The Best Racing At The Revival Happens On Two Wheels
Photography by Will Broadhead
“Sorry,” says the diminutive elderly lady next to me, with the most fabulous fascinator fixed into her hair, “I keep banging into you, don’t I?” She is, and her sentence is a statement more than a question. In fact, every time the classic bikes that are competing in this year’s Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy careen past to start another lap, her arms are in the air flailing around like a maniacal octopus. “Sorry,” she says again as the lap counter clicks over to four, “I’m just a little excited as my daughter is out there racing, her name is Maria, do you know her?” I do, Maria Costello, MBE to give her full title, is racing on a 1929 BMW R57 Kompressor. The 500cc boxer is a rare motorcycle, but it is being ridden no less forcefully because of it, and Maria is wringing its neck to get the best out of it. Despite this, she isn’t quite at the sharp end, “Oh well,” says her Mother, “it’s only a parade.”
Only a parade? I beg to differ. Maria is not the only professional motorcycle racer out in the thick of it, indeed there are a number of absolute stars taking part. Current racers like TT winner James Hillier and absolute TT legend John McGuinness, as well as hero’s from the past like Mick Grant, double Grand Prix world champion Freddie Spencer, Steve Parish, James Haydon and double World Superbike champion Troy Corser, to name a few. Only a parade, with a grid like that? Not on your life.
I enjoy the bikes more than almost anything else at Goodwood, I love the atmosphere and excitement in the holding area before the race as the riders appear from the briefing to climb aboard their steeds. I love the electricity and the chaos as bikes are bump started and tear out of the holding area for the sighting lap, expelling great clouds of oily exhaust with the smell of rich-running engines hanging heavy in the atmosphere. The Le Mans-style start is a delight as well, and none of the riders sprinting for their machines—being held in place and kept from stalling by their teammates—run like this is a parade. Even John McGuinness, whose leg has been in a cage after smashing it to bits in an accident 18 months ago, is up and running. All of these guys want to win.
The pit stops as well are another highlight, with the compulsory rider changeovers. The pit lane comes alive as bikes enter and exit at will, with mechanics and riders everywhere. Mounting and dismounting a motorcycle is never particularly graceful, but trying to do so at speed, while keeping the bike running becomes some sort of monstrous ballet, and many a bike is stalled and tantrums thrown as things go awry.
I adore looking at the bikes up close in the paddock as well, for whilst the cars are certainly beautiful (and they are), there is a certain honesty about the motorcycles that is unique to them, naked as they are with all their guts and innards on display. I can spend hours pouring over the individual details, different engine configurations and unique engineering solutions offered up for suspension, brakes, and cooling in compact packages. There is a mix of capacities and numbers of pots, inline twins, boxers, V-twins, and great big single-cylinders, thumping away with their giant pistons. I have real affection for the fact that you can see the clutch baskets and gearboxes and that because everything is out in the open, the pieces of engineering are often designed to be beautiful to look at too.
Back out on track and Jeremy McWilliams, an ex-MotoGP rider, is setting the pace aboard a Norton Daytona Manx, the 500cc single-cylinder, thumping out a galloping rhythm at the head of the pack. The crowd cheers as he fires over the start line on the ex-Barry Sheene machine, wearing the famous #7. It’s no surprise that the spectators have a love for the last bike that Bazza ever won on, but weaving through the pack at a hell of a pace is Troy Corser on one of the race’s other BMW R57s.
The bike is a hardtail with no rear suspension, and by some quirk of design, the suicide-style hand operated gear shifter is on the same side of the bike as the throttle. Corser operates the shifter with his left hand whilst keeping the right hand on the throttle and despite the bike being 89 years old, is clocked at upwards of 130mph through the speed trap. It’s something to see, as he picks off rider after rider on one of the oldest machines in the field. The chatter from the front end of the bike as he enters corners is tremendous, as he pushes to the absolute limits of the bike’s capabilities; some parade.
A few laps later, and Corser, despite a terrible start, has hit the front, passing McWilliams. Shortly after and McWilliams’ Norton has had enough and expires in a cloud of smoke, a shattered McWilliams returns to the pits and stares at the sky in anguish. The disappointment is etched into his face and his body language shows just how much he wanted to win; some parade.
In the end though, the checkered flag is taken by Manx Grand Prix winner Glen English and team mate John McGuinness, riding a Manx Norton. The celebrations from the team are wild, McGuinness is clearly delighted and English’s wife and daughter run across the tarmac to greet their victorious man. If this is a parade, it is the most ferocious, closely fought one I have ever seen. The emotion, excitement, and very special machines mean that the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy will always be one of my Revival highlights, and if you didn’t catch it this year, make sure you don’t miss out in 2019, when Corser’s BMW will turn 90.