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TT rider recruitment continues apace

Monday 08 September 2008
The British racing stars considering entering the Isle of Man TT (Stephen Davison/Pacemaker Press International)

Rider recruitment for the Isle of Man TT continues apace, with a large group of UK-based riders visiting the Island last month for an in-depth tour of the famous Mountain Course.

The riders, all under 30 and including British Champions and protagonists from many of the leading domestic championships, were given VIP treatment from Rider Liaison Officers Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle and John Barton.

TT stars Nick Crowe, Conor Cummins and Gary Johnson were also on hand to provide expert comment and advice.

The rider recruitment programme, which began in 2004, has reaped rewards each year, with 10 first timers having broken the 120mph barrier. Among the star newcomers on the TT circuit in recent years have been Guy Martin, Cameron Donald, Conor Cummins, Steve Plater, James Hillier, Keith Amor, Gary Johnson, Jimmy Moore, Les Shand, Mark Miller, Jeremy Toye, Mark Buckley, William Dunlop and Jamie Robinson.

TT winner and Rider Liaison Officer Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle (right) passes on advice to (from left) Stuart Easton, Tommy Bridewell and Jenny Tinmouth (Stephen Davison/PPI)

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.

These figures clearly show the quality of the field has risen considerably.

However, while quality increased between 2004 and 2007, the quantity in 2008 was lower than in previous years. There were several reasons why entry levels fell in 2008, not least the number of rider retirements following the Centenary TT.

The fall led to a renewed focus on improving entries for 2009, with hopes of making the rider line-up one of the bets ever.

The recruitment drive has seen Quayle and Barton, along with TT and Motorsport Development Manager Paul Phillips, attend numerous race meetings. In addition to trying to secure riders for future years, the visits are an excellent opportunity to market the TT races and explain to riders and teams what the event is about and what they can expect both on and off the track.

The fact several riders in recent years have enjoyed BSB success after riding in the TT has helped attract interest.

During last month’s visit the riders were treated to numerous laps of the 37¾-mile course in a car. As they are all already accomplished racers the aim was not to find out how to go fast around the circuit, but how to get around safely. The laps allowed the riders to view potential hazards and learn from experienced riders how to stay safe.

Rider Liaison Officer John Barton explains the attraction of the TT course to rookies Tom Grant, Dan Linfoot, Steve Mercer, Drew Dorling and Kenny Gilbertson (Stephen Davison/PPI)

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 10 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.

Manx TT star Conor Cummins passes on tips to riders Dan Cooper, Victor Cox and AJ Venter (Stephen Davison/PPI)

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 brothers are currently lying in third place in the World Sidecar Championship.

British Superstock competitors Steve Mercer, Kenny Gilbertson, Drew Dorling and Steve Heneghan, Jenny Tinmouth and Ben Wylie from British Supersport, and Brian McCormack were also in attendance. Irish Superbike Champion Michael Pearson also paid a visit earlier.

TT stars Gary Johnson (left) and Conor Cummins (right) share a joke with Brian McCormack (Stephen Davison/PPI)

The trip was also an ideal opportunity for the riders to meet organisers and find out more about the TT and the Isle of Man. They were given DVDs of on-board footage and the PlayStation2 TT Superbikes game to help with the circuit learning process.

Return trips are already being planned, when additional tuition will be given.

It is unlikely all 16 riders will make their debuts in 2009, but feedback has been extremely positive and it is hoped the majority will be on the grid for next year’s TT.

The list of fastest-ever TT newcomers shows the recent recruitment programme has been successful, with recent recruits dominating the top 15. More impressive still is the number who have debuted in the past four years and already claimed TT wins.

Fastest TT Newcomers

1 Steve Plater 125.808mph 1000cc Yamaha 2007

2 Keith Amor 124.856mph 1000cc Honda 2007

3 Gary Johnson 122.859mph 1000cc Yamaha 2007

4 Guy Martin 122.100mph 1000cc Suzuki 2004

5 Jimmy Moore 121.381mph 600cc Honda 2007

6 Les Shand 121.180mph 1000cc Yamaha 2005

7 Jeremy Toye 120.555mph 1000cc Suzuki 2006

8 Mark Buckley 120.528mph 1000cc Honda 2006

9 Conor Cummins 120.088mph 1000cc Yamaha 2006

10 Roger Maher 120.070mph 1000cc Yamaha 2007

11 Mark Miller 119.836mph 750cc Suzuki 2006

12 Cameron Donald 119.670mph 600cc Honda 2005

13 Jamie Robinson 119.520mph 600cc Honda 2008

14 Ian Mackman 119.513mph 1000cc Suzuki 2007

15 James Hillier 119.199mph 600cc Suzuki 2008

Outright Sidecar lap record-holder Nick Crowe (centre) welcomes Ben and Tom Birchall to the Isle of Man (Stephen Davison/PPI)

Rider recruitment is an on-going process and more and more riders of the right standard and stature are being targeted. It is also hoped the programme will extend to riders on the continent as well.

The reputation of the TT is extremely high within the British Championship paddock – many of the riders featured on the recent trip contacted the organising team themselves – and a large number of riders have the desire to compete. 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.

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