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  TT Website Interviews - Steve Hislop

Steve Hislop Steve Hislop Steve Hislop

THE TT rumour in 2001 has been that 11 times TT winner Steve Hislop was to return riding a Ducati for Paul Bird after a seven-year absence.
We spoke to the legendary Scot at his Farmhill home and he filled us in on the TT, his 2001 season plans and a whole lot more.

OK Steve so starting with the recent rumours regarding you and a TT return, tell us like it is?
Well when it was announced that the prize money had been increased for this year, It got me thinking, because my actual wage this year is not that high, although if I have a real mega season, I might earn a lot more. Last year was good year money wise even though I had a broken neck.

So I thought if I do the TT and the North West, because if I do one I would have to do the other, I could turn round a hundred and fifty maybe two hundred grand in a season.

So at the end of the day I thought it was a way of making a lot more money, plus I get a lot of stick from Jefferies, who is just too big. On the 1000cc stuff he's great, and likes of here, but when he took over from Paul Brown on the Virgin Yamaha, he just made the bike look like a bloody moped. He's so big that he's almost robbing the bike of ten or fifteen horsepower.

But anyway, the likes of him and Jim Moodie and the guy's, it has only been the last year or couple, that they have really levelled lap times that me and Foggy were doing bloody eight years ago. I managed to get away from the TT, but there's always a little bit inside of you, that thinks that you could go faster than that.

Does living on the Island influence that attitude any?
Not really. Before I used to see it as a racetrack, but living here, I see it every day, as a shitty, dirty road in the wintertime, and to a certain degree it puts me off racing on it. I actually think that even since I've been here, in the last ten years the traffic in the Island is incredible, and the roads haven't kept up with it.

They are the worst roads in the UK. I'm over in England every weekend with the racing like, and your driving on nice smooth roads most of the time. You get back here and you think bloody hell. Everything is just patched up.

So going back to a possible return, I presume Paul Bird has a big part to play?
Well it hasn't really got that far. I had Jackie Wood on the phone and he told me that as soon as I want a meeting with Paul, Jack and Mike Ball, we'll get it together. But at the end of the day, Paul's busy with his business, and I've been away testing in Spain.

Steve Hislop

Right, so if Jack Wood was sat here now, and said what do you and Paul want, what would you say?
Well I know what I got paid last time I was here, so seven years on from there, I want double that at least. Then the team would destroy an engine with all the mileage, which is about sixteen grand plus VAT, which Paul would need to find from somewhere.

Then you have mechanics, a truck to get across, and accommodation for the team for two weeks. So at the end of the day, I would be looking for thirty grand start money, which I don't think, is out of the question, and then Paul would be looking for fifty minimum to get the show on the road.

The organisers are living in the past somewhat. Jackie Wood rang me the other day and was asking me how things were going, and I was like saying I'm pretty busy like, I've just come back from Spain testing.

He sort of said, 'Oh, what was that for?' So I said 'We've got the first race next weekend' and he goes 'Oh what's that for?'. It's the British bloody Superbike Championship. They're just not in the real world (laughs). They are shut away in the dark ages. I think the majority think that the TT is still the be all and end all of everything in motorcycle sport, which sadly it isn't anymore. It's still a major event.

I think it still could be a big event though?
Yeah more could be done like.

Because there are say, some top British guys who want to come here?
Well Steve Plater put an entry in a few years back who at the time was 600 British Champion and they were like 'Who are you? You can have a couple of hundred quid'.

In a couple of years he would have been up there I reckon?
Even in his first year, with the level they are riding here now, he would have been quite competitive straight away. It has almost got to Manx Grand Prix standards now. The two events could almost be amalgamated.

It's been seven years since you last rode at the TT. Can you still win here?
Yeah, I think so, on the right bike.

Is the Ducati the right bike?
I think it would handle well, because it is so adaptable with a very adjustable chassis. Engine strength; dunno.

They are a lot stronger than they were, but if someone was pushing you hard on a four cylinder thousand and you were ringing it's neck, I don't know how it would last.

For the fortnight, you might even go through three engines, which would be an expensive trip all right, and Paul's not going to splash out fifty grand for the fun of it. He's going to have to break even somewhere down the line.

At the end of the day, I just can't see it happening.

What about the North West?
Well we have spoken to them, and what they are talking is sensible. A bit of start money for myself and enough money to get the team they're for the week.

