BEST OF RIVALS
Frazier v Ali. McEnroe v Borg. Coe v Ovett. Sport is often elevated by rivalries that capture the imagination of its audience, cementing each in the minds of fans forever. Whilst many TT commentators cite the great sporting rivalry between Mike Hailwood and Giacomo Agostini as the finest, one could argue that another TT rivalry elevated its protagonists in a way that (perhaps) remains unmatched today.
Some TT fans refer to the great rivalry between Carl Fogarty and Steve Hislop as the Isle of Man’s Senna/Prost moment. In fact, the two Britons got on better than Formula 1 legends Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, at least some of the time.
They were certainly two very different characters. Fogarty was always utterly determined to win, to an almost maniacal degree. Hislop was milder-mannered and blew hot and cold – one day he was a genius on a motorcycle, the next he didn’t seem that bothered.
Hislop, who lost his life in a helicopter accident in 2003, won his first TT in 1987, Fogarty won his first in 1989. The following year they were together at Honda Britain, riding the company’s RC30 superbike. Two men on a mission, each determined to beat his team-mate, because there’s nothing more important in racing than beating your team-mate.
Fogarty admits that he was a bit mouthy that June, although he never actually spoke to Hislop! He remains of the opinion that Hislop was always fine with him, but Hislop didn’t seem so sure, describing Carl as an ‘obnoxious little bugger’ in his autobiography.
LOOK BEHIND YOU: FOGARTY JOINED HISLOP AS A TT WINNER IN 1989
Whatever was said and done in 1990, Fogarty had the better TT, by far. He won the two big races – the Senior and TT F1, aboard his RC30 – while Hislop won nothing. Two-nil to Foggy.
Incredibly, considering what happened next, both riders were already thinking of quitting the TT at this time, because Fogarty wanted to concentrate on World Superbikes, while Hislop wanted to become a full-time 250cc grand prix rider.
And yet the following June they were lined up at the top of Glencrutchery Road aboard the last full-factory Hondas to race at the TT – two hand-built RVF750 TT F1 bikes, weighing 30 kilos less and making 20 horsepower more than an RC30. Still, it wasn’t quite the perfect package for Fogarty, who already had other commitments.
“I got into a conversation with Honda at the Alexandra Palace racing show in January. That year was Yamaha’s 30th anniversary at the TT, so Honda wanted to win everything and they were sending over two RVF750s from Japan. I agreed to race one in the Formula 1 TT only, because I had to fly to the U.S. World Superbike round the following weekend.”
HISLOP LEFT THE 1990 EVENT EMPTY-HANDED, WHILST FOGGY DID THE DOUBLE
The opening race, the Formula 1 TT, was a real clash of the titans – and the racing started before they even got to the Island.
Fogarty and Hislop sometimes changed their starting numbers, trying to outfox each other. In 1990 Hislop had started before Fogarty and hated the feeling of being hunted, so for 1991 he quietly changed from six to 11, so instead of starting 20 seconds in front of Fogarty he would start 30 seconds behind him. It affected Fogarty, as he admits.
“It was a role reversal. I got into Steve’s head at the 1990 TT, but in 1991 it was the other way around. It didn’t help that I was sharing my RVF with Joey Dunlop, who would ride it in the Senior TT, so I didn’t get much practice on the bike.”
The RVF750 was certainly fast. In fact, Hislop was concerned it was too fast for the TT course, and allowed his feelings to surface in conversation with journalists.
“At these speeds it’s getting ridiculous. You have to get your mind adjusted to the RVF’s power. It’s kind of terrifying – at the end of Sulby straight I’m doing 190mph and my vision is blurred.”
HISLOP ON HIS WAY TO SENIOR TT GLORY ONBOARD HIS HAND-BUILT RVF750
Honda were so concerned their riders might push too hard around the unforgiving course they convened a meeting between Fogarty, Hislop, HRC boss Youchi Oguma and team manager Neil Tuxworth, who told them not to go too hard at it. Perhaps it was only a last-ditch attempt to temper their riders’ determination, but there would be only one result.
“We came out of there shrugging our shoulders – what could we do because we both wanted to win? I think they realised they were wasting their time. By the end of practice week Hislop was fastest, and when it came to the start of the F1 race I began doubting myself, which I never usually did.
Anyway, my race was over pretty much straight away. The bike cut out completely on the first lap just before Ballacraine. It fired up again but it kept doing the same. Afterwards we found out we had a loose kill-switch wire.
