Motorsport: Death wish? Just need for speed

By Eric Thompson

Bruce Anstey has clocked up nine wins at the Isle of Man, 10 at the North West 200 and six at the Ulster Grand Prix, courses that have claimed hundreds of lives over the years. Photo / AGGSPIC
Bruce Anstey has clocked up nine wins at the Isle of Man, 10 at the North West 200 and six at the Ulster Grand Prix, courses that have claimed hundreds of lives over the years. Photo / AGGSPIC

New Zealand has had its fair share of sporting heroes who have shunned the spotlight and just gone about their business.

One right at the top of that particular tree is Wellingtonian Bruce Anstey who has one of the most enviable race records at the Isle of Man (both the TT and the Classic TT), the Ulster Grand Prix and the North West 200.

For those who truly understand motorcycle racing, those three public road courses are the fiercest in the world, and the most lethal. To race on just one of them you must have nerves of steel, but to have won on all three numerous times, and hold the lap record, some would suggest you might have to be a bit mad.

Anstey is by no means mad, in fact he's so laid back people who meet him think he's about to doze off. While not quite a recluse, the Kiwi has no interest in publicity and is a very reluctant interviewee, shunning the majority of requests for a chat unless you just happen to be at the circuit.

After much perseverance, and the help of renowned race bike builder Ken McIntosh, the Weekend Herald managed to grab a few minutes on the phone with Anstey after his most recent victory on McIntosh's Manx Norton at the Isle of Man Classic TT this week.

Before we rip into the interview, it would only be fair to try and paint a picture of what it's like to race on circuits that regularly snuff out riders' lives, and where no regular MotoGP riders dare set foot.

The speeds the riders get up to on the public roads of these circuits defy belief and the smallest of mistakes won't just end in the biggest of messes - more likely death.

In fact, there have been 244 fatalities on the IoM Snaefell Mountain Course alone, including seven New Zealanders since 1911. Not a place for the faint-hearted.

Gone are the days when regular Grand Prix riders used to make the annual sojourn across the Irish Sea to risk life and limb.

These days it's just the hardy, or in some cases the plain crazy, who hurl themselves around the narrow country lanes at breakneck speeds.

Maybe Anstey's gift for winning on fast and dangerous courses all started back here in New Zealand at his first road race.

"My first ever race was at Wanganui at the Cemetery Circuit," said Anstey. "It was the first time I'd ever been in a race and I enjoyed it straight away. I did all the other circuits in New Zealand like Pukekohe and Manfeild but they didn't really get me going like the street circuits did.

"Racing at places like the Isle of Man is all about experience, really. Every year you're still learning little bits and pieces - there might be some new tarmac somewhere or it could be a bit bumpier than last year. So it does vary from year to year.

"You definitely need the experience around this place to do well and know where everything is. It's not easy but it's all down to experience. You've got to do as many laps as you can. A lot of guys when they get here go straight out and go a bit crazy."

Anstey doesn't flit around Europe racing at various meetings in different classes, other than the odd outing at the British Superbike champs when his sponsor allows. Rather, he concentrates on racing on the courses he wants to and enjoys the most.

"The courses I like [IoM, North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix] are pretty similar, especially the Isle of Man and the Ulster Grand Prix with how the corners work. It's a bit shorter [in Ulster] but very similar with high-speed corners.

"I don't really like the normal race tracks because they're so short and I almost get dizzy going around them, especially Brands Hatch.

"I don't really know why I'm good at it, other than I really enjoy doing what I do. I like these courses because they're high-speed. I really like the very fast corners, especially at the Ulster Grand Prix.

"It has fast, flowing blind corners that you have to really know where and what you're doing. I like how I can get into a nice, smooth rhythm and go faster and faster, and it doesn't really matter what I'm riding.

"I find it easy to jump from one bike to another and for me the more different they are the more they seem easier to ride. I just love the challenge and I'm still fast enough to win, so I'll keep doing it."

Anstey has one of the best philosophies when it comes to racing motorcycles. He's a big believer in the KISS principle - Keep It Simple Stupid. Give him a bike and he'll just throw his leg over it and go as fast as he can, especially at the IoM.

He has nine wins there (10 at the North West 200 and six at the Ulster Grand Prix), and seems to have some sort of ethereal link to the IoM, a place he first saw back in 1978.

He wanted to race there, so he did - it's that simple.

- NZ Herald

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