Return of a legend
Wednesday 4 June is a significant date for British motorcycle racing and motorcycling in general. It is the day that Jim Moodie, Bruce Anstey and John McGuinness line up for the start of the 2003 Junior TT. It marks the first time for over three decades that a factory Triumph has competed in the world famous, public roads racing festival known as the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.
Triumph had already been established for five years by the time that the inaugural races were run on the Isle of Man in 1907 and for many years the histories of the two motorcycling institutions were inseparably intertwined. The British manufacturer has a long and illustrious record at the TT. At that very first meeting, almost a century ago, Triumph marked itself as a top class racing marque when Jack Marshall and Frank Hulbert brought their single-cylinder machines home in second and third place.
In 1908 Marshall rode his three-and-a-half horsepower, single-speed machine to first place and overall honours as well as posting the fastest lap (42.48mph), despite having to pull over to replace an exhaust valve. Of the ten, single-cylinder bikes that finished the race that year, six were Triumphs. This emphatic result signalled the start of a period during which Triumphs remained the dominant single-cylinder machines on the Island.
As is the way in racing, there followed a period of readjustment, development, bizarre restrictions and rule changes during which Triumph remained a prominent force at the TT through factory efforts and hundreds of faithful privateers. The outbreak of World War II in 1939 effectively put a stop to racing activities when riders and factory employees (who were often one and the same) signed up to fight for their country. However, the post-war period signalled a resurgence of Triumph’s racing fortunes.
In 1949 the TT became the first event on the world championship calendar and Triumph was well represented with 15 GP bikes lining up on the Manx grid. New Zealander Sid Jensen scored an impressive result with fifth place but the Clubmans TT was where machines such as the Tiger 70 and 100 would shine by achieving numerous victories. The re-introduction of the Production TT in 1967 brought overall victory for John Hartle on his Bonneville and three years later Triumph scored a landmark in TT history when Malcolm Uphill averaged 100mph around the Mountain Course.
Uphill’s 1970 performance was special, primarily because it was the first time that a production machine had ever hit the magical three-figure mark. This was made all the more impressive because it was achieved from a standing start. The victory was a matter of British pride at a time when British industry was struggling through recession.
The following year Tony Jefferies won the Formula 750TT on a triple, but 1971 will be remembered primarily for the birth of a true British racing legend. A Triumph Trident nicknamed Slippery Sam slithered its way into motorcycling folklore when it gave successive wins to Ray Pickrell in 1971 and ’72 and then carried Jefferies, Mick Grant (against 1000cc machinery and riding with a broken wrist) and Dave Croxford/Alex George to victory at the subsequent three TTs.
Sam’s unmatched winning streak would undoubtedly have continued but so fearsome was the Triumph’s reputation that rules were brought in outlawing bikes that were more than five years old.
Now, 28 years later, Triumph is returning to the Island with a full factory effort to rival the might of Japanese manufacturers. World-renowned road racing specialist Jack Valentine is the man in charge of bringing glory back to the world’s oldest motorcycle manufacturer. His company ValMoto has been working tirelessly to develop Triumph’s critically acclaimed Daytona 600 road bike into a racing machine worthy of carrying the Leicester company’s racing pedigree into the 21st Century.
Honing a brand new model into a Supersport missile is by no means an overnight task but some of Triumph ValMoto’s results would certainly suggest that the team is on the right track. Riders Jim Moodie and Craig Jones have been competing in the British Supersport Championship with a remarkable level of success that has seen Jones take pole position at Knockhill. The team has also yielded a fistful of top-ten finishes in one of the toughest sporting arenas around.
Jones may be coming up with the goods on the short circuits but the 18-year-old will not be taking part in Triumph ValMoto’s public roads campaign. That task falls to the vastly experienced Jim Moodie. Moodie who has previously won eight TTs, will be partnered by Isle of Man experts John McGuinness and Bruce Anstey – and any of the three riders are capable of winning the Junior and Production 600 races for Triumph. Anstey has so far gone fastest of the trio by topping the timesheets in practice for the Junior TT with an outstanding 121.04mph lap – but Moodie and McGuinness are close behind.
Triumph ValMoto Daytona 600s have also been a significant force in practice for the Production 600 TT and there is real hope that one of these brave men could put Triumph back at the pinnacle of motorcycle racing with a victory in the 2003 Isle of Man TT races.
Junior TT (4 laps) – 10.45am Wednesday 4 June 2003
Production 600 TT (3 laps) – 10.45am Friday 6 June 2003