It was 2002 when Guy Martin made his road racing debut and from that moment on his career took a path that even he could never have envisaged. He was soon challenging for International road race wins and although the big one, the Isle of Man, ultimately eluded him, it’s been a career packed with countless highlights and one that saw him become the sport’s biggest attraction.
Up until July 2002, there were no indications that Guy would race on the public roads as his attention was focused on the British Juniorstock 600cc Championship where, after a solid maiden season in 2001, he made significant strides forward in 2002 to become a regular front runner. It was also unusual, at the time, for a 20-year old to contest the International road races.
However, after finishing second at the Rockingham round in 2002, a post-race investigation relegated Guy to fifth after he was deemed to have crossed a white line coming on to the start and finish the line had been placed on the circuit for safety reasons and to ensure riders raced within the circuit limits. Guy took umbrage with the decision and, after a heated debate with the race organisers he was excluded from the results completely.
Fed up with what he saw as politics and red tape within the British Championship, Guy entered July’s Cock o’ the North meeting at Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, a venue where his dad Ian had competed regularly during the 1970s and 1980s. There were a number of experienced and successful riders on the grid that weekend including the Welsh pairing of Ian Lougher and Jason Griffiths and Ulsterman Gary Jess but its fair to say Guy instantaneously earmarked himself as a future star in the sport.
His pace was there for all to see and he ended the weekend with a superb second place finish behind Jess and ahead of both Lougher and Griffiths. Naturally at home around the woodland circuit – where he would dominate in the years ahead – it was also clear he was no respecter of reputations, another trend that would continue during his career.
After his stunning debut at Oliver’s Mount in 2002, Guy promptly went to Kells in Southern Ireland where he won two races but that proved to be his last race action of the season as he had his licence withdrawn as a legacy of the Rockingham incident. So, for 2003, he took out a licence with the governing body from Northern Ireland, the MCUI, and joined Team Racing to contest the Irish Road Racing National 750cc Support Championship where he dominated proceedings on his GSXR750 Suzuki.
It was only when he returned to Oliver’s Mount once more, exactly a year after his debut that he could ride a 1000cc machine for the first time and it would be a good gauge of his progress as he found himself up against race winners including Lougher, Griffiths and Ryan Farquhar.
He was no longer an unknown quantity and whilst race wins would still be a big ask, Guy was a man on a mission, determined to make his mark even more. In glorious conditions, this he duly did, romping to victory in both legs of the Cock o’ the North to win his first major road race trophy with another victory coming in one of the Superbike races.
The ever-increasing hype was becoming more and more real, a point further emphasised a week after Scarborough when he made his debut at the Southern 100, taking countless top five finishes and recording, at the time, the fastest ever lap by a newcomer at the event. However, a crash in the Championship race left him with a broken ankle and was his first reminder of how the sport could bite back.
Having made such an early impression at the likes of Scarborough, the Southern 100 and Irish National road races, 2004 saw Guy make his eagerly anticipated debut at the biggest road race of them all the Isle of Man TT. The off season had seen him join the slick and professional privateer team of Uel Duncan Racing where he’d be joined by established race winner Darran Lindsay.
The year started well with top six finishes at the early season National road races in Ireland and Guy had done plenty of preparation prior to his first time around the Mountain Course. Indeed, he had been due to contest the 2003 Manx Grand Prix only for a broken ankle sustained in the aforementioned Southern 100 crash to scupper these plans so by June 2004 he’d carried out as much homework as possible.
The week started well with 12th place in the Formula One race when he became the first newcomer to lap the 37.73-mile course at more than 120mph which shattered the previous best newcomer’s record of 116.65mph. The Production 1000cc race saw him denied a maiden top ten finish when he ran out of fuel whilst he was also forced to retire from the Junior 600cc race.
A cautious 21st was the outcome in the Production 600cc race, which was held in mixed conditions, but he saved the best until last when he lapped at a superb 122.10mph in the closing Senior race on his way to a brilliant seventh place finish. He was only 20 seconds off a podium finish and the entire paddock certainly took note.
To this day, Martin maintains 2005 was his best year at the Isle of Man as it not only yielded his first podium – a stunning effort in just his second year at the TT – it also saw him finish all five races inside the top six. Continuing with Uel Duncan Racing, with support from Barron Transport for the Superstock class, Guy had three bikes at his disposal and all preparation was carried out by just his dad Ian, his mechanic Johnny Ellis and Guy himself. The small, close knit trio was the perfect recipe for success.
Although his road racing career was still in its infancy compared to many of his rivals who already had years of racing under their belts, Guy was now seen as a leading contender with the general consensus being he was the brightest prospect to emerge on the roads for more than a decade. At the same time, he was still very much learning his trade and rubbing shoulders with the likes of John McGuinness, Ian Lougher and Adrian Archibald, to name just a few, was still a big ask.
The opening Superbike race saw Guy take sixth place, lapping at 123.515mph and the same result was taken on the Barron Transport Suzuki albeit just two seconds adrift of fourth place. He’d lapped quicker still at 124.848mph and it was only a sluggish last lap that cost him a podium having lay in third place after two of the three laps. Fourth and fifth place finishes were taken in the two Junior 600cc races and that just left the six lap Senior race.
