Despite giving Castrol Honda Britain and the RC45 a double win at the 1994 Isle of Man TT Races, tenth place in the British Superbike Championship and just two podiums in the season meant Steve Hislop lost his ride with the Japanese giant for the second time at the end of the 1994 season, just as he had done at the end of the 1991.
The Honda team moved away from its Louth-base and was completely taken over by legendary chassis builder Colin Seeley, and mastermind behind the iconic rotary Nortons Brian Crighton. Indeed, they had previously masterminded the phenomenal successes of Ian Simpson and Phil Borley with the Duckhams Norton team in 1994, where Simpson won the British Championship.
Hislop subsequently joined the all-new Devimead Ducati team alongside Ray Stringer for 1995, with the duo riding the all-conquering Ducati 916. It proved to be a superb season for Hislop when, after going head-to-head with the similarly mounted James Whitham, he took seven wins and his second British Championship, five years after his previous success in the 250cc class. He also made ‘Wild Card’ appearances in four World Superbike Championship rounds, impressively scoring two top ten finishes.
However despite their success, the team folded as the Tamworth-based motorcycle shop struggled to find the increasing funds required to compete, leaving Steve in a bit of a quandary as to where his next move would take him. Team promoter Steve Horton persevered though and a new look squad was formed, this time with Kawasaki ZXR750 machinery and under the ‘Team Nemesis Kawasaki’ banner, as they looked to defend the number one plate from 1995.
The season started well, with a second place in the opening race of the season at Donington Park, but a major engine failure in race two was perhaps the sign of things to come.
A brace of sixth place finishes followed at Thruxton before a crash and a fifth at Oulton Park. Hislop then went to Snetterton where he took disappointing finishes of ninth and tenth. Following this, the inevitable, as the team folded. Promises made at the beginning of the season hadn’t been forthcoming and instead of defending his title, the Scot found himself riding for a team dubbed by the press as ‘In-a-mess’ Kawasaki.
Meanwhile Ben Atkins, owner of the Reve Kawasaki Team, wasn’t running a team in the 1996 BSB series, but still had his bikes and infrastructure from the 1995 season where they had contested the World Superbike Championship with John Reynolds.
When Hislop became available after Team Nemesis Kawasaki folded, the pair soon got talking and a deal was completed by the end of July, with Hislop bringing his Red Bull sponsorship in to the team and the familiar colours soon adorned the Kawasaki ZXR750. Having only missed one round, he made his comeback at Knockhill in mid-August where he immediately set the fastest time in the first practice session – something he repeated the following day.
Hislop had to give best to the all-conquering Cadbury’s Boost Yamaha’s of Niall Mackenzie and James Whitham on race day, but two third places were a vast improvement on the results he’d been recording on the Nemesis Kawasaki earlier in the season and proved it was the team, and not the rider, that was at fault.
At the next round at Cadwell Park, Hislop again took the fight to the Yamahas by taking pole position and finishing third and fifth in the two races, where he also set the fastest lap of the race. Mackenzie and Whitham had been finishing first and second in the majority of the races but at the next round at Mallory Park, Hislop got the better of Mackenzie to finish a close second behind Whitham.
He also took third place in the second race at Mallory Park and with another podium at the final round at Donington Park, he ended the season in fifth place overall. It showed the benefit and importance of riding for an organized team with well-prepared bikes and the spring was back in Hislop’s step.
The Red Bull Kawasaki has been seen in a number of parades and represents a difficult but important period of Hislop’s career. As part of 'Back to the Future: The Hizzy Years' at this year’s Classic TT presented by Bennetts, it will be ridden by one of his main rivals and fellow countryman, Ian Simpson.
Simpson had, ironically, taken over Hislop’s ride at Castrol Honda in 1995 where both he and team-mate Phil Borley struggled with the RC45 – the duo only taking two podiums between them during the course of the season.
Simpson and the backroom staff, which included chief engineer Crighton and team manager Seeley, switched to Ducatis in 1996 and with mixed results, Simpson ended the year in eighth overall, three places behind Hislop.
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Images courtesy of Double Red