Inspiration: Racing

Ernie Lyons on a Triumph at the 1946 Isle of man TT

Triumph and the track

110 years of excellence

Two-time Isle of Man TT winner Gary Johnson gives his verdict on the Triumph racing legends old and new who inspired him and drove him to be the best, and adds: “Some of them are from a very different era but I’m proud to be part of Triumph’s history at the Isle of Man TT.”

Jack Marshall – 1908

A man of few words, Jack Marshall preferred to let his bike do the talking.

One of the true greats of the TT’s early years, he was the epitome of cool and exuded a calmness under pressure that onlookers sometimes mistook for apathy. But his demeanour was a shield to the determined hidden depths of a man who announced Triumph’s involvement in racing with a flourish after his first win over the old St John’s short course in 1908.

Jack marshall Triumph Isle of Man TT winner
Jack takes a bend on the old St John’s short course                Photo: FoTTofinders

The Coventry rider had signalled his intent with a headline-grabbing run to finish second in the inaugural race the previous year over 10 laps, totalling 158 miles. But for a puncture that cost him 10 minutes, he’d have won it.

His prowess that ensured two seconds and one win in the first three TTs put Triumph Motorcycles in pole position as a racing bike specialist… some achievement given that the marque’s first motorcycle that used a Belgian Minerva engine had only rolled through the doors of its factory in 1902.

Jack’s win boosted sales and Triumph, eager to build on their Isle of Man credentials, added the stripped-down, single-speed, sports model TT Roadster to the range.

Ernie Lyons – 1946

Once described as the Kildare Demon, Ernie Lyons’ TT future was quite possibly written in the stars from his schooldays.

As a 12-year-old, he got hold of a veteran 1912 TT Triumph that he’d ride along the back roads of County Kildare to a sawmill near school, where he would leave it so the teachers never found out.

Just before the war, he bought a new Triumph Speed Twin. After a degree of local racing success, it was sent over to the factory in 1938 to be upgraded to Tiger 100 spec and entered in that year’s Manx Grand Prix, where Ernie was a non-finisher.

A win in the 500cc Class of the North West 200 in 1939 promised much, until the war intervened and Ernie’s blossoming career was put on hold.

Atrocious weather, huge crowds and doctored pictures

By the end of hostilities, Ernie was itching to compete again, this time on a prototype Edward Turner-inspired Triumph. On the day itself, before a crowd believed to be the largest in either TT or Manx Grand Prix history, he won the Senior Manx Grand Prix on the 493cc Triumph Twin, averaging 76.74mph in atrocious weather conditions.

As fans and builders ran to congratulate him, one of the bike’s designers noticed that part of the frame had fractured. It had been photographed approaching the top of Bray Hill, going into the last lap, with the break clearly visible, but the photographs were doctored for the motorcycle press.

A devoted family man, he bowed out of the TT at the top and the winning motorcycle would go on to become the prototype for the Triumph Grand Prix in 1948.

Ernie Lyons winning plate Triumph
The signed number plate Ernie gave to his landlady              Photo: FoTTofinders

Ernie, who signed his winning number plate and gave it to the landlady who looked after him and his crew on the Isle of Man following the race, went on to compete in motocross before retiring in the 70s. He died just short of his 100th birthday in 2014.

“You have to take your hat off to blokes like Jack and Ernie. The roads were far inferior and they were still travelling at speed, so they were bigger men than we are. They led the way in establishing Triumph as a builder with a strong racing pedigree” – Gary Johnson

Bruce Anstey – 2003

When Kiwi racer Bruce Anstey took the flag, followed by two other Triumph riders inside the Junior TT’s top 10 finishers, it marked a watershed moment in the sport and the manufacturer’s history.

The win sent a resounding message to the industry that British motorcycling was back, with Triumph spearheading the charge as a racing force to be reckoned with.

Triumph’s authority cemented

Bruce raced for the first time in 1996, inspired by returning Mike Hailwood’s 1978 Isle of Man victory, and followed his debut up when he rode Triumph in the Thruxton 200 Mile Race.

