TT Rider Recruitment Programme

continues at pace

- Leading BSB riders visit the Island with a view to contesting the TT

Last month, a large group of UK based riders visited the Isle of Man to have an in-depth tour of the famous TT Mountain Course, the latest development in the TT’s successful rider recruitment programme.

The riders, all under the age of 30 and including British Champions and protagonists from many of the leading domestic championships, were all given VIP treatment from Rider Liaison Officers Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle and John Barton with a variety of methods used to show them the way. Current TT stars Nick Crowe, Conor Cummins and Gary Johnson were also on hand to provide expert comment and advice.

The rider recruitment programme, that begun in 2004, has reaped the rewards each year and since then no less than ten first timers have broken the 120mph barrier. The Newcomers Trophy has seen the names of Guy Martin, Cameron Donald, Conor Cummins, Steve Plater and James Hillier etched upon it whilst other names to make their bow in the greatest road race of them all in recent times include Keith Amor, Gary Johnson, Jimmy Moore, Les Shand, Mark Miller, Jeremy Toye, Mark Buckley, William Dunlop and Jamie Robinson. With all of them picking up silver and bronze replicas, as well as recording countless top 20 finishes, the rider recruitment can only be described as a resounding success.

As recently as 2003, the difference in average speed between first and last place in the two Superbike races was an astonishing 30mph and 35mph respectively. In 2008, the difference in average speed between first and last place was just 14mph and 17mph, with the average speed of the last placed rider rising from 89mph to 112mph. Clearly, the quality of the field has ridden considerably.

However, whilst 2004 to 2007 saw the quality increasing all the time, the quantity of entry in 2008 was lower than that of previous years for a number of reasons, a significant number of rider retirements after the Centennial event being one such reason. Subsequently, a more focussed attack has been underway since the 2008 event finished with a view to getting next year’s entry one of the best ever.

The recruitment drive has seen Quayle and Barton, along with Paul Phillips, TT and Motorsport Development Manager; attend numerous meetings in the British Isles where they have spoken to many riders. Whilst they have obviously been hoping to secure the services of riders for future years, the visits also serve as excellent marketing tools whereby the virtues of the Isle of Man TT Races can be explained, with riders, and teams, given full details of what they can expect from the event, both on and off the track. Many riders in recent times have had success in BSB on the back of their TT performances and this alone acts as a very useful tool.

Last month’s visit saw riders taken round for numerous laps in a car with the message being not to show them how to go fast but how to be safe and what hazards to look out for around the 37 and ¾ miles. It is clear that the riders are already talented motorcycle racers and know how to go fast on a motorbike on the short circuits so the emphasis has simply been on learning the circuit. Riders on the trip included:

Stuart Easton – the 2002 British Supersport Champion has been one of the UK’s finest 600cc riders in recent years and is currently competing in the British Superbike Championship for MSS Kawasaki. The 24-year old has also finished 3rd at the Macau GP and 4th at the North West 200.

Dan Cooper – 21-year old Cooper was the 2006 125cc British Champion and has spent the last two seasons in the British Supersport Championship for the Centurion Racing team, scoring numerous top ten finishes.

Dan Linfoot – another former 125cc contender, Linfoot made numerous appearances in the 2007 250cc World Championship, finishing in a brilliant 9th place at Donington Park. Currently lying 4th in the 600cc European Superstock Championship that runs as part of the World Superbike series.

Tom Grant – the Virgin Yamaha R6 Cup Champion of 2006, Grant finished 7th in last year’s British Supersport Championship and has made a favourable impression this season in the BSB series on board the SMT Honda.

Tom Bridewell – another graduate of the R6 Cup, finishing 3rd in 2005, Bridewell impressed greatly in 2007, scoring a number of top ten finishes in the British Superbike Championship. Riding in the GSXR Suzuki World Cup this season that runs as part of the World Superbike series.

AJ Venter – the South African teenager spent the early part of 2007 as part of the Hydrex Honda team but for 2008, he has been riding for the MAP Embassy Triumph team and is currently lying 3rd in the 600cc Junior Superstock Championship.

Victor Cox – the third rider on the trip with a background in the R6 Cup, Cox has been competing in the British Superstock Championship for the last two seasons and is currently lying 9th overall in the 2008 series.

Ben and Tom Birchall – one of the UK’s leading sidecar teams, the two brothers are currently lying in third place in the World Sidecar Championship.

Steve Mercer, Kenny Gilbertson, Drew Dorling, Steve Heneghan (all British Superstock), Jenny Tinmouth and Ben Wylie (British Supersport) and Brian McCormack were also in attendance whilst reigning Irish Superbike Champion Michael Pearson had made an earlier visit.

In addition, the trip was an ideal opportunity for the riders to meet some of the organizing team and find out more about both the event and the Island. They were also furnished with on-board DVD’s and PS2 games to aid their circuit learning whilst dates are already being arranged for them to come back in the future for another tuition session. Whilst it is unlikely that all 16 riders will make their debuts in 2009, feedback so far has been extremely positive and it is hoped that the majority of them will be on the grid for TT2009.

Further proof of how successful the recent recruitment programme has been can be seen in the list of fastest ever TT newcomers. With the increase in speeds, it is to be expected that these times have all been set in recent times but the impressive fact is that this list contains riders who have made their debuts in the last four years and have since gone on to become TT winners, rostrum finishers and some of the finest talent currently competing on the Mountain Course.

Fastest TT Newcomers

1 Steve Plater  125.808mph  1000cc Yamaha  20072 Keith Amor  124.856mph  1000cc Honda  20073 Gary Johnson  122.859mph  1000cc Yamaha  20074 Guy Martin   122.100mph 1000cc Suzuki  20045 Jimmy Moore  121.381mph  600cc Honda  20076 Les Shand  121.180mph 1000cc Yamaha  20057 Jeremy Toye  120.555mph 1000cc Suzuki  20068 Mark Buckley  120.528mph 1000cc Honda  20069 Conor Cummins 120.088mph 1000cc Yamaha  200610 Roger Maher 120.070mph  1000cc Yamaha  200711 Mark Miller  119.836mph 750cc Suzuki  200612 Cameron Donald  119.670mph 600cc Honda  200513 Jamie Robinson 119.520mph 600cc Honda   200814 Ian Mackman 119.513mph 1000cc Suzuki  200715 James Hillier  119.199mph 600cc Suzuki  2008

The programme of rider recruitment is an on-going process and more and more riders of the right standard and stature are being targeted whilst it is also hoped that the programme will also extend to riders on the continent. It is also worth pointing out that many of the riders featured on the recent trip made the first move and contacted the organizing team themselves. The reputation of the TT is still extremely high within the British Championship paddock and a large number of riders have the desire to compete and it is tapping into this pool of talent that should see the strength of the TT Races continue and a mouth watering entry list assembled for 2009.