Mike Russell – The Herculean TT Challenge
There’s no doubt about it, racing in any one of the classes at the TT is a massive effort. From the sponsored pro riders in their motorhomes to the weekend warriors living and spannering out of their work vans, it demands a lot.
You have to be willing to throw your whole life into it, dedicating every spare hour and sometimes more crucially, every spare penny towards it. One man who knows the pressure and commitment only too well is Mike Russell.
For the past two years, Russell has attempted a feat that no other rider has ever achieved or perhaps even attempted - racing all 5 classes and 10 races at a single event. “We are aiming to be the first person to finish every class in the same year” says Russell squarely. “Looking through the history books we couldn’t find anyone that had done it. We looked into it, did some homework and thought it is possible.”
Since 2019, this gargantuan challenge has been Russell’s sole focus and goal. Not an easy task to set yourself when you have both a young family and a long hardworking career in the RAF. “I’m a driver doing logistics, a glorified taxi man”, explains Russell modestly. “I love it. I drive everything and anything. The most expensive load I’ve had was about £45 million, an Apache helicopter gunship on the back with police escort front and rear. It’s eventful!”
Russell may not be a rider many have heard of and despite being a privateer, he has a wealth of experience to draw upon. After many years obsessing and fantasising over motorcycles, throughout his youth he finally started riding and racing, despite his parent’s initial objection to anything that seemed remotely dangerous.
Since 2005 Russell has squeezed circuit racing in and around his role in the air force. However, road racing had never been a consideration until a fellow RAF serviceman and rider, Gordon Blackley, gave him a call in 2007. “He rang us up and said ‘I’m retiring, the Motorsport Association is looking at getting a rider to the TT, would you fancy doing the Manx?’”
He recalled watching onboards and thinking it was mental. “How do they see or know what’s going on? So the answer was ‘no, it’s out of my skill zone thanks very much’”. But then he got sent to Iraq in 2007, so his season of circuit racing was done. “I was out in the desert, sunning myself up and getting shot at, but I came back two weeks before the Manx Grand Prix. I ummd and ahhhd, and decided to go”. From then on Russell has been a regular at the Manx and the TT.
Financially to enter each event is a herculean task, even for a pro-rider. Being a privateer, Russell has essentially had to beg, borrow and steal whatever he can, putting together a set of bikes and a sidecar to meet each class. He’s been fortunate to have had help from some sponsors but a lot of it has come out of his own pocket.
“Unfortunately it’s a money sport, we all know it. We’ve been box clever with it. We minimise sidecar laps because we haven’t got the spare motors behind us. We’ve got a spare motor but we haven’t got spare motors. It is what it is, we just have to do what we can.”
"We've got a spare motor, but not spare motors."
Russell is yet to complete all 10 races and still hopes he will be the first, although at one point he was convinced he might be beaten to it. “I’ve spoken to Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop because obviously they could do the challenge”, explains Russell, as both Harrison and Dunlop have experience with sidecars.
“I thought Michael was going to do it in 2022, he’s had a sidecar licence for years. They’re fast, they can just go fast at whatever. I was genuinely waiting for to Dunlop to be doing every class and it never came.” Fortunately for Russell, he’s currently the only person who has been crazy enough to try it.
Another factor is how physically exhausting this challenge is. For instance, in 2022, he raced the Superbikes followed by the Sidecars, which gave him a window of an hour and a bit in between races. “It’s an endurance event”, says Russell. “I swap helmets so I’ve not got a dripping helmet on. Get the leathers off afterwards, have a drink. There’s not a great amount of time to get lots of stuff in, it’s water, electrolytes, energy snacks.”
With just an hour between races in some cases, for Russell, the TT is an endurance event
You can’t help but get behind Russell, this is a David and Goliath moment.
“If I succeed with this challenge I will genuinely be gobsmacked. I think from a privateer’s point of view, to be in a position where we can say we’re doing this challenge is beyond words. I never thought I’d be in this position.”
The odds are stacked against him but the TT loves an underdog. And having fallen just short of the completing his challenge due to a small handful of technical issues in 2022 and 2023 (which you can learn more about in his appearance on The TT Podcast) maybe 2024 will be the year. Good luck, Mike.