Diary of a madman ….Bonner makes his TT Debut- with Aidan Lynam
June 14, 2014 by Aidan Lynam
Hailing from Stamullen in County Meath, Alan Bonner took his first steps in the world of bike racing back in 2008. Starting out in the Clubman series on a Honda CBR600, typical of a racer, the lure of extra horsepower proved too much in 2009 and he soon found himself astride a Yamaha R1. Standing well over six feet tall, the bigger Yamaha also allowed him a modicum of comfort in comparison to the diminutive Honda!
Living in an area of Leinster that has produced a plethora of road racers over the years, it was almost inevitable that Bonner would eventually find his way to the phenomenon that is ‘Pure Road Racing’. To the uninitiated, ‘Pure’ or ‘Real’ Road Racing takes place on closed public roads but using the very same machinery that racers would use on short circuits such as Mondello Park, Bishopscourt etc. Whilst the organisers do their best to make the road ‘circuits’ as safe as possible, all the ‘furniture’ remains such as road signs, walls etc. albeit they are covered with bales and pole protectors.
Bonner took to the roads in 2010 like the proverbial duck to water and won at the Cookstown 100 in County Tyrone in his first outing between the hedges. Road racers are restricted to competing in the Junior and Senior Support classes and on smaller machinery in their first season so Bonner competed on a Yamaha R6 Supersport machine, going on to take the Senior Support title at the final race of the year in Killalane, North Dublin.
After winning the title in 2010, Bonner once again returned to 1000cc machinery and although he showed glimpses of his undoubted talent, he suffered a couple of seasons that were blighted with injury, including two broken wrists at the Adelaide Masters Series in Mondello Park in a rather spectacular highside in turn two in early 2012.
In August 2012 the plasterer made his Dundrod debut, finishing seventh before returning in 2013 where he would have lined up on pole position had bad weather not forced its cancellation. However two days later he did line up at the Ulster Grand Prix and in the Superbike race he set an average lap speed of 127.9mph before his bad luck returned. On lap two whilst sitting in ninth place behind Cameron Donald, his Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade snapped its chain, ending his season on a bad note but also putting him firmly in the shop window after showing how fast he could be.
A disc injury in his back curtailed the rest of the 2013 season but a hard winter of training in the gym and cycling around his hometown with a local club almost have the Meath man back to full fitness. When he wasn’t out on the pushbike he was making regular visits to the Mecca of road racing, the Isle of Man with a view to making his TT debut in 2014.
After countless laps of the ‘Mountain Circuit’ in a car with rider liaison and ex TT winner, Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle, Bonner threw his hat (helmet) in the ring and submitted an entry which thankfully was accepted (riders have to prove their experience, capability and bike craft before being accepted to race at the TT).
Once word broke that he would be racing at the iconic 37.7 mile course, Thepeoplesbike.com offered their assistance. Thepeoplesbike.com is a group of enthusiasts who fundraise all year in order to support their selected riders, allowing the ordinary fan the opportunity to have a photo of themselves on the side of their bikes in exchange for a small donation. In the past few seasons they have supported Dan Hegarty, Steve Mercer, and they continue to support Northern Ireland’s Stephen Thompson whose TT knowledge would prove invaluable to the newcomer.
After the compulsory ‘Newcomers’ laps behind the travelling marshals on Monday night (25th May), Bonner did his first flying lap of the Mountain Course on his own Honda Superbike and set a respectable average lap speed of 110.77mph. Although happy enough with his lap time, Bonner was far from happy with how the bike was handling and he and his crew set about trying to get to the bottom of the Honda’s handling woes.
On Tuesday evening Bonner seemed to be gelling with the circuit as his knowledge of it improved and set an average lap speed of 115.3mph after two laps on the big Honda but he still wasn’t pleased with its handling. After the two laps on the big bike, Bonner had to recalibrate his brain to ride the Das Trans sponsored Yamaha R6 that he would ride in the two Supersport races and he finished the evenings practice sessions with a lap speed of 113.722mph on the virtually stock machine.
