My ambition to gain an entry in the 2017 ClassicTT Parade Lap really started a year ago. I was running a marshalling post at Pumphouse in the Glen Helen section of the Mountain Course, watching the bikes coming through with riders either looking like they were having a great time or terrified of the challenge they had taken on. In amongst them I saw a familiar bike, a bike I knew well, a DesmoDue race bike no less with number 7 Graeme Smith onboard and clearly enjoying himself. A seed was planted!
My real journey to the Isle of Man had started many years ago as a youngster mad on bikes with my first trip back in 1983 onboard a Kawasaki GPz550. I’d given a pillion ride to a mate to come over with me and we stayed at Ramsey with no real idea about the TT. We watched our first races at the Gooseneck, the sound of the bikes on the run into the town from Ginger Hall echoing up through the trees making your spine tingle before the noise built up even further and we saw Joey Dunlop burst into sight from Tower Bends. He was gone in an instant but the memory had been etched and that moment has been with me ever since.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am in the holding area on Glencrutchery Road with Graeme Smith and another DesmoDue stalwart, Phil Wilcock onboard a Honda 750.
I’ve had a chat and a photo taken with one of my all-time heroes, John McGuinness. Other top road racers including Bruce Anstey, Josh Brookes and Steve Plater are close by; the atmosphere is amazing. The young man of 1983 is forgotten! I am now 55, I started racing when I was 48 and hold an International FIM Non-Championship Race licence thanks to racing in New Zealand in the BEARS meeting in Christchurch and I am riding my Ducati DesmoDue 620SS.
My mind is focused on the Course and the best way to tackle the lap ahead. My brother David’s advice is fresh in my mind: concentrate on the bits you don’t know or like and get on with enjoying the rest! The engine is warm as over 160 bikes are jostling towards the start line but we have cold tyres but we race on these every week in DD! I will take it steady to Braddan Bridge then go with the flow.
As I get to the start line it is a strange, exciting sensation but I can’t wait to get moving. A closed-roads lap of the Isle of Man Mountain Course here we come! The bike surges forward off the line, familiar, comfortable, a bike I love to race and know well. The run down Bray Hill is relatively pedestrian but the steepness of the drop surprises yet again. I follow the traffic down towards Quarterbridge, the braking zone starting to spread the bikes out and my cold tyres already a distant memory.
The lap builds with the little Ducati bellowing through Union Mills and Crosby picking off bikes as and when and also being passed by a few bigger, more modern machines. The feeling is unbelievable, the concentration intense and the road feels so different with the entire width available from which to pick my line. I am looking forward to Glen Helen to Kirk Michael and also onwards to Ginger Hall that I know well and these sections reel off in a blur the bike bouncing over the road surface exhaust noise pouring back from the trees and villages. A bit of air over Braddan Bridge, backside out of the seat and down the famous Sulby Straight with the Ducati’s shift light flickering away maxed out in top gear.
Ginger Hall to Ramsey is bumpy, more so than I expected from my runs through on my road bike. The race setup of the 600SS too stiff and uncompromising for this part of the Course. I back off riding the bike on my feet letting the machine kick and bounce off the bumps before Parliament Square comes into view. Hard on the brakes I don’t want to make a mess of the turning with so many fans there watching. Nice and cleanly through Ramsey we are on our way to the Mountain!
I find myself unconsciously slowing slightly as I go up May Hill, usually a favourite for the Police with a speed gun! The Hairpin is the next challenge and I make a hash of it!
Damp under the trees I run wide losing all momentum, chastise myself and then forget about it as we go up through the gears into WaterWorks, Tower Bends and then the Gooseneck where my TT experience started all those years ago! Flat out up the Mountain I know this part well and it’s also where I have a real feeling of needing more power! I am still passing other bikes but a couple of much faster bikes sail by me too. A Travelling Marshall waves me through, a nice moment but my mind is now thinking of all the famous milestones ahead. The Verandah, Bungalow (hello and goodbye Graeme!) pass as I climb the Mountain Mile to Brandywell. I wave to David -my brother David lost his life at Brandywell whilst competing at the ManxGP in the Senior Race in 2015 - passing through somewhat slowly before increasing my speed again as the descent to the Creg-ny-Baa and back towards Douglas demands my attention.
I become aware of how tiring the ride is compared to a short circuit, the physical impact of the course huge onboard a firmly setup race bike allied to massive concentration. Signpost Corner is welcome and the run down to the Nook and Governors sees me picturing the Finish line.
A final run up through the gears as we power down Glencrutchery Road and it is over safely, a fabulous experience, one I would highly recommend to anybody who has the urge to try the Mountain Course. My mind is buzzing, reliving the journey, replaying some of the mistakes I know I have made already thinking I could do much better!
My onboard camera tells me I have managed an 80mph lap - good enough to qualify for some classes apparently! Wonder what the future holds!
Big thanks to Phil Wilcock for helping make this all possible by taking my race bike straight from our round at Anglesey over to the Island and to Graeme Smith for the inspiration to take part!
Andy Taylor #21, Desmo Due Racer