Cycle Torque at the Isle of Man TT

Cycle Torque bike tester Alex Pickett is racing in the Isle of TT. Here are his thoughts so far…

Photography 10 Tenths Motorsport Photography

Day 1

Arrived on Isle of Man after a long flight from Australia. Dropped in on the guy who made stickers for us last year and ordered some from my bike’s screen and helmet.
Picked up TT14 Island Racer magazine at servo, and found this piece on myself in the rider line up bit.
‘Australian rider Pickett shocked the paddock at last year’s Manx Grand prix when he lapped at almost 115mph in practice for the Newcomers race. He went on to finish eighth but is definitely one to watch and, the youngest rider in the entry, he lines up for Mick Charnock’s team who have previously helped Cameron Donald, David Johnson and Jimmy Storrar.’
Headed to the pits on Glencrutchery Road to catch up with team owners Mick Charnock and John Taubman. Checked out the bikes and came away very impressed, especially with the Superbike. It’s got 6-piston calipers, massive forks off Carlos Checa’s world superbike, a huge alloy tank and a quick release rear wheel set up. Trick.
Over to Peel late in the afternoon to drop off my leathers for the new patches to be sewn on.
After that we did a lap of the track in our one litre hire car, which goes all right by the way.
Lastly we moved into our digs in Douglas with Maggie George and her family. It’s only about 1 kay from the pits, an easy walk.
Jet lag had us by now so it was an early night.

Day 2

Lazy day. We did a couple of laps of the circuit in the hire car.

I break the course up into four sections: Start line to Ballacraine; Ballacraine to Kirk Michael; Kirk Michael to the Gooseneck; Gooseneck back to the start/finish.
I find this is the best way to learn the circuit. There are sections I know pretty well and some I struggled with last year so I tried to concentrate on those ones.
I’m excited and can’t wait to get out for my first lap. I’ll take it easy first up to get in the groove but not too easy, as ‘touring’ can get you killed if another rider comes up on you way too fast and in the wrong spot.
At the end of the day I was able to do a lap with Johnny Barton, one of the rider liaison guys. It’s always good to hear from experienced racers like Johnny. I learn something new every time I go around the circuit.
In the car with us was other riders South African A J Ventor and British Danny Webb, both well known on the world and BSB scene.

Day 3

Signed in today, got my gear sorted and had to pay another $430 for insurance as the insurance you get via Motorcycling Australia is inadequate, even though the MA insurance scheme is based on the Isle of Man. This is the second year we’ve had to pay this. Wish it was properly sorted back home before we come over. The cost of this one off event insurance adds up to around $1100. If you don’t have it you don’t race.
The visors on my Arai helmet didn’t come with tear off tabs, so another $250 for another 3 visors. Expensive day.
Had plenty of visitors down in the pits, racers and team people I met last year, Aussie tourists and even had a good chat with Connor Cummins. Also caught up with the Aussie sidecar guys. Good to see them here. The more Aussies the merrier.
Cam Donald come down for a chat too, and my mate Bryce Stacker called in as well. Great to see them all.
Finished off the day with a curry down on the Promenade with the team.

Day 4

First day of practice for newcomers, super twins and sidecars. No practice for me as I’m not considered a newcomer.
Called out to Jurby airfield to see Cam testing his Norton. Bloody hell it’s loud, looks special too. Seemed to me they still need to sort out the fuelling but there’s not too many slow corners on the TT course, maybe it won’t matter as much as on a short circuit. Time will tell I guess.
Headed out for a lap of the course. The road is one way from Ramsey Hairpin to Creg Ny Baa. We were giving the hire car some stick over the mountain but it’s a bit dodgy I reckon. You have to really watch your mirrors as lunatics pass you at big speeds with no room for error. Heard later the road was closed three times for crashes. No wonder.
Got to the pits, the team put new tyres on the Superbike and Supersport machines. Apparently the Dunlop slicks for the Superbike are a ‘Strong’ compound, not ‘Hard’ as we would call them at home. They are expected to last a full six laps. We’ll see.
Was looking forward to watching the first practice but it was cancelled when rain set in. This will now effect practice on Monday as newcomers still have to get their guided lap in, and rightly so.
Monday can’t get here quick enough for me.

Day 5

More laps around the circuit in the hire car. It’s Sunday so there’s no practice. I feel as though I’m getting to know the circuit better each lap, and some sections I had trouble with last year are a bit clearer.
I think the trick to going fast really is knowing the circuit. All the riders here are good riders, some better than others, but there’s a reason why they say you need a three year apprenticeship before you can challenge for a win. I think if I was in with a chance of winning in three years then it would almost a miracle.
We stop at Windy Corner to watch some of the road riders go across the mountain. That doesn’t last long though as the road gets closed, probably due to an accident.
After that we catch up with the team down at a pub on the promenade and get home in the early hours, knowing if the weather is fine I’ll be out tomorrow evening with practice with the big boys.

Day 6

I was pretty nervous before heading out for my first lap of practice, and my first lap was on the Honda CBR1000RR superbike. I tell you what, it’s a beast. It wants to wheelstand everywhere, and wasn’t real easy to turn into the corners. I realised later this was probably due to the 24 litre tank which was full to the brim when I left pit lane. It was carrying around 10 kilos extra fuel than my Ducati 848 last year.
Heading out of Ramsey for the first time the bike lofted the front, I changed gear and it came up again. Tipping into May Hill I ran wide and ran up the gutter. Things happen real fast on this bike.
The engine light was on so I came in after one lap. There turned out to be nothing wrong with the bike, this happens when you disconnect certain things from the wiring loom. I should have known that but…
Second lap was the supersport 600 Honda. I followed Cam Donald out on the Norton and going down Bray Hill was a nightmare straight off the bat, the bike tank-slapping like a maniac. In tighter sections it was OK but on the real fast bits it was weaving bad. On the mountain I actually thought, ‘what the f__k am I doing here’. When I came in after that lap my dad asked me how I was and I replied, ‘f_____g scared!’
By this time the team had ‘tweaked’ the superbike so I went back out on that for one more lap. It was better and I was able to do a 111mph lap from a standing start, and slowing down for the pits.
There’s work to do on the 600. It feels too soft but we’ll see what happens tomorrow. But I feel ok with that last lap.

Day 7

It was supposed to rain today but Mona’s Isle has a climate all of its own. Luckily it turned out beautiful, and more importantly dry.
Richard from Maxton suspension came down to look at the bike and suggested some extra ride height on the 600, and soften the compression damping on the front too.
The 1000 stocker needed some setting up for me as well. Hope they work.
Practice kicked off around 6.20pm in glorious conditions. I headed out on the 1000cc superbike machine and the bike felt good. I can through for my second lap (first lap 112.5mph) and felt good. Unfortunately I broke down near Kerromoar, just after Ginger Hall. The bike simply stopped so I’m not sure what the problem is. It pissed me off too as I was 14 seconds faster than my previous lap to that point of the track. I think I was up for a real good lap. The other problem is I couldn’t get back so couldn’t see if the 600 was better than before.
Hope the weather stays fine, I can’t afford to lose many practice sessions. The fast boys are pretty much at their pace, so it’s up to me to go faster to qualify.
Last night I had qualified 56th out of 70 riders on the superbike, but the times are very close between many of us. As for the 600 I was dead last, with a 103mph lap. That needs to improve dramatically. I know I can do it, if the bike is handling well enough.
I was 20th fastest superstocker tonight, but I reckon if I hadn’t broken down on my second lap I would have been well up on that.
Overall happy but unhappy at the same time.

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