After making adjustments to the Superbike, Bonner once more lined up on Glencrutchery road on Wednesday evening and did one lap at an average speed of 112.447mph before jumping on the Supersport bike once again. Unfortunately his evening came to a premature end when the wee bike’s clocks started showing engine warning lights; Bonner took the sensible decision to park up rather than risk damaging their only engine or indeed, himself!
The small team spent much of Wednesday night and Thursday getting to the bottom of the problem with the Yamaha, and confident that they had, Bonner did two laps on it in Thursday evening’s practice session, setting a best (personal) Supersport lap of the week with a speed of 115.79mph.
Friday evening was the final Superbike session prior to Saturday’s opening Superbike race and although he set a best lap of 117.499mph, Bonner was still not confident on the big bike, complaining that it was tying itself in knots everywhere.
Race day dawned on Saturday May 31st and Bonner lined up on the grid in the Dainese Superbike race, knowing he faced a battle of epic proportions just to finish. Unfortunately, and despite the team and some others trying to sort the ill-handling Honda, Bonner was forced to retire it in the opening sector for fear of crashing. He did however get to complete two more laps of practice on the Yamaha that evening and once again improved his lap time, finishing with an average speed of 116.028mph.
Monday June 2nd saw the opening Monster Energy Supersport Race held and although he was at a distinct disadvantage in terms of power, Bonner was confident he could get his first TT finish. On lap one of four he crossed the line in 48th position with a lap speed of 115.435mph from a standing start (the TT is a timed race with riders setting off singly at 10 second intervals) before stopping for fuel at the end of lap two with a speed of 116.42mph. Lap three is always slower at the TT due to the obligatory fuel stop but he still managed a speed of 110.18mph before setting out on his final lap. Bonner crossed the line in 48th place to claim his first TT finish and his first bronze replica (replicas are given out to finishers who finish within a certain time percentage of the winner). He also finished as first Newcomer home with a lap speed of 113.946mph.
The second Monster Energy Supersport race took place two days later and with a finish already under his belt, Bonner set off down Bray Hill with renewed confidence. Settling into the race he gradually picked away at his lap times before pitting again at the end of lap two. A smooth pit stop saw him gain some time on those around him and once back on track he was soon back into a comfortable rhythm. Lap four saw him get some clear track and he made the most of it to cross the line in 38th place (first Newcomer home again) with a lap speed of 118.943mph, to claim his second bronze replica of the week.
On Friday, Bonner took the Honda Superbike out in qualifying for the Senior Race, due to be held the following day, but it soon became apparent that the handling hadn’t improved and after one lap he parked it up in pit lane. After talking to his team Bonner took the decision to sit out the Senior Race, bringing the curtain down on what was a successful, and more importantly, safe TT debut.
Bonner will now continue his season at home in the Adelaide and Irish Short Circuit Championships as well as competing at some local road races before returning to compete at the UGP in August.
Bonner “I was nervous at the TT, it’s so unique, nowhere I’ve ever ridden can even come close to it! It’s so mentally draining riding it at speed, trying to be neat and tidy yet trying to remember where you are on the circuit. There is such a big difference between the shorter national road races at home and the TT, the difference in speeds is frightening.
I feel I’ve learnt a lot this year and can’t wait to go back in 2015, hopefully with a strong Supersport bike and a fresher Superstock machine. I came here hoping to get replica and I left with two and a lap speed just under 120mph so I have to take the positives from it and build towards next year. I know I can do 120mph on a big bike here but the Superbike was handling like a pig and I wasn’t willing to risk injuring myself or anybody else by taking it out in the Senior.
Big thanks to thepeoplesbike.com for their support and help, Das Trans , Wreck-Amended Crash Repairs, Gas Safety Systems, Macken Bros, Francis Courtney Engineering, Tolan Racing, Neil Wilders Motors, JB Racing, RB Motors, Milltown Farm Produce and North Dublin Motorcycles, without these people I would be still dreaming about racing the TT.”
Words: Aidan Lynam
Images: Baylon McCaughey and Gemma Morkan