Popular Kiwi racer Bruce Anstey made a remarkable, and emotional return to racing last week when he overcame illness to win the Classic Lightweight TT around the iconic Isle of Man Mountain course.
The 50-year-old has been fighting cancer for the last two years, and was still receiving chemotherapy in the week before the Classic TT, but jumped on board the Padgett’s prepared Honda RS250 to dominate the lightweight race and take one of the most heroic of all heroic victories seen on the famous island.
“It’s awesome to win. I can’t believe it,” he said. “Everyone – the team, Clive (Padgett), my family have just been awesome. I was right in the zone but on the last lap I was really nervous and just short shifted – I was not trying to go fast – just get it to the end. The last two years have been really tough. If it wasn’t for Anny (his partner) I wouldn’t be here.”
Throughout Anstey’s illness, long time team boss Clive Padgett always said that he would keep a bike for the 13 time TT winner should he wish to return, and he made good on his promise, adding: “I’m just over the moon. We said to Bruce before the (first practice) lap if you’re not feeling it we’ll pick you up at Ballacraine. He’s loving life – it’s incredible. He was smiling from the off and all the fans are so pleased to see him back and we’ve had so many great comments.”
On Friday, after nearly a week of mixed conditions, and limited timed on track, practice finally got underway in blustery but dry conditions. The four-stroke Junior and Senior Classic bikes were first away, with John McGuinness setting the pace on his Team Winfield Paton. On his second lap, he set the best time of 109.59mph, with Norton mounted Jamie Coward second and Michael Rutter on his Matchless third. Dean Harrison once again led the Classic Superbike field on his Kawasaki, way in front of his nearest rival, Horst Saiger also ZXR750 mounted and Conor Cummins third on the Padgett’s Yamaha YZR500 Grand Prix bike. Returning from life-threatening illness Anstey topped the Lightweight class, with Harrison second.
For the afternoon practice, conditions were cold but dry and again the Junior and Senior Classic machines, got underway, but with the Senior Classic TT being flagged off in under 24 hours, only a select number of riders took to the 37 ¾ mile course. McGuinness set the fastest lap of the evening with a 110.13mph with Italy’s Stefano Benetti also on Paton close on his heels, 108.94mph.
In the Classic Superbikes Michael Dunlop took the early lead, but due to injury only managed one out lap, which left the door open for the rest of the field up the speed on their second flying lap. By the end of the night, Derek Sheils set the fastest time at 124.033mph on his Kawasaki ZXR750.
As the sun broke, the gossip around the paddock was confirmed, Classic TT favourite and previous winner, Dean Harrison had sustained an injury during the previous night’s practice. After clipping a bank in the Glen Helen section, Dean sustained shoulder and internal injuries which would sideline him for the rest of the event.
With the race favourite out of the weekend, you could sense the anticipation as riders prepared for an added extra Superbike practice, before racing commenced. A noticeably injured Dunlop hobbled towards his Team Classic Suzuki and managed two flying laps, with a fastest lap of 125.75mph, with Australian Davo Johnson hot on heels at 125.04mph on his Kawasaki ZXR750.
Davey Todd continued to improve on his Padgetts 250 in the Lightweight class, setting his best time of practice week of 115.09mph, and the third fastest lap of the week.
Sunday race – Senior Classic TT
Bikes got underway in perfect conditions, with Paton mounted McGuinness showing the early lead, but on lap one, the race was red-flagged due to an incident at Ballaugh, which claimed the life of the popular competitor Chris Sparrow.
The Senior race was rescheduled for three laps instead of four, which meant it was a straight race to the flag with no fuel stops. Normally on a four-lap race, the multi-cylinder machines would have to stop for fuel, whereas the frugal single-cylinder machines don’t. But with the race down to three laps, it fell into the hands of the multi-cylinder Patons.
On lap one McGuinness took an early advantage with an opening lap of 111.68mph, with Bonetti taking second and Maria Costello in third. Norton mounted Coward was hot on the heels of the twin-cylinder Patons, but was considerably down on power and speed. Through the speed trap on lap one, Costello recorded the fastest time of 142.2mph on her Paton, compared to Coward’s Norton at 134mph
Lap two saw McGuinness continue to dominate, holding a lead of 24-seconds over Bonetti, with a flying lap of 111.59mph. However, in third, Coward managed to claw in Costello, and took third position at the start of lap two. At the end of the second lap, Jamie lapped at an impressive 109.13mph, compared to Maria at 108mph.
At the line, it was a comfortable victory for John, who clinched his fourth successive Senior Classic TT win, from Bonetti and Coward.
He said: “That was a tough race with no practice. It was mint to just ride at my own pace. I have to say a big thanks to the marshals and fans waving. A win is a win and I’ve had three on this bike. Big thanks to the team, the bike hasn’t missed a beat. My fingers and toes are still ringing as she vibrates a little, but it’s fun to ride. I got good pit boards, one at Ballacraine, and then another at Ballaugh. I think I pulled Stefano’s pants down a little, I made a good start, then just managed the gap. He rode well and if there had been more practice, I’m sure he would have been closer, but I’ve ridden this bike loads, and experience counts.”
Bonetti added: “Wow, very good to race against superbike rider. My gear shift broke, and I had to do it by hand on the last lap, but I’m happy to finish second to John.”
- John McGuinness – Team Winfield Paton (111.236mph/ 1:01.03.252)
- Stefano Bonetti – Speed Motor Paton (110.398mph/ 1:01.31.045)
- Jamie Coward – Ted Woof/ Craven Manx Norton (108.527mph/ 1:02:34.672)
- Maria Costello – Beugger Racing Paton (108.150mph/ 1:02:47.760)
- Alan Oversby – Ireland Honda (107.368mph/ 1:03:15.199)
Lightweight Classic TT
- Bruce Anstey – Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles Honda (115.515mph/ 58:47.539)
- Davey Todd – Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles Honda (113.260mph/ 59:57.784)
- James Hind – Yamaha (112.961mph/ 1:00:07.307)
- Ian Lougher – Laylaw Racing Yamaha (112.636mph/ 1:00:17.699)
- Jamie Coward – Binch Racing Yamaha (112.119/ 1:00:34.399)