Guy Martin’s return to road racing certainly came as a shock when he was unveiled as Honda Racing’s second rider for the season, but there could well be a fair few twists and turns along the road before the fan favourite can even begin to think about achieving his one sole aim: to seal his first Isle of Man TT victory.
After more than a year out of the saddle – or at least professional racing as he pursued commitments away from the track both on television and on his bicycle – Martin will make his full return in Thursday’s opening North West 200 races, but the ride to Northern Ireland’s famous coastal track has not been without it’s bumps.
For starters, Martin arrives at Honda at the same time as the new Fireblade CBR1000RR SP2, a bike that is evidently in need of some development. During Tuesday’s opening qualifying sessions, Martin was nearly 14 seconds off the fastest superbike lap time, set by Alastair Seeley, while his Superstock times were not much better.
“It’s a new model of bike you see, and it’s good that I rode it at Scarborough because that gave me a good comparison to the previous bikes I’ve ridden because up until then all the tracks were either new to me,” Martin told The Independent ahead of the North West 200.
“So just getting my eye in, and thinking ‘was it me being rusty’, I haven’t ridden for over a year, or was it the bike? It was good to go to Scarborough and get a good benchmark. We have got a lot of work to do, there’s nothing majorly wrong with the bike, it’s just getting everything to work together, getting everything to gel, which is why you get days like today. So did Scarborough and Tandragee, did two days [at Castle Combe] at the start of April, and before then we were in Spain for four days.”
He added: “We won’t really know [where we are] until we get there. We’re just trying to get everything pulling in the same direction, we’re getting all these areas of the bike, it feels a bit like a union, they’re all sticking to their own and fighting each other, we want everything working together in the same direction. The electrical system isn’t working with the clutch system and the throttle system isn’t working with the suspension system and it’s all making it confusing. It’s just getting all the little problems ironed out. Some of the problems, not a lot of them but some of them, are me altering or refining my style to try and help all these areas.”
Well, the news wasn’t great after the first day of racing in Northern Ireland. Both Martin and his Honda teammate, John McGuinness, were a long way off the pace, and Martin did himself no favours in a television interview where he confirmed his attendance is “a means to an end” and to “get a few signatures” ahead of his main target, the Isle of Man TT, just two years after labelling the North West track “boring”.
I want to win, that’s the only reason I’ve come back
Then came the rumours. Reports on Wednesday that a split in the camp between Martin and the team proved false, but there’s still a lot of work to do by the factory squad if they are to challenge for top honours this year. Which is why Martin’s reasoning for his return is both relieving and concerning in equal amounts.
Martin left the TAS Tyco BMW team and the sport in 2015 after a serious crash while leading the Ulster Grand Prix left him with multiple broken bones, with the Lincolnshire rider one of the most successful TT riders to miss out on the top step of the podium given the 15 rostrum appearances to his name. However, it wasn’t the injuries that took him elsewhere, but the realisation that he had fallen out of love with motorcycle road racing completely.
“I didn’t miss it at all,” he admits. “I should have packed it in a long time ago, maybe three or four years ago, because I just thought I wasn’t enjoying it. I didn’t realise I wasn’t enjoying it until I went away to do this race in America, and I thought ‘you know what, I should have packed in motorbikes ages ago’, but now I’ve come back and I feel like I’ve got my team, I can do it how I want to do it. But the team I raced for before, TAS, I was there years and they were bloody brilliant, I just think it needed…I was stuck in a bit of a rut I think, but the team’s brilliant.”
Martin adds: “I want to win, that’s the only reason I’ve come back. I think now I’m into it, I’ve got to be realistic about it. But of course I want to win, that’s the reason I’m here but we’ve got the challenge now of getting the new bike up to speed so I’m taking that as part of it.
“Obviously I want to win, that’s why I race, but you’ve got to be realistic and it might be a case of take this year to get up to speed, get it as fast as we can and then hopefully this year will put us in good stead for the following year.”
He’s really good, really precise with his feedback, so when John McGuinness talks, you listen
If Martin wants to break his TT duck, there’s no better place to be than with Honda. The Japanese manufacturer has taken John McGuinness to the majority of his 23 TT victories and has more Senior TT wins than any other team.
Martin is already benefitting from McGuinness’s vast 21 years of experience on the roads, and the strong friendship between the two could well help bring the development of the new Blade forward quick enough for them to challenge for race victories later in the year.
“John’s the man, John’s a legend isn’t he?” he said. “He’s a legend, just from the first day of testing, some of the stuff he says you think ‘you’re talking sh*t’, I tell him because he’s good craic! But you think ‘you’re talking sh*t’ and then I went out and when that man talks, you listen.
“Some of the stuff he said, I thought ‘ah yeah he’s right’, we were talking about the set-up of the fairing that it would struggle at the Isle of Man, and I rode it at Tandragee and thought ‘he’s right, he’s right’. He’s really good, really precise with his feedback, so when John McGuinness talks, you listen.”
What Honda need now though is for the attention to be not so much on the talking and onto the racing, although the North West is unlikely to help that. Neither McGuinness nor Martin hold the best record around the North West, while the Honda’s strength is known to come to fruition on the flowing bends of the Isle of Man rather than the stop-start chicanes in Northern Ireland. A week under the radar will do Honda the world of good in getting on top of the new model, and could bring them into contention at next month’s TT. But then Martin’s never really done under the radar, has he?Reuse content