Manx Fairy Tale for Works Racing.
1st, 2nd and 4th in class, 100+mph lap speeds, three bikes in the top 11 overall, two silver replicas, one bronze and a stunning return to the Island after a 30 year break for TT legend Charlie
Williams – this was the stuff of dreams for Works Racing Motor Cycles Ltd. And all achieved with Lansdowne spec., standard bore and stroke engines in a race filled with short-stroke,
multi-valved, multi-cylindered bikes that are about as classic as an iPad.
When we first considered entering the 2014 Classic TT, back in autumn 2013, the idea of entering with standard bikes seemed a little perverse. But when combined with the riders we chose it made more sense: Charlie Williams (9 times a TT winner and 64 years old), Bill Swallow (9 times Manx GP winner and 64 years old), John Leigh-Pemberton (TT and MGP regular and 59 years old) and Mark Parrett (Manx GP winner, of considerable girth and far from young) all have nothing to prove on the Isle of Man. We could go and compete without having to worry about the results – our sole objective being to have fun.
Although fitted with fairings, our bikes all ran low level exhaust pipes, Amal GP carburettors and 19” rims with Avon tyres, exactly as fitted to original Manx Nortons and exactly as we run in the Lansdowne Championship races on the mainland. Changes were restricted to the fitment of 5 gallon fuel tanks (just like original Manx’s), open megaphone exhausts, lots of additional lock-wiring and some very tall gearing to suit the long straights of the mountain course.
Practise week was very interesting. Three of the four team bikes ran like clockwork, doing two laps each evening needing nothing more than fuel. The fourth – Mark Parretts bike (owned by 9 times TT winner Chas Mortimer) was not behaving as well. The problem was quickly linked to Mark running a different fuel to the other three. He was running a mix of Avgas and super-unleaded whilst the others were running neat Sunoco race fuel. On the short circuits this would have been fine, but the Manx course is a different matter. Once the bike was filled with the alternative fuel (and Mark had been sent to visit the Manx Fairies) normal service was resumed. Now we had four bikes running perfectly and ready to race.
The Manx weather had been remarkably kind during practise week, the considerable quantity of rain all falling at night. Race day dawned wet, but after the 12.30 start was delayed by 90 minutes the race got underway in excellent conditions. It is hard to describe the excitement of standing on the famous Glencrutchery Road watching four bikes you have built queuing for their turn to accelerate away from the start and off down Bray Hill. As each leaves, one stands on tip-toes and strains to hear the exhaust note above the cacophony of the other waiting bikes. But as each crests the slight rise at St.Ninians cross roads and disappears from view one is left feeling lonely, knowing that the weeks of hard work are now over – there is absolutely nothing one can do to effect the outcome of the race.
With 23-odd minutes to wait, I walked back to the Works motorhome and put the radio on to listen to the race commentary. Then, in a slightly trance-like state, I did the washing up! At about 21 minutes (there was a lot of dirty plates) I suddenly remembered where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I ran back up to pit lane and got there just in time to see Bill come howling through at the end of his first lap. His lap average speed was 100.037mph, from a standing start! Soon after, Charlie, Mark and then John all came by all with laps close to 97mph.
The next 90 or so minutes was spent looking at my watch, straining to hear the commentary, waiting for the live-timing app on my phone to update and of course studying the wonderful old score- board above the start line, trying to keep track of the riders’ progress. There was a steady stream of mechanics leaving the pits, carrying away their tools and looking very crest-fallen as more and more of the 89 starters retired (almost half the bikes failed to finish this most gruelling of races). Then came the news that Bill had retired on the mountain, his bike misfiring. But that was the only piece of bad news for Works Racing. The other three team bikes all ran faultlessly to the flag, two more of them clocking up 100+mph laps, with the last one getting frustratingly close at 99.5mph.
Charlie Williams had been told by almost all his contemporaries that he was quite mad to make a comeback after so long an absence, but he categorically confounded his critics. He rode with style and speed and showed just what a class act he his. John Leigh-Pemberton spent the entire event with an enormous grin on his face. Never was there a happier motorcycle racer. Mark Parrett was over the moon to bring Chas Mortimer’s bike home after a tricky practise week. Bill Swallow’s bike, which had looked set to be the fastest in the team by some margin, was later found to have a dodgy condenser in its Mitsubishi magneto – especially frustrating as the other three team bikes were all running Works Racing’s own 2MTT replica CDI ignitions. Congratulations must also go to Izzard Racing, whose rider Keith Clark finished in a very respectable 23rd place with a 96mph best lap on his Works-powered Norton, this in only his second year on the island.
For the rest of the team: Miles, Richard, Rob, Tom, Malc, Andy, George, Izzy, Nash, Thomas, Barbara the Super Chef and myself it was now time to relax. We had all worked hard and it had paid of, not something that always happens in the Isle of Man. Some ale/cider was consumed and a great party was had at the Creg ny Baa pub, beside the famous circuit. Then there was a couple of days to enjoy the Manx scenery and meet the huge number of Classic Bike readers and Norton fans from all over the world who wanted to know more about the Works engines and congratulate the team on an outstanding result.
So, from Works Racing Motor Cycles Ltd., thanks to all the team, riders and sponsors (Silkolene oils, King Dick Tools and Avon tyres). We had set out to have fun, and this we achieved. In spades!