McGuinness led from start to finish and Honda’s Lougher took control of second place after team-mate Richard Britton ran into trouble but third place was there for the taking and it was nip and tuck in the closing stages between Guy and good friend Martin Finnegan. Guy had a six second advantage going into the sixth and final lap and although Finnegan set his quickest ever lap of the Mountain Course at 127.014mph, Guy’s own personal best lap of 126.481mph saw the then 23-year old take a dream maiden TT podium finish by just 1.31s.
The Dundrod circuit immediately became a favourite of Guy’s after he won his first race there in 2003, the Dundrod 150 Support encounter, and in 2005 he took third in the Dundrod 150 Superbike race which he immediately followed up with second and third in the Ulster Grand Prix Superbike and Superstock races two days later. He was also the fastest rider on the day that year with a lap of 128.162mph and 2006 saw him arrive at Dundrod with the AIM Yamaha Racing team.
It had been a disappointing year up to that point for Guy and the team with just a best finish of fourth at the TT after a whole host of problems during race week. Fourth was also his best finish at the North West 200 and although he took second place in the feature race at the Southern 100, both he and the team had hoped for more, a lot more, so the Ulster GP was their last chance for some International success.
The competition was as fierce as always with McGuinness (HM Plant Honda), Lougher (Stobart Honda), Bruce Anstey, Ryan Farquhar and Adrian Archibald (TAS Racing), Raymond Porter (DMRR Honda) and fellow up and coming star Ian Hutchinson (McAdoo Kawasaki) amongst the challengers and the tone was set during practice when McGuinness became, unofficially, the first rider to lap the 7.4-mile circuit at more than 130mph.
It was Guy who achieved the feat officially though on his way to winning the Dundrod 150 Superbike race by over three seconds from Porter and Hutchinson and the success continued two days later at the UGP proper when he finished second in the opening Superstock race. It was the only time he was beaten though as he tore through the rest of the programme winning both of the Superbike races as well as the two Supersport encounters, the latter after fierce battles with Hutchinson. Only Phillip McCallen could better four wins in a day having taken five in 1996 and Guy would go on to become the fifth most successful rider at the Ulster with a career total of 11 wins.
After the disappointment of 2006, Guy was determined to make amends in 2007 and take his first TT win and a move to Hydrex Honda was what he believed would help him achieve that. Shaun Muir’s team were an established force in the British Superbike Championship and whilst they’d had solid performances on the roads in the past, it was wins and podiums that the Guisborough man wanted. He recognised Martin as being the man to take the fight to TT supremo McGuinness in the event’s Centennial year.
The partnership immediately gelled as Guy took second and fourth in the two Superbike races at the North West 200 as well as third in both the Superstock and Supersport races. Onto the TT and Guy was in the top four in all three classes during practice week with a lap of 128.166mph in the Superbike class putting him second quickest to McGuinness.
Inclement weather saw the opening Superbike race delayed and put back to Monday from its original Saturday slot and although McGuinness led from start to finish, Guy proved to be his closest rival and he duly took second place for his best TT result to date. A retirement followed in the Superstock race before Guy claimed third in the Supersport race, where he set a new class lap record of 125.161mph, although it was new HM Plant Honda recruit Hutchinson who won the race for his maiden TT victory.
The Blue Riband Senior race again brought proceedings to an end on Friday of race week and although Guy lay in second place at the end of lap one, McGuinness had already opened up a near ten-second lead. The Morecambe man promptly became the first man to lap the Mountain Course at more than 130mph on lap two although Guy came mightily close with a lap of 129.816mph. Indeed, TV footage later showed he had run wide slightly at Windy Corner otherwise he would have joined the 130mph club there and then. He had to settle for second place once more but it more than proved he was the man most likely to topple McGuinness in the big bike races at the TT.
After a successful first year together, it was inevitable that Guy would continue with Shaun Muir’s Hydrex Honda team in 2008 with the partnership keen to put into practice what they had learned in their first year together. International race wins was what they wanted in the new season and wins at the TT were at the top of their list.
With additional sponsorship coming from Bike Animal, Guy was in an all-new red, white and yellow livery whilst main rival McGuinness lined up for the Padgetts Honda team after the official HM Plant Honda team took a year out of competing on the roads. Hutchinson had replaced Martin at AIM Racing, where he had Steve Plater as team-mate, whilst Cameron Donald, who had taken over from Guy at Uel Duncan Racing, and Bruce Anstey would now be riding for the Relentless/TAS Suzuki team.
It would be another tough season on the roads and although Guy took a second place in one of the Superbike races at the North West 200, a retirement whilst leading the other, left him rueing what might have been. That made him even more determined to win at the TT and although he was only fourth on the Superbike practice leaderboard, he started the race in superb fashion where, despite missing his starting position by some nine seconds, an opening lap of 129.103mph saw him lead McGuinness by four seconds.