The only thing is that May is a very busy month for us, and the North West weekend is the only free one at the minute. If I wasn't doing the TT, I can't see myself doing the North West, purely because I was using the North West, as TT build up.

If it doesn't come off this year, do you think you would return at any stage in the future?
If the deal was done and I had the right machinery; yes. I finished on a winning note, so I would need the right equipment to come back and beat everybody, otherwise I would look a fool.

You have signed for Paul Bird's Monstormob Ducati squad for the forthcoming British Championship starting this weekend. Are you pleased with the deal?
In the end of the day, I did want to stay with Yamaha. I got on well with the team and the bike. Yamaha pulled the plug on racing, and it got to the stage where I had to find between sixty and one hundred grand to buy myself into the team and I just couldn't do that.

Sadly that's the way the sport has gone these last few years. A lot of youngsters who haven't really proven themselves, going out and getting mega deals and buying into a team, and it spoils it for a lot of people who have the ability.

Who do you see as your main rivals for the Championship?
Two main men this year. John Reynolds is the man. James Haydon as well, but both me and James have swapped machines this year, but I think we three can run at a slightly higher level than the rest of the guys.

You were having quite a good season last year with Virgin Yamaha until you broke your neck in a horrific accident at Brands hatch in the World Superbike round. Are you completely over the injuries sustained there?
In that race, I got a mega start, and all I can remember is seeing Hodgy clip the curb, then Hodgy took out Edwards, and Edwards took out me, and that was it.

Woke up, signed myself out of hospital that night, and I felt alright apart from being a bit stiff. I came home; a few hot baths and I thought I would be OK for Knochill.

We went to Knockhill, went out to practice, and I had no strength in my left arm. Cadwell was next, and I'd had some physic, but when I went out on the bike, it was even weaker, and I couldn't hold the bike.

So I saw a specialist, and he discovered that I'd broken my neck, and that pieces of broken disk were chaffing away at a nerve. If I hadn't gone and got if fixed, I could have ended up with a severed cord.

It's fused together now, but in the gym like, I can still feel it, but on the bike it's OK. It's quite scary, because if I'd kept on going, I might have severed it, and once that happens, you can never fix it.

So for this weekend, do you have any predictions?
I think I can finish both races on the rostrum, and I still think I can win a race. I feel a little bit out of touch with the Ducati, because I've only had about a day and a half's worth of decent testing on the bike due to the weather in Spain. I haven't been riding for a while, but, I'm getting there.

Back to the TT. You live on the island now, and must be fully aware of what goes on with the TT as an event and the organisation side of things. What are your views on that?
The ACU used to control all road racing, and there are too many of the old boys brigade there and they weren't moving with the times. That is why the MCRCB was formed a few years ago. They branched away, and it is now a far more up to date thing.

So in the UK, things have moved on for the better, but the ACU have still got hold of the TT along with the Athol Street Mob, you end up with the same antiquated views. It's sad really. I think they could do with an influx of young blood really. I also think the Tourist Board have too much of a say in the running of things as well.

Steve Hislop

And what do you think about the future of the TT?
I don't know. There aren't an awful lot of youngsters coming into it anymore. The young lads coming through can now see a career. It used to be a hobby. It's no longer a hobby, it's a business now, and it has to be treated like that.
It might go on for another five or ten years, you just don't know. It might last twenty years, but at the same time, I can see the FIM putting a block on it eventually.

If you wanted to have some of the top guys in the world here it would cost so much money, but what a race you would have. Even Neil Hodgson, who lives over here, has watched the racing and ridden round the course on road bikes, told me, and I believe him, that he could come here with his current riding ability on a bike and be competitive in his first year.

I guarantee you he would, because he's not stupid and it shows you the level it is at. Take away those five guys who are racing British Championship, David Jefferies, Lougher, Moodie, Duffus, Rutter, McGuinness and that's it. Take those guys away and it's a Manx Grand Prix. It's not much better anyway.

Are there any riders you have noticed coming through the ranks, even in the Manx, that you think could go well at the TT in the future?
No. Not for a long time I'm afraid. Nah.

