'Brexit, a big breakthrough and a factory bike built in Burnside' - Tales from the TT paddock

Mountain Course
Bad weather around the Mountain Course has stopped much of the racing so far this week

Wherever you wander around the Isle of Man TT paddock on the latest of a series of days of inclement weather you don't have too far to go to come across a Northern Ireland accent.

Among them team owners, sponsors, riders and team technicians - all united in frustration at the lack of practice time and the hanging around, but still focused on achieving the goals they have set for this the centrepiece of their road racing year - and with stories to tell.

By his own admission, Davy Morgan is "tired of drinking tea and eating too many buns" as I enter the awning which houses his fleet of bikes and has pretty much become his home too over the last week given the lack of track time afforded to the racers.

"It's very frustrating. You spend so much time and money trying to get to the Isle of Man and it's the biggest race of the season for me. You end up fiddling with the bike endlessly, mainly because of boredom more than anything else," said the Saintfield man.

"You're hanging round all the time waiting for something to happen. I've been coming here since I began racing on the Mountain Course at the Manx Grand Prix in 2000 and this is the worst I can remember in terms of the weather."

Morgan, a truck driver, is one of a number of 'privateer' riders in the paddock who are dependent on raising their own sponsorship money to compete at a major fiscally demanding event like the TT.

"It's an expensive sport and you can't afford to do it on your own," confirms the former North West 200 250cc winner.

Davy Morgan
Davy Morgan is tasked with raising his own sponsorship money in order to compete at the TT

"You need a phenomenal amount of money to come to the TT when you take everything into account - all the costs associated with the racing, travel and the expenses you build up with being away from home for two and a half weeks.

"It probably costs me around £10,000 racing wise between tyres and fuel, plus bike preparation, engines - and that's not including the price of the bikes. If I have any engine blow-ups that's additional outlay.

"This year has been exceptionally difficult - I have lost a couple of sponsors who had been helping me and other people who threw me a few quid so I had to sit out the North West 200.

"The financial situation caused by the political uncertainties surrounding Brexit is a big thing. I never know whether people are using that as an excuse but I suppose if you have a business you would be concerned about the future.

"This is also the first year that the organisers decided they weren't going to help me financially so I'm quite disappointed about that.

"The future looks a bit bleak from a racing point of view - from the perspective of motorcycle racers we're just wondering where the next pounds are going to come from to go racing."

The quest to join the '130mph club'

Banbridge rider Shaun Anderson's impressive performances in recent years have earned him a place among the elite top 20 'seeds' for the first time at this year's event.

"I've been knocking on the door of potentially being seeded the past three or four years so when we got the numbers this year it was nice to finally make the cut," explained the 34-year-old.

"It's track time that I need really. With work I don't get the chance to race all the Irish short circuits and road races at home so I'm crying out for a few laps on the bike, which in itself is everything it needs to be.

"I did some short circuits in the early part of my career but I always knew I was destined for the roads. That clicked my buttons the most.

"In my professional life I've had the opportunity to work for KTM in Austria and they're flexible enough to allow me to do different things on different brands. I get to do a bit of racing on the continent where the weather is usually a bit more favourable.

Shaun Anderson
Anderson has been rewarded for impressive displays in recent racing seasons with a top 20 seeding at this year's TT

"I've lapped the Mountain Course at almost 129mph and my goal is to join the 130mph club. That's 12 seconds away from where I am now but it's possible if I put all my best sector times together.

"The circuit suits my style of riding but you never get a perfect lap around the Isle of Man - if it all comes together that would be good."

Anderson's girlfriend Sarah Boyes is also a road racer and will race on the Mountain Course at the Manx Grand Prix in August.

"We met and knew each other through racing and things blossomed from there," said the Northern Irishman, who also takes in the Tandragee 100 and Ulster Grand Prix every year.

"Both of us enjoy the sport, we know the ups and downs of it, the positive aspects and the difficulties.

"She understands the demands of a long event like this held over two and a half weeks so I think I get cut a little bit more slack than the girlfriends of some other riders at home who don't maybe have the racer mindset. Hopefully I cut her a bit of slack too."

'Living the dream'

Anderson's sponsor Noel Williamson hails from Portglenone, County Antrim, but is now based in Dublin, running a construction and property business which helps him run his own racing team.

"I don't count up all the cost anymore - I stopped counting a long time ago. My motto is we spend what we can afford and when the money runs out it stops," Williamson told me as he took refuge from the elements in his team truck.

"We are all here because we love the sport and I do it because I enjoy it.

"I've been involved in motorbikes all my life - my father brought me here in 1975 and I've been a lot of times since.

"I never dreamt I'd have a garage in parc ferme or a truck sitting here with a top rider and a lot of bikes. Even when I'm sitting here with water running down the road I'm still thinking 'we're sitting here living the dream'. It's an amazing place to race motorcycles, the buzz you get from it.

"The bills are paid and the kids are fed. Anything that's left we spend on motorcycles."

David Johnson
David Johnson in action during Tuesday's practice session

A short distance across 'the pits', as it is also known, another County Antrim native, Darren Gilpin, is heading up the team of technicians meticulously preparing bikes for Honda Europe.

"As crew chief for David Johnson I'm responsible for the preparation of the bikes and the decisions that are made on the ground at the track regarding the set-up of the bikes," he explains.

"I am involved in interpreting the feedback from the rider, trying to give him the best possible package to do the job.

"I raced here for a few years myself and that helps. You can immediately start to pick some stuff up and it helps work a few things out at a course like this.

"When a rider talks about certain corners you know exactly where he is on the circuit - whereas of you haven't raced a circuit like this it could be quite difficult to know what he is talking about.

"The bikes are quite complex now with a lot of electronics on them but we run a data logger on the bike, which basically tells you everything which the motorcycle does - from the fuel, the throttle, the slipper clutch and suspension logger.

"It gives you a lot of information, plus you take on board what the rider has asked for himself.

"David's 600 has been supplied by Wilson Craig Racing from Londonderry. It's now a 'factory bike' but I built that myself in my garage at home in Burnside in September."

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