McGuinness retired second time around but Guy pressed on at the head of the field with a second, quicker lap of 129.540mph sending him nine seconds clear of new second placed rider Donald. At half race distance, the lead stood at ten seconds and although he couldn’t let up, it did give him a bit of breathing space. However, on the fourth of six laps, his Honda Fireblade ground to a halt at Sulby and although Guy would go on to lead future races at the TT, none saw him have such an advantage as what he held in the 2008 Superbike race. It was, arguably, the closest he came to winning a TT race.
After three years with Hydrex Honda, Guy joined Wilson Craig Racing for 2010, the Northern Ireland businessman having backed Guy’s 600cc Honda during his successful 2005 season and it was back to basics for Guy. Preferring to avoid the glitz and glamour of some of the bigger teams, Guy’s set-up in 2010 was a smaller affair, stripped of much of the corporate image seen elsewhere. The bikes were painted silver, a replica of Honda’s colour scheme of the 1960s, whilst Guy himself rode in plain black leathers in a nod to the riders from that era. Racing was a lot simpler then and that was Guy’s approach in 2010.
As always, he was extremely competitive and although there were niggles and friction within the team, the TT saw Guy take a brace of second place finishes in the Superstock and opening Supersport races whilst it was only a pit lane speeding penalty that denied him a podium in the opening Superbike race.
However, it’s the Senior TT that he’s remembered most for in 2010 and not for the result but for the frightening crash he survived at Ballagarey. A notorious black spot on the course, Guy was disputing the lead in the opening two laps but on lap three, and just a few minutes after the first pit stop, he lost the front end and crashed heavily, the bike with its heavy fuel load erupting into a huge fireball.
The race was immediately stopped as Guy was tended to and everyone feared the worst the whole island held its breath. It seemed like an eternity before it was announced he was conscious and for such a huge crash his injuries were relatively light – indeed, less than two months later he was back racing but the crash and that year’s TT had a far bigger impact on his career and, indeed, life.
A documentary was being made all about that year’s TT with Guy taking centre stage and ‘Closer to the Edge’ would go on to be a phenomenal success, taking the event to a far bigger audience than ever before. Guy and, specifically his personality, were big hits and it spawned a lucrative and highly successful TV career that continues to this day.
in 2011, Guy went against everything he’d done in 2010 and joined one of the biggest, most professional teams in the paddock – TAS Racing. Firstly backed by the Relentless energy drink and then Tyco security products, the team had won everything in the sport and Guy now saw it as his best chance of glory, particularly at the TT.
He still had to settle for podiums around the Mountain Course with the 2011 Senior seeing him enjoy another battle royale with McGuinness, losing out on this occasion by just 7.2s. However, 2012 and 2013 saw him fail to make the podium in any race on the island and many began to wonder if his outside interests from the sport were now taking now precedent.
The Ulster Grand Prix in August, 2013 saw Guy not only return to a happy hunting ground but also prove his doubters wrong. Having reclaimed the Southern 100 title a month before, he arrived at Dundrod with a spring in his step once more and he took a brilliant hat-trick which included victory in both of the Superbike races.
Despite being one his favourite circuits, Dundrod would go on to play a pivotal part in his career two years later when he crashed heavily whilst leading the Dundrod 150 Superbike race. His fifth year with TAS saw a switch to BMW machinery but the fifth lap crash left him unconscious and with multiple injuries including five broken vertebrae, five broken ribs, two broken metacarpals and a broken sternum. It would be a long time before Guy would be back in a racing paddock.
After sitting out the 2016 season due to the injuries he received at the 2015 Ulster Grand Prix, as well as his ever-increasing TV commitments, many thought they would never see Guy race again but the racing world was shocked in January 2017 when Honda Racing announced they had signed him to ride their all-new Fireblade at the International road races alongside McGuinness. On paper, it was the dream team as Honda looked to re-assert their authority on the roads and get the better of the likes of Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson and BMW and Kawasaki.
However, the dream soon turned into a nightmare and right from the word go it was clear the SP2 Fireblade wasn’t the machine everyone hoped it would be. Problems in testing meant they arrived at the North West 200 very much on the back foot and it went from bad to worse when McGuinness crashed out due to a technical issue and sustained serious leg and back injuries.
After his 18-month absence from racing, Guy was considerably off the pace too but he went to the TT to give it his all although 124mph laps in practice were further evidence that the combination wouldn’t be able to challenge for the race wins. The opening Superbike race was only eight miles old when Guy hit a false neutral at Doran’s Bend and crashed out, fortunately without serious injury the Honda wouldn’t be raced again at the TT that year.
However, Guy ensured TT2017 wasn’t a complete waste of time when he competed in the TT Zero race on the Mugen and although Bruce Anstey would take the win on the sister machine, Guy took second place to notch up his 17th TT podium.
It would prove to be Guy’s last road race as, despite Honda’s best efforts, he wouldn’t take part in either the Southern 100 or Ulster Grand Prix and although he hasn’t officially announced his retirement from racing, it looks highly unlikely he’ll ever be seen again at the TT, NW200 or Ulster Grand Prix. The curtain has seemingly come down on the career of one of road racings finest.
News & Image Source: devittinsurance.com