“When Steve came past, I started chasing him. We duelled for half a lap and I got back in front of him on the road, but I was still behind on time. Then – and I’m not sure if I’ve ever told anyone this – we nearly had a big one coming out of Brandish.
“The bike cut out again and when I looked down his front wheel was nearly touching my knee, so he was thinking I was trying to knock him off. When we came into the pits at the end of that lap he was shouting and going mad, ‘Carl’s trying to kill me!’ And I was trying to shout to him that there was something wrong with my bike. Anyway, they held me back a bit and he was gone and that was it.”
UNEXPECTED: FOGARTY GETTING ACQUAINTED WITH ROB MAC’S YAMAHA SQUAD, 1992
The following Friday Hislop won the Senior on his RVF, well ahead of Dunlop, who was still struggling back to full fitness after sustaining serious injuries at Brands Hatch in 1989.
And that should’ve been the end to the Fogarty/Hislop rivalry. In fact, the best was yet to come, for despite vowing never to return to the TT, Fogarty needed a last-minute deal the very next year to keep his other plans on track.
“I was racing my Ducati in World Superbike and it was costing me a fortune. A good deal for the TT would help me with the running costs, plus I was so disappointed with the F1 race in ’91 that I wanted to put that right in ’92.”
Both men had left Honda at the end of 1991, Fogarty to ride his own Ducati 888 in WSB, Hislop to join the British Yamaha team. But the mercurial Hislop soon fell out with Rob McElnea’s Yamaha squad, a decision which had two historic repercussions.
Yamaha approached Fogarty to ride their OW01 in the Formula 1 and Senior TTs, while Norton’s Barry Symmons went after Hislop. The venerable British brand – which had achieved remarkable results in British championship racing with its super-fast rotary-powered NRS588 – had already approached Hislop the previous autumn about riding for them at the 1992 TT.
Hizzy’s reply was an unequivocal no. However, with just weeks to go before his biggest-earning fortnight of the year and no bikes for the two biggest races, Hizzy sealed a deal for Norton. So, the rivalry was on again, although this time they weren’t teammates and they were mounted on very different motorcycles.
STAR TURN: HISLOP RETURNED IN 1992 TO THE DELIGHT OF THE FANS
SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
The OW01 was Yamaha’s homologation-special for World Superbikes – a sweet handling short-circuit machine that wasn’t fast enough to stay with the dominant Ducatis. The Norton was a strange contraption, built around a rotary engine developed for BSA in the 1970s, transformed into a wild racetrack weapon by Norton engineer Brian Crighton.
Once again, the racing started before Fogarty and Hislop got to the Island.
“We had another discussion about numbers. I told Steve, ‘I don’t want to be near you’, and he said he didn’t want to be near me, so he was going for number 19. I thought, that’s a long way back and I was quite pleased! He said he wanted to get away from it all, but I thought he was going to run into it all at some point.”
Both had tough practice weeks. Fogarty couldn’t get his OW01 to handle, while Hislop was spooked by the rotary’s fragility. The week before the TT, Norton had destroyed five engines during the North West 200 in Ireland.
The Norton engineers spark-eroded extra oil holes in the crankshaft, which fixed the engine reliability problem, but other concerns remained. Throughout practice the Norton team also struggled with fuelling – if they ran the engine too lean it would overheat and seize, but if they went too rich the bike wouldn’t even make two laps between fuel stops.
Pure speed wasn’t a problem – Hislop ended day one of practice fastest – but would the bike last six laps? It seemed unlikely.
HOT STUFF: HISLOP AND THE NORTON, OVERHEATING DURING THE FORMULA 1 TT
Fogarty, meanwhile, eventually fixed his handling problems and recorded a number of super-fast laps during the last day of practice, marking himself down as favourite for the two big races. The next day he took off like a man possessed, gaining ten seconds a lap on his pursuers in the early stages of the Formula 1 TT. But all was not good.
“I was leading by a country mile when I went into the Bungalow on the fifth lap and went down the gearbox, which made this horrendous noise. The gearbox had gone. I was absolutely heartbroken.
“If I could go back in time and fix just one race it wouldn’t be the 1993 British GP [when he missed the 500cc podium after running low of fuel on the final lap] and it wouldn’t be the crash at Phillip Island in 2000 [which ended his career], it would be the 1992 F1 TT.”
The race was won by Phillip McCallen on an RC30. Hislop finished 12 seconds down after a lengthy pit stop, during which mechanics tore off his front mudguard to improve engine cooling; teammate Robert Dunlop had already stopped with a seized engine.
