Last week, 23 times Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness lit up the road racing world with the announcement that he had signed a deal with Norton - one of the most famous names in motorcycle racing and in the history of the TT. The Morecambe based legend will ride the V4 Norton SG7 at TT 2018 and possibly at the North West 200, although at this stage that remains unconfirmed.
Rumours began to circulate after McGuinness was photographed astride a Norton last November at the "Motorcycle Live" Show at the NEC Birmingham. The Twitterati started cheeping and the loyal road racing fan base began speculating - and hoping. Now they've been rewarded with the news that they had hoped for: the 'King of the Mountain' has unfinished business to attend to and he's found his mojo and race face again. Other rides could follow including the Mugen Shinden (TT Zero), and Lightweight and/or Supersport rides - but again, these still have to be confirmed.
The 2017 North West 200
Since his horrific accident at the NW 200 last May, McGuinness has gone through a mentally and physically torrid time. Through no fault of his own, he had to bale off his Honda Fireblade breaking four vertebrae, four ribs and his fibula and tibula - the latter being a particularly nasty injury. He's had to grow 5cm of bone back on his right leg whilst lugging around 5kg of "scaffolding" in the form of a cage. The cause was eventually acknowledged by Honda Racing as an ECU problem which resulted in his machine accelerating whilst the throttle was rolled off at the super fast Primrose Hill section of the NW200.
Following the accident, there was a huge groundswell of support for the man who remains the most successful TT racer still around. McGuinness is rightly revered by race fans and fellow professionals alike - universally admired for his down-to-earth, self deprecating demeanour as well as his consummate mastery in riding 210 bhp superbikes at mind bending speeds. He's vastly experienced having ridden competitively in all parts of the globe and on all types of machines - from singles to V4s - and although primarily regarded as a roads specialist, he was more than handy on circuits being crowned British 250cc champion in 1999. But it's his mastery of the 37.7 mile mountain circuit on the lump of rock sticking out the middle of the Irish Sea that has, for him, been career defining.
TT 2016: John 'at work' during Superbike qualifying.
Honda no more.....
Over recent years, McGuinness and Honda have been inextricably linked. There's been no finer servant or loyal ambassador over the years to the mighty "H" and along with other Honda TT greats, both past and present, (incl, amongst others, Hailwood, J Dunlop, McCallen, Hutchy, Anstey) John has made a colossal contribution to Honda's overall dominance in terms of total manufacturer TT wins. He posted the first 130 mph average lap in TT centenary year (2007) on a Fireblade, then broke through the 131 mph barrier again on a Fireblade. Sixteen of his 23 TT wins have been on Hondas - with HM Plant, Honda TT Legends, Padgetts and Honda Racing. Make that eighteen if the Mugen Shinden electric wins are added. The Chrysalis AMDM 720 win in 2000 and four Yamaha wins (three on R1s and one on an R6) make up his total of twenty-three. But a clean break has now been made with the Japanese leviathan and John is completely focused on the new challenge ahead.
TT 2014: John on the Padgett's Valvoline Supersport CBR600RR
The last time Norton won a TT was around a quarter of a century ago when Hawick's finest, the late great Steve Hislop, powered his way to victory on the rotary 588cc in a head-to-head shootout with Carl Fogarty. It was voted the greatest ever TT in a poll by fans. Foggy eventually come off second best in the encounter having ridden the pants off his Loctite Yamaha OW01, but he set a new lap record on the last lap of 123.61 mph that stood for seven years until Jim Moodie broke it in 1999. That's how good a road racer the four times WSBK champion was in his day.
Under the direction of CEO Stuart Garner, who purchased the brand in 2008, Norton has made huge progress at the TT since their inaugural outing in 2009. Taking on the might of Honda and BMW alone is a massive undertaking but each year the British squad has made impressive progress - from posting a 122.8 mph lap with the SG1 in 2012 to their 130.8 mph lap last year with Josh Brookes piloting the SG6. Brookes has again been signed for this year and will be McGuinness's team mate on the SG7.
One for the Road....
Just a final thought - if you're heading to the London MCN Motorcycle Show (16-18 February) at the London Excel, make sure you pop into the "Cockle Pickers Arms" for a chinwag with the pub landlord. Yes - McG himself will be running his own "pub" in London's Excel. He might not have that much experience in pulling pints but he knows how to quaff a few. Granted - Al Murray has a few more gags in his repertoire but he can't live with McG's knowledge and passion for bikes. So, bring the pipe and the St Bruno ready rubbed - the Morecambe Missile's going to be chewing the cud about all things bike - from 2 strokes and four strokes, V twins and parallel twins, in-line fours to V4s...plus the old chestnuts like quick release TT fuel caps, "Jock" sliders and "chaffing avoidance." He'll also have some on board footage of himself doing his thing round the mountain circuit which he'll add commentary to plus a few bikes from his personal collection. So, get yourself down there to wish him all the best for this year!
Photography: Peter Faragher (www.wpfotos.co.uk)