Riding on track with Isle of Man TT legend John McGuinness

We took to the hallowed Donington Park Circuit at the weekend, for a couple of sessions with Isle of Man TT icon John McGuinness

John McGuinness chasing down Toad from Visordown on Honda Fireblades

IT’S muggy, slightly overcast and I’m waiting to ride out onto the Donington Park National circuit flanked by John McGuinness, a bunch of journos and around 200 over-excited Honda Fireblade owners.

It’s the 30th birthday bash of Honda’s class-leading sports bike, and a legend’s birthday party wouldn’t be complete without a legend taking to the track to help blow out the candles. Big names don’t come much bigger than John McGuinness, and with the Isle of Man TT just around the corner, it was a perfect chance to remind the fans that John was back on the ‘Blade for this year’s event. He is, after all, kind of a big deal.

As we were held at the end of the Melbourne Loop while the track marshals cleared the track the tension seemed to build slightly. The sea of Fireblade owners behind the main group were all excitedly revving their engines and bouncing the bikes off the limiter; had anyone told them this was a parade and not a qualifying lap? I don’t think so! We peel onto the track, all keeping close to a camera car that was capturing the images you can see here. As the bikes jockey for position behind it, I become acutely aware that one wrong move here could cause one of the biggest piles-ups the circuit has ever seen. That fear is made all the more real after a glance in the mirror of my 2022 CBR 30th Anniversary edition shows bikes darting around behind me as the riders jostle for position – ‘just don’t get sucked back into the pack, Toad!’

Thankfully for all involved, no Fireblades were injured in the parade, the fans seemed to love it, and for many of those taking part in the parade, a big box on many buckets lists was ticked that day. It might not have been a flying lap by any stretch, but it’s not every day you get to share the same bit of racetrack with John McGuinness.

Day two – Fly laps with the Morcombe Missile himself John McGuinness

With the late afternoon some bathing the fan-favourite Donington Park circuit, Honda and MSV Trackdays had managed to pull together to squeeze a few of us lucky journos out on track on the new Fireblade. With the previous track evening turning into a bit of a washout, two 20-minute sessions in the sun would be my only chance of learning anything new about this updated bike.

We were collected from the Melbourne loop, a handful of journos and around 40 Honda Fireblade owners in tow. Again, they all look pretty excitable! We arrive at the pits and are split into two groups, Novice, and Intermediate. John immediately claims to be both of these things and fires out of the pitlane on the 2022 Fireblade and off around the Donington Park circuit. He’s then followed by the mass of punters on their cherished ‘Blades. Before most of them have completed their first flying lap though, he’s already scything his way through the pack and lapping people!

I get a grandstand seat from the pitlane exit, and a perfect chance to watch him at work. If there is one thing you can say about John’s riding style it’s commitment. Braking into Redgate he looks so smooth and relaxed yet totally committed. The act of rolling off the throttle, braking, and tipping into the turn all happen at once. There is now slowing in a straight line. Almost all of the deceleration happens with the bike on its side as it homes in on the apex of the turn.

With the first sessions done, it’s our turn to take to the track. It’s a while since I’ve ridden at Donington, although as a venue, it’s very hard to forget. As a kid I was brought up there, watching BSB, WorldSBK and the BTCC, and it’s not like the layout has changed much since the 80s and 90s! It does take some time to get in the groove though. The new Fireblade is ridiculously quick, made slightly more potent thanks to the changes for 2022. Its gears are more forgiving and offer a little bit more get up and go out of slow corners. It also gains some changes to the intake and exhaust for this year to boost the mid-range torque a bit. Just as I’m getting into my groove, with the bike and the track, I get my arse handed to me by a very familiar-looking racer in some very flash Alpinestars leathers! I’m just starting my entry into Redgate when John sweeps up the inside of me, knee on the deck and thumb in the air in my direction. That was a nice touch, as I’d normally expect a two-fingered greeting from John! By the time I reach Old Hairpin he’s already through Schwantz Curve and on his way to Mcleans, other than a glimpse of him on the Dunlop Straight, he’s long gone – just like that!

We drop our bikes back at the Melbourne Loop and before I’ve even taken my lid off John Pulls up alongside me and sticks his bike on its side stand. He starts to speak but with earplugs in and a helmet on I can’t hear a word he’s saying. I sheepishly remove my lid and plugs and psyche myself up for a bollocking – how badly did I cut him up? Where on the track did a nearly make him crash…? These are all thoughts racing through my brain.

“You’re really good down Craner Curves, I was following you for a bit out there,” he said. I was pretty shocked to hear that, especially from a 23-time Isle of Man TT winner. “you’re pretty shit everywhere else though!” he continued. One day I’ll manage to delete the second part of that sentence from my memory and cling to just the first part of it! But for now, I'll take a riding compliment from the man they call the Morecombe Missile!

Big thanks to Honda for having us along to the party at Donington. For more information on the new 2022 Fireblade, head to: www.Honda.co.uk