And Hislop had other dramas with which to contend. The Norton’s lack of engine braking would drag him into corners, causing him too often run wide. He also complained of the bumps lifting him out of his seat, the wind threatening to blow him off completely.
“MY CREW CONFIRMED IT WAS HISLOP AND I THOUGHT, F***ING HELLFIRE!”
Six days later the pair lined up again. Senior race day dawned cooler than the previous Saturday, which was good news for the hot-running rotary. Norton had made further modifications to Hislop’s bike, which had given him more than a few very scary moments in the F1 race.
And so it came to the race, a 6-lap duel that would enter TT folklore. Fans have often voted the 1992 Senior TT as the greatest race of all time and Fogarty is quick to agree.
“I knew something was going to happen. After the Formula 1 race I was really confident I was going to win. But the Norton was a lot faster through the speed traps and I knew that when Steve’s head was right and everything was perfect, he was so fast.
“I got my head down and the first timing point said, ‘P1 +0’. Must be McCallen, I thought, because he was brave through that fast first section. I got to Ramsey and it was ‘P1 +1’. I thought, right I’ll get away from him on the Mountain. Next thing, I go through the start/finish and it says, ‘P1 +1’. I thought f***ing hell, who that’s? It can’t be McCallen.
“Then I started thinking – it’s that f***ing Norton! When I came in for my first pit stop, I was still first, plus nothing. My crew confirmed it was Hislop and I thought f***ing hellfire!”
ON THE LIMIT: FOGGY ON HIS WAY TO BREAKING THE OUTRIGHT LAP-RECORD
The pair swapped the lead at least half a dozen times during the six laps, even though they never got a glimpse of each other. On lap three Fogarty was still ahead, but by lap four Hislop had a slight advantage and Fogarty would soon run into more trouble.
“I was hanging in there, pushing really hard, but the bike was falling apart around me. None of the clocks was working, the temperature gauge was gone, the screen was broken, the steering damper had gone a bit, and there was brake fluid and oil on the inside of the screen.”
And yet Fogarty’s second pit stop was fast enough to put him back in front. By lap five at Ballacraine he was three seconds ahead. So Hislop dug deeper than ever, later recalling the events of that day in his autobiography.
“I was riding the bike beyond its limits – I was totally out of control at 180mph. At that speed, instinct takes over, and for the first time in my life I started thinking that maybe victory wasn’t as important as living. But that soon passed and I got my head down again.”
At the start of the last lap Fogarty was 5.4 seconds down, but he too refused to wave the white flag, despite things going from bad to worse.
“On lap five at Ramsey the exhaust went. The noise of the thing was horrendous. I couldn’t wait to get off the thing – I had a bad headache, so I thought, the faster I go, the quicker I can get off it.
“I pulled four or five seconds back on the last lap and when I crossed the finish line it was announced that I’d broken the lap record. Then we were counting down, waiting for Steve: ten, nine, eight …
"I was looking at Rob Mac, thinking, can we really do it? Then the commentator said, ‘Here’s Hislop!’ We lost it by four seconds. It was an amazing race, it really was.”
HIZZY BAGGED TWO MORE TT WINS IN 1994, DOMINANT ON THE CASTROL HONDA RC45
As far as he was concerned, Hislop had achieved the impossible. His victory certainly made history. Norton hadn’t won a TT since the early 1970s and the last time they’d won the Senior was in 1961, with a young Mike Hailwood.
The Norton crew partied late into the night, playing songs on the hotel piano with a roadie for Meatloaf, who was appearing on the Island. The team had so little money that the roadie bought the drinks – a crate of champagne.
That evening both Fogarty and Hislop vowed they would never return to the TT. They’d both had enough scares to last a lifetime and Fogarty, at least, would this time keep his word.
“Either of us could’ve dominated the TT for the next five years. Steve went back just one more time in 1994 and won the Formula 1 and Senior TTs quite comfortably. I never had Steve down as a short-circuit rider, but he got faster and faster and then he did that hell of a lap time at Donington in ’02.”
That’s when Hislop broke the outright lap record on a Ducati 998, bettering Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP pole time aboard a money-no-object RC211V. Later that year, Hislop won the second of his British Superbike titles.
Fogarty went on to dominate World Superbike throughout much of the 1990s. He won the title four times – 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999 – and retired due to injuries sustained in 2000.
Norton’s immediate future was much worse. The company was bankrupt and in early 1993 the bailiffs moved into the race shop, where Symmons and his crew had worked so tirelessly, and stripped it bare.