“Taken on the challenge, now hooked”
Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson’s arrival on the TT scene was nothing short of sensational – 12th, 16th and 20th finishingpositions to his credit, as well as a personal best lap in excess of 123mph. Gary didn’t start racingcompetitively until 2004, yet he achieved these fantastic results in his IoM debut at the Centenary TT.He will return to the Island this year under the Uel Duncan banner.

26 year-old, Gary did some school boy motocross until 2001 when the foot and mouth epidemic put paid tooff-road motor sport for awhile. He chose not too continue, concentrating on his electrical apprenticeship,before taking a job in Lincoln. However, driving home one day, passing a Ducati showroom,he noticed the special offers they had on their 748 road bikes; Gary takes up the story, ‘at thatpoint I decided I wanted a road bike! Before this I’d never even looked at a road bike or wanted to rideone never mind race one. I took out a finance deal and bought a new ex-demo 748 and took an interestin riding fast and pulling stunts. It was then onto track days, after one of which I decided to buy anearly R6 as the cost of damaging a 748 just didn’t bear thinking about.’

So, Gary took it easy, learning the tracks? Er, no, ‘I was constantly being black flagged for cutting up riderswho were slowing me up, so my Dad decided it would be better to get my ACU licence and start clubracing’ Gary completed his first year of racing in 2003, getting rid of his novice jacket in the process; hethen moved onto the MRO Supersport Championship the following year, resulting in the runner-upposition by just a single point, despite finishing in a lowly 18th position in the first meeting.

He also tried his hand at a Cadwell Park BSS meeting, qualifying 20th using second-hand tyres. What about the race? ‘I carved through the pack to 11th before crashing when I was going fast into the Gooseneck almost running into Peter Riba; I had to let off the throttle, lost the front, with a broken collar bone the result’

In ’05 Gary progressed to the BSS Cup full time on a new underpowered and very underdeveloped Kawasaki ZX6. ‘This was a hard year on an uncompetitive bike until the later rounds. I seemed to be throwing money down the drain to race a bike that was not competitive, but I was extremely grateful to a lot of hard working team members and also my personal friends who were small financial sponsors. We won the SS Cup, but things could have been done a lot easier and not have left me so much in debt’

2006 looked promising but a pre-season crash where Gary broke his neck, back and fingers meant he had to start re-building his racing career. ‘I rang Anita Woodward at Angel Racing from whom I got the support of a bike and mechanics but I had to supply the running costs. I enjoyed that season, learning more about the sport than ever before and was offered a ride for the following season. However, I’d spoken with Guy Martin, who sowed the seeds of racing in Ireland, so during the winter break I decided to take up the offer of a ride with Speedfreak in the British Supertocks and the three big international road races. I knew I couldn’t afford to carry on paying to race in England whereas in Ireland they help to get you on the grid and look after you once there. I’d been looking at doing the NW200 but not the TT until the following year, but I’m so glad I took the bull by the horns.’

The Speedfreak deal included the use of an R1 Superstock but Gary had to find the sponsorship to fund the running of the machine which he did through personal friends and by working full time in his electrical business. Sponsorship has always been a problem as his parents have never been able to support him financially, but have let him live with them rent free and lend a hand with the bikes at race meetings.

Due to the relatively late decision to compete at the ’07 TT, learning the course became a problem. How did Gary cope? ‘In the months running up to the event I was working in my local motorcycle shop, Gearchange, fitting new lights and sockets and had a video on the large screen showing the 06 TT… I was absolutely mesmerised. The whole adrenalin, speed and pure thrill of it all, I started getting a cold feeling through my body – I’m doing this in a couple of months! Paul Philips and the gang got me over and I managed to get two laps round the course in a van mixed in with traffic, which was a help because it familiarised me with some of the parts of the course, but the whole thing was just a drop in the ocean. I was trying to remember where it went left and right, never mind where to brake, what line to be on, etc. At this point I knew it was going to be a massive task and one I wouldn’t have the time or the money to off work to break the back of!! Luckily for me I managed to get hold of a DJ video just before I went over for the races themselves.’

So what about preparations once on the Island? ‘I did a lap with Martin Finnegan in the back of his Honda Civic along with Bob Collins and Steve Plater who had the best view from the front. As we was driving round I realised I was a long way behind Steve’s knowledge as he was just asking for conformation from Martin about braking points and flat out corners; my mind just boggled and swelled up into overload! I watched my DJ video again and went out on first practice. I did my lap behind the instructor, my first on a bike and very daunting but cool. By chance, I followed Steve on the second lap, we were going at a good pace but I was riding off him and not leaning the circuit, so, on the next I let him go and took to the track on my own. At this point I knew I had no idea where the hell I was going. I got into some woods, then the next thing I was at the humpbacked jump in some woods, lost for what seemed forever until I was driving into Ramsey and recognised something. Did the next mile and bit ok because I remembered it from the video, then just muddled over the Mountain and back to the Start.’

