There is no denying it, the Isle of Man TT is the ultimate test of rider and machine. A 37 ¾ closed roads course that sees riders hurtle through towns and villages, inches away from walls, hedgerows and even fans! It is an exhilarating two week festival of motorcycling that captures the hearts of millions of fans around the world.
Since 2009, one machine in particular has stood out amongst the might of the Japanese (and German!) manufacturers; the Aprilia powered Norton. Although the firm sat out the 2010 and 2011 events, their return in 2012 with their chrome livery and booming 150db exhaust (ensuring fans can hear it coming long before it is in view!) meant they certainly turned heads. Unfortunately a mix of bad luck and the harsh conditions of the TT meant they struggled to compete with the tried and tested Superbikes, only securing a best finish of 18th prior to TT2016…
That would all change this year however. The V4 powered Norton has always enjoyed plenty of power (around 230bhp!) thanks to the engine originally forming part of the Aprilia CRT MotoGP machine, however riders struggled to get that power to the tarmac due to the electronics of the Norton machine. Keeping the same engine as 2015, Norton introduced a new chassis, swingarm and rear link for the 2016 SG5 model but the biggest change came with a completely new electronics package.
Working tirelessly since last year’s event, Norton finally made the breakthrough in taming the aggressive beast by introducing a MotoGP style electronics system. Working through a host of different strategies such as traction control, engine braking and anti-wheelie systems they were able to drastically improve the handling, performance and throttle connection of the machine. The 2016 SG5 electronics system was based around one created by Magneti Marelli, with the Norton team even spending time in Italy at the Marelli factory, working with their technicians and learning how they work.
With the electronics sorted and a successful test schedule completed at the hands of TT winner Steve Plater, the team headed to the Isle of Man confident new signing David Johnson could make a significant improvement aboard the SG5. However with the Mountain Course being so tough on machines, and the many bumps and jumps affecting the new electronics (something no amount of short circuit testing could replicate) it was a harsh welcome for the squad as they struggled to set a flying lap.
A quick test session at the island’s Jurby race track however saw them take a huge step forward and with the Island basking in glorious weather for the Thursday night practice session, the Australian rider was able to make an instant impact on his first flying laps, smashing the Norton’s record to set a 128.32mph average lap. Continuing to take steps forward with every outing from then on, the opening six lap Superbike race saw Johnson take a stunning seventh place - the best ever result for the British manufacturer since its return to the mountain course in 2009. Johnson’s last lap of that race saw him circulate with a 130.872mph average, whilst his seventh place meant he beat the established BMW’s of Lee Johnston and Gary Johnson, as well as the MotoGP replica RC213V-S of Bruce Anstey!
With a few additional changes to the machine ahead of the final race of the event, the blue-riband Senior TT, it looked certain they would be able to break the 131mph barrier. Immediately lapping at 130mph from a standing start, Johnson was in the mix for a top five finish however a small oil leak meant he ran on after the 200mph Sulby straight…eventually crashing unhurt in a field!
Although it was a disappointing finish, Norton are already working towards the 2017 event and after an incredibly impressive showing this year, surely it is only a matter of time until the Norton challenges for a TT rostrum…and what a popular result that would be!
Norton’s Isle of Man TT results (since 2009 return)
2009 – Rotary – Michael Dunlop, DNQ
2012 – SG1 – Ian MAckman – Race Cancelled
2013 – SG2 – Ian Mackman – Superbike race 18th, Senior race 24th
2013 – SG2 – Dan Hegarty – Superbike race DNF, Senior race 36th
2014 – SG3 – Cameron Donald – Superbike race DNF, Senior race DNF
2015 – SG4 – Cameron Donald – Superbike race 18th, Senior DNF
2016 – SG5 – David Johnson – Superbike race 7th, Senior DNF