Young guns on old bikes

many younger riders are rejecting modern racing in favour of classics, for the fun and the challenge

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In some ways the recent Donington/CRMC Festival, the biggest classic race meeting on the UK mainland, took me back to the fast-paced British shortcircuit scene that I followed in the ’60s as an adolescent. A brilliant 24-year-old, George Hogton-Rustling, rode a single, a twin, a triple and a four (Manx Norton, Yamaha TZ350, Triumph Trident, Suzuki XR69) and won several races in the course of the weekend. His haul included the prestige Wheatcroft Trophy, when he streaked away from a 750cc Ducati and a pack of TZ350s to win on the 1100cc Carthago Racing XR69.

It was like watching riders such as Mike Hailwood, Derek Minter, Paul Smart and Phil Read competing in 125, 250, 350, 500cc and unlimited races, all in a day, back in the ’60s. In the racket of Donington’s 500-bike, 40-race frenzy, I never got the chance to talk to George, because he always seemed to be swinging off one bike and onto the next one.

“He can jump on anything – left and right-hand gearchanges, two-strokes, fourstrokes,” team owner Peter Hercberg said of his protégé. What’s the secret of his speed? “He’s a natural,” said Hercberg. “When he was 18 months old his dad strapped him on the back of a Triumph Trident and took him on a tour of Scotland.” You’d be thrown in jail if you subjected your toddler to that these days.

Contrast the fun that George is having with the experience of many riders competing in the modern scene. In MotoGP, Thursday is set-up day, Friday is practice and Saturday qualifying. On Sunday, they actually get to race. Once. It all seems a bit of an over-production.

Another feature of the Donington meeting was the absence of ranks of technicians staring at screens. David Emmett, who runs the MotoGP Matters website, tells me that factory teams typically employ two data technicians per rider, another data expert in the garage shared between two riders, another half dozen in the race truck... and still more back at base! Donington’s 500 bikes coped without a single digital guru.

It’s not that classic racing people are technology-resistant Luddites. They just like to keep their motorcycle racing pure – bike, rider, circuit. “If it starts to creep in, we’ll get rid of it,” the CRMC’s eligibility consultant Gordon Russell says of digital.

I really think that modern racing could learn from the classic scene. Many young riders are flocking to historics. “I feel really privileged,” says Lee Hodge, who has history with Superstocks and Suzuki GSX-Rs, but now rides a £40,000 Matchless G50 for Minnovation Racing. “I’m a modern guy, I like modern bikes,” he adds. “But I can’t afford to go racing on my own. Minnovation supply these fabulous bikes for me, but many riders in BSB these days have to pay to get a ride.”

George Hogton-Rustling, a 24-year-old rider who’s one of the many flocking to classic racing

George Hogton-Rustling, a 24-year-old rider who’s one of the many flocking to classic racing

But is a classic opportunity just a poor substitute until something better comes along? “I looked at this bike: twin shocks, drum brakes, tube chassis,” Hodge says. “But it’s quite a shock to ride – it’s absolutely awesome! The lap times are close to a TZ350 Yamaha.”

Being only 20, you’d think Richard Molnar would be into today’s bikes. But he chooses to race the 350/500cc Manx Nortons made by the family engineering business, Molnar Precision. Here’s Richard on the joy of riding the 350 at Donington: “Redgate is a really late apex because you have to carry a lot of corner speed. I’m touching 120mph flat-out down Craner Curves – it just hits the rev limiter in top at the bottom. By the time I’ve got it on my knee at the Old Hairpin I’m on full throttle; I hold it all the way to McLeans.

The only big braking points are at Redgate and the chicane. The rest of the time you’re just tickling the brake with one finger.”

He sounds like Marc Marquez describing a hot MotoGP qualifying lap, but this is the thrill a modern youngster gets from riding a bike based on a 50-yearold design. Richard sometimes beats 47bhp Honda K4 twins in the 350cc class.

Expect the defections from the modern scene to the classic one to continue.