A plan was then hatched. ‘I set about watching the video in 13 or so mile sections, studied one until I was confident then moved onto the next, not returning to the previous one. Then put my new found knowledge into practice during the following sessions on the track’

Surely a young man racing at the TT for the first time must have found it a problem financially? ‘You bet. The whole fortnight was an up hill struggle. I had to give the team all the money I’d got together over the weeks which left me with only £50 I’d held back to live on’ Another problem was that there was no team mechanic or available spare parts, but, luckily for me my team mate’s mechanic, Mark Banister, the Stores Manager at the Ducati shop in Coventry, helped me out until my friend, Steve Parkin came over for a few days. Steve had only just been released from hospital after having pins inserted into his back as a result of a crash at Cadwell  Park whilst was racing at the NW200. My Dad helped, then another friend, Andy Stubbs of AS  Racing completed race week with me. Don’t know what I would have done without them as I wasn’t capable of doing it myself!’

Practice week progressed with Gary studying his dvd before and after each session, lap times dropping as he became more familiar with the course. By his own admission, ‘I always struggled on the Mountain even till the end. The lack of land marks and no-one to give me tips certainly caused me problems’ Race week beckoned. ‘Extra assistance came from Manx residents, Ross Phillips [Paul’s brother] and MGP competitor, Wally Kneale, who along with Andy Stubbs managed my fuel stops. We even did some practice stops in the tent so we all knew what to do.’

Despite being moved from start number 82 to 28, as a result of impressive practice times, Gary used the first race the Superbike as a practice, particularly as it was wet on the first lap. Any other problems? ‘Yes, this was the first time I’d done six laps in one go and under race conditions; I didn’t relax on the parts of the track that I knew I could, which in turn blew the muscles in my knees by the fifth lap. Another issue was not being able to change tyres; by the last lap they looked like slicks, having no grip at all.’ Nevertheless, the results show that Gary Johnson finished in 20th position at an average speed of 117.37mph – an excellent result.

The Superstock was next up; this was the one for Gary had really prepared. ‘From the off I was pushing a good pace, but the problem was that my speed had increased again and because of the team’s lack of knowledge, the bike was far too soft and I cut my rear tyre up quite badly. At one time I was running in 9th, happy with most of the course, although still not getting the Mountain right. However, I got a 123mph lap and was far more relaxed so was pleased, but just had to slow down towards the end.’ With an average speed of 120.31mph, Gary finished 12th – impressive, certainly, but who was in his wake? All the other top ’07 newcomers – Plater, Amor and Moore as well as Ian Lougher!

No Supersport entry for Gary, so it was on to the Senior. The young man from Brigg takes up the story. ’From the outset I was up for the race as we’d made a decision to run slicks to help with the tyre wear. Unfortunately, what we hadn’t taken into account was the extra grip and how that would affect the handling. I set off down Bray Hill and when I clicked 4th gear the bike just started to weave. Jesus… have they left my wheels lose? Should I pull up? I’ll give it till Quarter Bridge. I cracked it back and again started flexing into a speed wobble, but I was soon braking into the Bridge, flipped it round again and headed towards Union  Mills – the problem was still there. As I exited Union Mills I gassed it so hard it felt like it was going to throw me off, so I backed off the throttle and the problem stopped. I then steadily came on with the gas which the chassis could handle, so I then knew the problem was the set up with the slick tyres. Therefore, I ended up doing the whole race, putting on the gas slowly thus reducing my speed greatly down the straights in particular. I was so much happier with the circuit though, using far more of the track. I did 123mph lap again, finished sixteenth but knew it could have been so much more, but I just thought, I’d done a good job and we’ll show them next year! I was very pleased to go home with a silver replica at the end of the week.

A fantastic deal for the 2008 season – how did the arrangement with Uel Duncan come about? ‘I was introduced to Uel by Paul Phillips after the Ulster, had a chat, but at this time the team didn’t know their plans for the following year as they were running Cameron at the time and only wanted a one rider team. However, my manager, Gary Day kept in touch with Uel and when Cameron moved to TAS an opening was there. Gary was pushing like mad, unfortunately the team took Cameron’s move quite badly and even looked like folding. However, after a team meeting they decided to carry on but scale down the outfit. Gary arranged for me to meet Gareth (Robinson Concrete), the team’s main sponsor at the NEC Show. We then went to Ireland shortly before Christmas, looked around the workshop and sealed the deal.’

For ’08 Gareth will be supplying a fully kitted ’05 Robinson Concrete ex- Johnny Rea Red Bull BSB Superbike, Ian Laugher’s ’07 CBR 600 has also been purchased and along with a brand new blade Superstock bike, the team will be doing the three internationals, five Irish road racing nationals, selected BSB rounds and maybe a few ISB rounds. What are the aims for the season? ‘The team’s aims are to have fun and enjoy the season’s racing and for me in particular, to learn the road circuits I’m doing for the first time, improve at the ones I did last year, but all in all if we’re all enjoying the racing the results will come.

Gary is looking at ‘racing the roads’ as long as he can, as, in his words, ‘I’ve taken on the challenge and am hooked and with the backing of the Robinson Concrete Hondas, Uel, his team and myself are looking at becoming a real race winning threat.’ Who would bet against it? Good luck, Gary.