"I love it, I love it" - Gary Partridge's First TT

"What a place, what a race. I reckon I've had the whole TT experience in one year - well, all but a rostrum place or perhaps even a win. I love it, I love it; so many plus points to the whole thing. All wrapped up in an atmosphere of its own"…. the words of sidecar passenger, Gary Partridge at the end of his TT debut year….. comments, surely, worthy of inclusion in a future advertising campaign to attract would-be TT heroes to the Isle of Man. 

There were high expectations of Gary and his driver, Simon Neary, for their first racing visit to the Island. Given the low start number of 25 on the basis of their short circuit prowess, it was widely considered within the sidecar fraternity, that they would be in contention for the Newcomers' Award along with Glyn Jones and Daniel Sayle and Manx duo, Nick Crowe and Darren Hope.

So, with the pressure on to do well, care had to be taken not to go too fast too soon. Gary was impressed on his arrival "definitely a place where the safety of riders is paramount with input coming from all corners, kicking off with the riders briefing for both newcomers and veterans. Then, we were treated to a fantastic tour of the course by the most successful crew in sidecar history - Rob Fisher gave tips to the drivers, whilst Rick Long took on the job of educating the passengers. Everyone I spoke to after the tour raved about the information offered". Gary is so appreciative of the help and advice given - it was at this point in the conversation that he proffered thanks …. in my notes afterwards I counted thirty-four individuals, sponsors, other sidecar crews, officials and volunteers cited by Gary whom he wished to thank. These ranged from "Mrs Neary, for running around like a headless chicken catering for the team's needs, Jim Parker and the girls in the Race Office, especially Emma[!], to the TT Supporters Club for the lashings of hot tea, and the marshals and medical staff, especially the flying doctor - top helicopter ride!" Like all competitors of our highly expensive sport, Gary is extremely thankful to all those - too many to mention here - who have given financial and materialistic assistance. Then there was an extra vote of thanks … "and, of course, the fans for standing fast in some of the worst conditions in the history of the Races and appreciating the skill involved in getting three wheels around such a course at a such a rate and the entertainment it brings".

Interest in sidecar racing is tremendous …. "when Radio TT announced during practice week that the sidecars were the fastest things around the Island in wet conditions, it brought even more attention to the drama going on between Ian Bell, Rob Fisher, Gary Horspole and Moly with dark horses, Roy Hanks and ballast Dave Wells setting an impressive pace while Ben Dixon, running in a motor, was lurking in the background. Then you bring Phil Dongworth, on the works Ireson, Allan Schofield and Tee Bee backed, Greg Lambert, into the equation and add ex-GP man Tony Baker together with Kenny Howles and John Holden, no wonder the times were so close. Then with the new boys came the local lads …. Nick Crowe and Darren Hope made some of the 'names' nervous with their 90mph+ in the wet, 4th fastest, leading up to an outstanding 106.92mph and fifth fastest in the dry. What about ex-solo rider, Glyn Jones, who after only ever riding a sidecar at six meetings before the TT, put in a 91.74mph to make second place only to Roy Hanks in one wet session and break the ton in the dry, pulling a 101.81mph out of the bag?"

Simon and Gary were out in every session, except the first, in search of the knowledge required into making them competitive TT riders …. "working well on the bike brought a 101+ by the end of the week, which brought a sigh of relief as it helped achieve some of our targets". From the first time out in the pit lane for the first practice Gary knew that this was it …"this will be the future of my racing - proper road racing….flat out through Kirk Michael - incredible; a copper on every corner - with his thumb in the air, not a radar gun! I still can't believe how much I enjoyed it".

Wet practice conditions did Simon and Gary no harm at all …. "with the dangers all too obvious we were forced to take a softly, gently approach to finding our way around. Good solid advice from Paul Biggs put us on the crest of the road as we white-lined our way through the Manx countryside, finding a surprising amount of grip, good enough, in fact, to place us 7th fastest in one of the early morning sessions. This did us the world of good as our driving style became much more smooth and the smoother we got, the faster we went".

However, there's no telling what can happen at the TT …. "there was a bit of a '360 moment' after running too hot into Parliament Square; the lesson was how it easy it is to get caught out by a sudden change of conditions and surface - it was all very graceful and must have looked almost choreographed as we cleared off to a massive cheer from the crowd. Still, no contact - no damage. Others who had moments weren't so lucky in the slippy conditions …. Phil Dongworth, when he clipped and then mounted the kerb at Doran's, getting away with superficial damage to his new Ireson; no personal injuries and so back on the track for the next session. The shock crash of practice week came when Tony Baker and Scott Parnell high-sided their outfit coming out of Windy Corner. Despite rumour of broken necks and lost limbs, Tony was back up for it after several days of physio to his shoulder, once it was popped back into place. Scott suffered muscle and ligament damage to his neck, but fair play to him, he was back on the bike with true grit and determination. It's also worth noting the professional way in which the Baker team got the machine back in top working order for the drier sessions later in the week. With a distinct lack of track time, the boys qualified with a determined 103.73mph lap on Friday evening's outing. Still on the 'race on through injury front', Gillie McLaughlin showed real girl power by gritting her teeth and getting on with her job of passengering TT veteran, Pete Allebone, despite sporting a badly bruised upper arm. Another determined pairing having to overcome a completely different set of problems, but carrying on regardless, were Bruce Moore and Rachael Norbury-Lea. For them it was engines - eight in total, including one donated by Pat Gallagher and then the last coming out of a crashed solo. They also came up trumps, securing their fastest lap speed during the Friday evening play time"

Race 'A' was a dream come true ……. all the hard work and soul-searching of practice paid dividends with Simon and Paul putting in an amazingly consistent three-lap performance to come home in 15th position to gain, not only a coverted bronze replica, but the Sidecar Newcomers' Award for TT2002. Lap speeds of 102.38mph, 102.74mph and 102.55mph were a credit to the way in which the pair set about their debut TT. However, it's not all plain sailing - Gary's helicopter ride after a tumble at the Gooseneck on lap two of Race 'B' is testimony to that. The leg injury Gary sustained has not put him off …. "it was a hectic fortnight, but what a way to spend your time - we'll be back next year". From the spectators' point of view we'll certainly look forward to seeing you, hopefully vying with the veterans for a much deserved podium position; thanks, Gary, for your time in helping with this article and for your infectious enthusiasm.

Graham Bean