried Dunlop slicks and absolutely loved them so I thought I would give them a go.

Proper Preparation?

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It doesn’t matter how long I have to prepare for something, I always tend to leave it to the last minute. And my TT prep was by no means the exception to the rule. The ZX10 was tired and need a good dollop of TLC before it would be anywhere near ready to take on the most demanding road race in the world, as well a bigger fuel tank to facilitate two laps at a time of full throttle madness.

I had expected to have to get a tank fabricated, or at least have my standard tank altered to fit another 7 litres of fuel in, but a mate (who had previously raced a ZX10 at the TT) was selling a readymade 24l tank so I snapped it up. I thought it’d be great to get something that’d fit straight away (as it had already been used on the same model bike) but that wasn’t the case. It was a right bitch to fit.

This was partly due to its sheer size and the fact that there are so many cables, plugs and general electronic nonsense underneath where it sits, but once we had got that lot rearranged and cable-tied to one side it wasn’t too much of a problem. What was a problem, though, was the bent and twisted subframe (from Christ-knows how many crashes). The fuel tank that we took off fit like a glove, but that was also a bit bent and twisted so when we tried to shoehorn the new bigger tank in, there was a lot of swearing and not a lot of joy.

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We eventually devised a system whereby we would remove the most miss-shaped side of the rear sub-frame, loosely fit the tank to the other side and then re-attach the errant piece, before tightening up each bolt gradually, a bit at a time. It was a pain in the arse to be quite honest but I suppose I have only got myself to blame.

Owing to the status of the event, I thought it would be best to treat the bikes to some bits and bobs to tidy them up a bit. The Kawasaki was pretty rough round the edges and the Triumph wasn’t much better, so I had a look through the R&G catalogue to see what I could find.

The reason I went down the R&G route was because I knew I could get everything I needed from one place, rather than having to order rearsets from here and engine covers from there. R&G stock just about everything you need to turn a road bike into a race bike, so I put a big order in and tidied the bikes up with full crash protection kit, rearsets, rain light, lever guard and a scorpion exhaust for the Triumph. 

About a fortnight before we were due to leave for the TT, the ZX-10 developed an electrical fault that I spent hours and hours chasing. The traction control lights started flashing, and I couldn’t, for the life of me, get them to stop. I tried everything I could think of, and everything everybody I know could think of (aside from replacing the whole ECU and loom), but it was to no avail. It wasn’t causing the bike to run badly, but I couldn’t get the traction control to work. After hours of pulling my hair out, I thought fuck it; who needs traction control anyway?

So that was it, I was all ready for the TT. We needed a couple more sets of hands in the pits so I persuaded my mates Ian and Oatesy to come along to help out (Ian wasn’t very happy when he tried on the fireproof overalls that I had ordered for him… he could have done with the next size up but I told him they were out of stock because it wasn’t half funny watching him squeeze into them). We had been through both bikes with a fine tooth comb and aside from a bit of paint and a few stickers to spruce the job up a bit, all systems were go (well, apart from the KTRC – Kawasaki Traction Control).

Practice makes perfect.

Without wishing to sound like a hippy, the Isle of Man is a pretty special place. It’s a mecca for motorcycling and every time I arrive there, be it by air or by sea, something peculiar happens deep in my very soul and the hairs on the back of my neck spring into action. We arrived on the Thursday before practice week which gave us enough time to tart the bikes up a bit before first session on the Saturday night.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the running order of the TT, the first week is dedicated to practice, with an hour or so of practice every night, weather permitting. On a good night, there is usually enough time for about four laps.

That’s on a good night though. And although Saturday wasn’t a bad night for us, it could have been better. It was Supersport only session so I took Trumpet out for its maiden run round the TT course. Everything was going swimmingly for the first 8 miles, until I felt the left footpeg wobbling loose so I pulled over to try and tighten it by hand.

I got a bit of a nip on it and set off but it soon rattled loose again. I managed to get round to complete a lap so I pulled into the pits and got George to swing on it with a big set of mole grips before getting another couple of laps in.

