The 20-time Isle of Man TT winner and all-round legend, John McGuinness, spent a few minutes with us last Saturday talking about his experience at the AMCN Phillip Island International Classic.

How are you finding the experience so far?
It’s been good. It’s not all about racing and sticking our necks out. You get a holiday, and the weather’s pretty average at home! I’ve been lucky with the team – we’ve all had a few days kicking about; a few barbeques and a few beers, so it’s been really good. Everybody’s pleased to see us here, so it’s been fun. Been getting a little bit closer to the guys at the sharp end, so it’s all coming together nicely.

When did you arrive?
We got here Monday night, and drove straight down from Melbourne, at a very slow speed because of the speed limits. They’re really average over here. People were driving down the motorway from the airport at, like, 40mph. If you did that in the UK, you’d be rear–ended in about three seconds, so it’s a bit different over here.

So yeah, we came down here, into Cowes, had a couple of pints, stopped in a real nice house. It’s funny, when you come you have all these bright ideas about going places, but we haven’t been doing a right lot. It’d be nice to go and see the penguins or go to a wildlife park, but we’ve been pretty busy with all the bikes, so it’s still been great. If I come back again, I’ll definitely will try and make it a bit of a holiday – bring the wife and the kids.

It’s funny, most races that I do, the kids are normally with us, as a family, so it’s a bit weird not having them here, but if we come again, we’ll bring them out next time. Hopefully we’ll get an invite back.

AMCN International Island Classic 2014 - International Challenge Race 4 - John McGuinness - Post-race gathering - profile 3

I’m sure you will. You’re very popular here. So even when you’ve done events like Suzuka, you’ve had your family with you?
I say most races, they haven’t been to Japan, but my wife’s been to Japan. The kids haven’t. But all the World Endurance races we’ve done, the TT, the Northwest, all the British championship races I do, they’re normally with us. There’s some times they can’t be with us, but most of the time, 90 per cent of the time they go racing [with us].

In the UK, it’s easier as you normally travel in your own motorhome, don’t you?
Yeah, we’ve got the camper, and you can go in there and shut the door and gather your thoughts, and the kids are normally a big leveller, you know. Whatever’s happening out on track, they don’t really care, they’re just all playing Playstation or looking at the iPad or whatever. Keeps you grounded.

But yeah, I’ve heard so much about this event; I know [Aussie team member] Steve Martin from World Endurance, and Cameron Donald said it was this great event, so first real opportunity, we’re here.

How do you find it going up against TT rivals like Cam Donald on a road circuit, as opposed to the TT course and other street races like the Northwest?
I’ve ridden with Cam a lot, and I’m really good friends with Brendan Roberts – he was over in the UK doing Superstock, and he ended up actually being champion, then World Superstock Champion – so it’s always going to be difficult; you’re never going to turn up with your bike in a crate and whoop the Aussies. But we’ll give them a run, keep them honest and if all the bikes keep going, we won’t be a million miles away. I’ll just enjoy it. They like their riding, we’ve got experienced riders, they’re here for fun – nobody’s going to be running anybody off the road. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys and they respect us, I think. Let’s just all have a good time, put on a good show for the spectators, and go to the pub on Sunday.

AMCN International Island Classic 2014 - International Challenge Race 4 - Cam Donald - Post-race gathering - portrait shot 2
TT winner and respected rival Cam Donald of the Australian team.

How are you finding dialling the bike in (a 1981 Honda Harris F1)?
One thing with a new bike is that you can change a millimetre here, or a bit of this, or a bit of ride height, but to be honest, you need track time. The bike’s in the ballpark. I’ve never tried to go reinvent the wheel. The only way you learn is out on the track, but we only had an hour on the Thursday, which was four fifteen minute sessions. This bike’s brand new. It’s never turned a wheel. I’ve never ridden it [before now], never ridden one of these types of bikes, and so get into the 39s and be competitive, we’re not doing so bad.

It’s a good bike. You know, you think it’s 30 years old, but some people think a 30 year–old bike’s a piece of junk, and I probably thought they were pieces of junk, too, until I rode one. And I’m motoring on, getting a good old push on it. It’s fast and smooth and stops and turns; it’s a thrill to ride. It’s a good machine.

AMCN International Island Classic 2014 - International Challenge Race 3 - John McGuinness - Start-finish straight - front three-quarter pan 1

How would you compare it to your current racing machines?
It’s very similar. It hasn’t got the smoothness, and it’s a bit agricultural – a bit more vibration. Obviously carburettors work quite different to fuel injector bodies, they’re quite sensitive, but at the end of the day, the seat position’s the same, the handlebars are the same, the gear lever’s the same position, as are the clutch and brake. It feels like a racing bike to me. Albeit, it’s a bit older, but it’s still a weapon – it still gets your attention when you’re going round. It’s got modern tyres and brakes on it, so it’s a good bit of kit.

How are you finding the circuit itself?
It’s great. It’s very smooth, very different. A lot of our tracks are bumpy and narrow, and every track’s different, you know what I mean. Seems like with Phillip Island, the unique difference is how fast it is, the corners. If you had a blank piece of paper now and you said, right, let’s build a track, you wouldn’t get within a million miles of here. I mean, we would, the old–school boys would, but you wouldn’t even be allowed these days.

These days it’s all bus–stop chicanes and hairpins, whereas this place, it’s such a thrill to ride. It’s one of them on the bucket list, you know. Done Suzuka, done Macao, done Daytona, but it’s always been always been on the list. I’ve got the iconic picture under the bridge with the background of the sea, so I’ve really, really been enjoying it.

lr 3 John McGuinness at Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit 2

On a separate note, you’re hoping to continue to add your record at the TT this year?
Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t make predictions and I don’t have a goal. I’ve got great people, I’ve got good mechanics, good family and everybody else around me, the sponsors etc. so just keep going well and enjoying it and make plans at the end of every year, really. I mean, I never thought I’d win 20, let alone [potentially win] 26, so if we win another one, or two or three, it’d be great, but if I don’t, I’ll still feel good.

One final question: How do you find the difference between the TT and other races when it comes to media management? Specifically, you had a hilarious post–race interview incident referring to a ‘chafing issue’, in 2011, that you’d never normally hear in modern racing elsewhere.
I think what you’ve just been through for an hour; you’ve just been racing your heart out on the most dangerous track in the world and you’re not particularly bothered by what you’re actually saying afterwards. A lot of the TT guys have been brought up different as well – different personalities and different lifestyles. We’re not moulded in the same mould [as other racers]. We can all do a perfect interview, and thank our sponsors and thank god and all that sort of stuff, but when it comes to the TT, we’re all just buzzing that much that whatever’s in your head just rattles out.

It’s just very, very different [to other races]. You can talk about any other track in the world, but nothing comes within 10 per cent of the TT course, really. You’re talking Nürburgring and you think, ‘Oh yeah, 70 corners’. Well, the TT is 270. And they say the Nürburgring goes over a hill. Well, the TT goes over a mountain – a genuine mountain – so it’s very different.

Thanks very much for your time, John. Good luck in the races.

A Final Word

Despite the supposed lack of competitiveness, Sunday saw the International Challenge riders go at it harder in their two races than almost any other races I’ve seen. In typical candid style, McGuinness said afterwards that, “I underestimated how fast the racing is around here, doing 37s on bikes that are 30 years old. I was crunching my plums in that last race trying to keep up, and it was mega enjoyable.” What a guy! Stay tuned for our full round-up of the AMCN International Phillip Island Classic in the next few days!