As we all know, Joey Dunlop was tragically killed racing in Estonia last year. I am interested to know your feelings about his passing, and also what your relationship with him was like?
I was at Silverstone when I heard, and like everyone, I was shocked. He had a good year last year back at the TT, but even before that, he was like forty seven and then forty eight, and I was thinking when is he going to retire?
When he won the Formula One, another big win, and I was sure he would have called it a day then. A month after he was killed which is so sad, but in the end of the day, you can't get away with it forever. I often think that myself. Time is catching up on yer, and I'm going to give up soon. But that was him. Set in stone riding forever (laughs)

What was your relationship like with him?
In the Honda days, when we were teammates, I only got about ten words out of him each year. It was a distant relationship really. Joey kept himself to himself, and Honda let him do that.

The only time he ever wanted anything from me was in 1994 he was desperate to find the bottom of that RC45 and he used my forks. I had two bikes and I spent the whole week getting the best out of the forks, and Joey actually took my front end off one of my bikes.

In the end of the day, he was a rival and I just wanted to beat him. I don't really get too close to people who are rivals.

You have to admire him for what he achieved. I was sat on a bank in 1983 at the TT, and he was the guy I was idolizing. He was like my hero as well then, but I got up to a level where I was able to beat him, so he became a rival.

He was never a person I was ever close to. I was very friendly with his brother, but Joey…. No. But that's fine.

Was he the best TT rider ever?
(Long pause) No.

I would say it has to be Hailwood. I also actually believe, that if he hadn't have been killed, Norman Brown would have blown Joey Dunlop and the rest into the weeds.

Yeah, Far, far better. In his short career, he proved he was a fantastic rider. One of the best I ever saw. Smutty, Neil Robinson was another. If he had not been killed at Scarborough, he would have lifted the roads title away from Joey. Maybe not at the TT, but at the Ulster and the North West for sure. He was mega.

I'm a strong believer that Joey had an awful lot of easy victories. He had better machinery than a lot of other guys in the mid eighties. He basically had an RC30 from about '84 onwards, when everyone else was on GSXR's.

I don't want to take too much away from him, but I wasn't always convinced he was the best.

You have been involved in some classic TT encounters notably with Ian Lougher and Carl Fogarty. Which TT race you have ridden in was the most memorable and why?
The hardest I ever rode was the 1990 Junior. If I had ridden a 750 to the same level, you would have done 125 then in 1990. I rode the wheels of that 250 and still got beat.

The hardest race was trying to beat Foggy in that Senior Race because the thing was just an ill handling beast. But saying that, he was on an old scrappy Yamaha.

But I rode that 250 so hard. I think that if my mechanic didn't drop the fuel cap, I might have scrapped through with a win.

Steve Hislop

You have had a long an illustrious career. What ambitions have you left to fulfil in the sport?
I've won a 250 and a Superbike British title, but I still feel that I should have had another crack at a British Superbike title and maybe a World Superbike ride, but it has all gone a bit pear shaped this past four or five years, but that's life.

I would like to win another title and then hang up my boots. I want to quit at the top. Two more seasons and that will do me, but who knows.

One last question. I have a friend called Myles, who gives me about ten questions every time I go to do an interview, but what he would like to know is where do you like to watch the TT from?
I hate all the slow stuff. Governors Bridge, Quarterbridge, Governers, all that slow shit. It's crap. I like watching a TT rider of any ability working, riding to the best of his ability.

My favourite place is sat on the outside bank at Graham Cannell's house just back from the eleventh milestone. Drinkwaters bend at the right kink. That is fast. Have you ever sat there?

I haven't actually.

F**k. That is quick. Don't waste your time watching a 250 race there; get there for a big bike race. That's were I watched Norman Brown and Joey Dunlop in 1983, and I've been there a lot of times since.

Hilbary is good too. I watched Hailwood there on the Suzuki in 79. He was the fastest man I've ever seen go through there. It's easy to get to like, but it is fast.

My mum comes over every year and in 94 they brought a couple over with them who have been to every British Championship round like, so they knew the score and they had been to the TT before.

So Senior Race day, I told them to get to Hilbray to watch because it is easy to get to. They got there perched on that grandstand there, and who was number one?

I won the race, so the fastest man they were going to see was the first man, and the bloke they had with them, came back white. He was speechless (laughs). I remember my mum saying he was like 'er ah or eh' totally speechless.

So the eleventh milestone and Hilbary. Tell him that (laughs)

Well it's been lovely talking to you, and best of luck for the weekend.

Thank you, any time I can help.

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