I got a few more laps in after that, nice and steady away, so it wasn’t a wasted night. Monday night was my first chance to get out on the ZX10. I didn’t know how the old girl would cope with the TT Course, but for the best part of a lap, she lapped it up, if you’ll pardon the pun… that was until I heard an almighty bang from the engine followed an equally by a hideous sound, so I turned it off, quick smart. As luck would have it, this all happened metres after exiting the final corner so I was able to coast back into the pit lane, rather than being stranded out on the mountain course somewhere, so I parked it up and jumped on the 675 to get a few laps in.

At first I thought the exhaust come loose or blown a hole in itself, but after an inspection and a quick listen to the engine, the team and I deduced it was likely a dropped valve. Bastard. So we got on with whipping the engine out, or rather, they did.

They were about three quarters of the way through said engine removal when a discovery duly was made. When Ian pulled the coil off right hand spark plug, half of the spark plug came with it. So as it transpired that a spark plug had snapped, the likelihood that we had dropped a valve has slimmed to almost nothing, which as far as I was concerned was great news. We had to take the engine out to remove the duff plug, so we did, and replaced the full set (that were new prior to the TT, but had been fitted, and likely overtightened, by a ham-fisted farmer who thought he was dong me a favour). With new plugs and the engine back in, the ZX-10 purred away like a goodun’, and come Tuesday night we were ready to give it another go.

That we did, and had a really good run of it, lapping at 119mph. We suffered again with wobbly rear-sets, this time on the ZX10, so after the session, we completely dismantled them all, on both bikes, and locktighted them to within an inch of their lives.

Wednesday night practice didn’t go as planned. 12 miles into the course the red flags came out so me and a bunch of other riders sat and drank coffee with the marshals and had a group Tinder swiping session on a spectator’s phone; you would be surprised how many girls there are on such a small island. Unfortunately the red flag was due to an incident in which Manxman Dan Kneen sadly lost his life. As can be expected, the mood in the paddock was a little subdued that evening, which wasn’t helped when the news came through that Steve Mercer had had an accident involving the Course Car, sustaining some serious injuries.

As always though the show had to go on, and we made the most of the Thursday and Friday evening practice sessions eventually getting into the 120mph bracket, which I thought ought to stand us in good stead for the 6 lap Superbike TT on Saturday. But it was still going to be tough.

Shake and Bake

I remember lining up on Glencrutchery Road for my very first TT thinking to myself ‘what the fuck am I doing here?’ Well two years later on, the exact same question was going through my head. I’ve done a lot of race starts in my time but nothing can prepare you for firing yourself down Bray Hill on a nigh-on 200bhp motorbike. It’s ridiculous. But it’s incredible. Unfortunately, for me, it was only incredible for half a lap, though. The clutch on the ZX-10 gave up the ghost half way down Sulby Straight so I was forced to retire and watch from the side-lines.

I say watch from the side-lines, what I actually did was watch one lap, shout some abuse to Carl, who, as coincidence would have it was watching from the spot I pulled over and then jump on the bike and ride it steadily back to the paddock via the coastal road (the clutch had just enough grab left for a gentle ride back to the paddock). Riding a race bike on the street in no fun at all. Sat on half an inch of foam, bouncing over every bump and drain cover wasn’t a nice experience. And I lost count of the times I tried to put the indicators on. Tit.

One thing we deprived ourselves of was the chance of wheel change in the pitstop. The idea was to do four laps on the rear Dunlop slick and then throw a new one at it for the last few laps, but it wasn’t to be.

Anyway I made it back and I gave the ZX-10 to straight George to sort the clutch. I had more pressing issues to worry about; it was Saturday night and with no racing on Sunday I was ready to let my hair down and paint the town red. The Isle of Man, during the TT fortnight is the best place in the world for so many reasons. First and foremost the bike racing is beyond anything you will see anywhere else in the world, but closely following that is the people (both locals and visitors) that you bump into. Going out for a beer on the Isle is like having a drink with 50,000 mates. It’s great. But it doesn’t make the hangovers any better.