So it was fitting that the affable New Zealander’s association with the Valmoto Triumph Daytona team led to a first in the Junior TT and an eighth-placed finish in the Production 600cc class on a Daytona. It was equally the ninth and tenth spots for the team’s two other riders, Jim Moodie and John McGuinness, in a field usually beset by mechanical failures, which cemented Triumph’s authority.

Bruce, who finished 10.96 seconds ahead of his nearest rival and recorded the fastest Supersport TT race of 1:15.13.98, said at the time: “I’m absolutely over the moon. I was glad that we got the result and winning it on a Triumph makes it extra special.”

Bruce Anstey on a Triumph Daytona at Isle of Man TT
Bruce shaves off the seconds on a tight turn.           Photo: FoTTofinders

Still competing today, Bruce has notched up 36 podium finishes, with 11 TT wins.

“You can judge a motorcycle manufacturer’s output by whether they have a history in racing because those bikes are made to operate at peak in extreme conditions. Triumph is, and always has been, an iconic name in racing. It’s good to see Triumph  maintaining their involvement in racing with the Moto2 announcement and building on the success of the iconic Daytona 675R, which is still one of the best in my book– Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson – 2014

There was something prophetic about Gary’s first Triumph TT win, as he fended off a stirring last lap fightback from the manufacturer’s TT winner of eight years before, Bruce Anstey.

Gary, riding for Gloucestershire-based Smiths Racing, led from the start in the wet on a Daytona 675R, which also took teammate Michael Rutter to a top 10 finish, crossing the line four seconds later.

Gary Johnson on a Triumph at the Isle of Man TT
Two-time winner Gary ran his own team at this year’s TT           Photo: FoTTofinders

Gary had already made his mark on the Isle of Man’s Mountain Course three years earlier with a win in the Supersport 600cc, but it was the 2014 surge that meant the most as he finished the Mountain Course just 1.5 seconds ahead.

Nip and tuck all the way

An extract from the race report goes some way to capturing the excitement:

“It was nip and tuck all the way round as Anstey ensured the race would go down to the wire. At the end of lap two, the riders came into the pits for their fuel stop and with the fastest lap of the race, 126.732mph, Gary had opened up a 2.4-second lead. But it constantly fluctuated for the second half of the race with Gary able to extend his lead through sections of the course where he was stronger, only for Anstey to reel him back in on his more favoured sections.

“Going into the final lap, Johnson’s advantage was 2.6 seconds and this had almost doubled at Glen Helen, nine miles into the lap. But Anstey was charging, and despite rain falling on the Mountain, he continued to reduce the deficit. With less than two miles to go, the gap was 0.011 seconds, but Gary flew over the final section and took the chequered flag by 1.5 seconds to take his second TT win and give Triumph their first victory since Anstey won the corresponding race in 2003.”

After the culmination of a successful four-year relationship with Triumph, Johnson said: “I think this victory means more to me than the first… the whole Smiths Triumph team have worked so hard. Full credit to the team, who gave us some great engines and the bike never missed a beat so I’m delighted.”

Peter Hickman – 2017

Bang up to date and Peter is the man keeping Triumph in the spotlight at the TT, with a third-placed finish in the recent 600cc Supersport race… not bad for someone who first swung his leg over that size bike two years ago.

The newcomer’s attention to detail sets him apart from the rest. He prepared for his TT debut by driving 70 laps of the course in a hire car and by watching endless hours of videos. It obviously worked as he currently holds the record for the fastest new rider at the TT, with an average lap speed of 129.104mph.

The Triumph has been working mega

The 30-year-old racer has been catching the eye with his ‘Trooper’ Daytona 675, sponsored by rock icons Iron Maiden, and is part of the team run by Gary Johnson’s former stable, Smiths Racing.

Peter Hickman on Triumph at the TT
Hickey and the Trooper             Photo: FoTTofinders

Hickman says: “I’m delighted with a podium, especially as I’m not a Supersport rider and only started riding a Supersport bike in 2015. I’ve also been trying to ride it like a 1000, which doesn’t work. The Triumph was working mega and I set my fastest Supersport lap on the final lap, so getting a podium is a habit I want to keep. I figured if I could finish in the top six I’d be happy, so third is brilliant.”

“The announcement of the new engine development associated with Moto2 could be just the spark the industry needs” – Gary Johnson