After a night out on Saturday and a Sunday spent soaking up the sun and swimming in the Irish Sea, Monday was set to be a busy day, with a four lap Supersport TT followed by a four lap Superstock TT. Not being a particularly proficient Supersport racer all I was after was a finish, but a strong headwind and a little bit too much exuberance with the throttle meant I ran out of fuel a few miles short of the fuel stop, which was a total bummer because I was really enjoying bouncing my mates pride and joy off the rev limiter. Don’t tell him though.

I hadn’t been back at the paddock for long when the news came through that TT newcomer, Adam Lyon had crashed on the mountain section of the course and lost his life. Adam was an amazing talent who, I’m proud to say, was a very close friend. His TT debut was going incredibly and he was already starting to turn a few heads. It was the first time that I had lost someone I know so well to the sport, and after spending some time with his family afterwards and witnessing the devastation first hand, it really hit home how selfish those who participate in such a dangerous sport are, myself included.

After what had happened the decision to race in the Superstock TT on the Monday afternoon wasn’t taken lightly, but I knew that if I had pulled out for any reason, Adam would have kicked me in the balls given the chance. So there I was, lined up once again on Glencrutchery Road ready to have another crack at the whip. Third time lucky.

And we did finally have some luck. The whole race went perfectly, nothing shook loose or snapped on the bike, in the pits Oatesy got the visor changed with time to spare, whilst Ian filled the big 24l tank up. I got my finger out, did a couple of 124mph laps and finished 25th, which I didn’t think was a bad day at the office.

Next up was the second Supersport TT and we needed to get more fuel in the tank if we were going to be in with a chance of finishing, so the lads rammed an airline into the top, bunged the hole up and fired as much air into it as they dared in attempt to blow the sides of the tank out. And believe it or not it worked. The tank ended up looking a little bit bulbous but we were able to get another 2.5 litres in which we knew would have been the difference between getting round or not. And it was. Supersport 2 was another great race, I lapped at 119.97mph (pretty annoying, really) and finished 36th.

The last race of the week was the Senior TT. The main event. 6 laps, 226 miles, with two pit stops. After having a chat with John Higgins from Dunlop, we decided to run one set of tyres for the full six laps, which meant we wouldn’t need to bother with a tyre change, much to George’s delight. I’d had a reasonably good week and I’d already matched my best time from 2016 so I was pretty chilled before the Senior, I just wanted to go out there and enjoy riding the bike without any targets. But it’s a race so there is always a target; I was passed halfway round lap one by Micko Sweeney so I did my best to stick to the back of his BMW but I couldn’t quite keep up on some of the big long straights.

The same thing happened a couple more times, I did my best to hang on but although the old ZX-10 was doing us proud, it just didn’t have the beans to keep up with newer Superbike spec engines round the TT Course. At the end of the six laps, we managed to finish just inside the top 20, in 19th place, with a best lap of 125mph.

I had been slightly concerned about trying to squeeze a full race distance out of a rear tyre but the Dunlops were spot on all through the race and still looked as though they had life left in them afterwards. The sense of achievement just to finish a six lap TT is beyond words, I was so proud of myself, the bike and the three lads, George, Ian and Oatetsy who had worked their socks off to make sure both the bikes were in the best possible shape to start each race.

TT Blues

Now I’m home, the TT blues have well and truly set in. The thought that I have to wait another year for the opportunity to race in the most iconic motorcycling event in the world isn’t half getting me down. But in all fairness it’s just as well, as the old Kwacka will almost certainly be ready for retirement soon so I’m going to need all the time I can get to save up for, source and build a new race bike for 2019.

Hopefully, after having a good run at the 2018 TT, there might be a sponsor or two that wants to get involved for next year which would certainly make it a little easier for us to get a competitive package together. To cheer myself up I have sent my entries off for the Ulster Grand Prix, so I’ll spend the next few weekends turning the bikes back around so they are ready for that. It’s not quite the TT but it comes a close second, so if you are looking for something to do in the second week of August why not come and pay a visit. I’ll even get Oatesy to make you a brew.

With thanks to…

  • Dunlop Tyres
  • R&G Racing 
  • Rock Oil
  • Pipe Werx
  • Held
  • Shoei
  • Mish, George, Ian and Oatesy

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