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David Johnson Explains Riding Your Own Race at the Isle of Man TT

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David “Davo” Johnson is back at the TT, and the Australian keeps learning and keeps improving. The Honda rider has spent ten years keeping a lid on expectations, and he’s now keen to put his lessons to good use

The Isle of Man TT is sink or swim. Some riders take to it like a duck to water, and others realize that it is just not for them.

It is the most unique race on the motorcycle calendar. It is you against the track. It is you against the clock. It is you against yourself.

For David Johnson though, this year is different. He is a factory Honda rider for the first time, and the Australian is doing all he can to make sure that he keeps the pressure to a minimum.

“Davo” has been racing at the TT since 2010, and having been a British championship regular, he knew straight away that he was hooked on the roads.

“I went in 2010 for the first time,” recalled the 37-year-old. “My induction lap with Milky was wet; very freaking wet! Five riders crashed on that induction [speed controlled] laps. I was right on Milky’s ass the whole time and we lost everyone else! It was just me and Milky riding.”

“It was wet, and I just followed him. We got to the mountain and it was foggy, and all I could see was his rear tail light.I was thinking, ‘That’s Milky Quayle. He knows where he’s going.’ So I just followed him. Even Milky was doing 50 pence pies through the corners! It was a pretty sketchy induction, but I still come in smiling!”

“When you go to the TT, there’s no pressure on new riders at all. That was the thing about it. Now newcomers come and put a lot of pressure on themselves. I made sure there was no pressure.”

“There was a bit of sort of bullshit with the media stuff, because it was me and Hudson Kennaugh and Stevie Thompson all riding as newcomers. Hudson Kennaugh, former British champion, and Stevie Thomposon, top Irish road rider. They made us have a rivalry, but it was fake. I didn’t get into that at all.”

“I ended up being the best newcomer anyway and I think my attitude worked. Some newcomers put too much pressure on themselves. Stevie didn’t, but I think Hudson definitely did.”

“Stevie just cruised around and did what he needed to do because he’s a road rider. Hudson was another story. I think he put way too much pressure on himself, and it didn’t go very well at all. It was one of those things. You just got to take it as what it is. It’s a dangerous place and don’t put any pressure on yourself. Just ride around.”

For Johnson, the TT bug became all encompassing. Suddenly there was nothing else that could match it. The buzz, the excitement, the challenge. There was nothing else like it, and when he went back to short circuits, he felt something he had never felt on a bike before; he felt bored.

“There’s a few riders that have come and tried from Australia and New Zealand to the TT. Some didn’t enjoy it or didn’t do well and left. I just loved it from the start.”

“I came over from Australia, and all I wanted to be was a world champion. I ended up in the British and European Championships for a few years. I did okay – won races and was second in the European Championship – but everything changed when I did the TT. I couldn’t get a competitive bike in BSB and that was doing my head in.”

“I knew I could have been at the front if I had a good bike. I come to the TT to try and sidestep back to a good BSB ride. Once came here BSB, I wouldn’t say boring, but it wasn’t as much fun anymore.”

“In 2013 I was at the front winning races in British Superstock and in the TT, and did well, but when I went back to Knockhill, it was different. I was riding around in practice and I was angry. I didn’t want to be there at all.”

“It actually felt really like a job to be there. Riding at the TT though, it has its hard time, but it’s a different feeling that you can’t replace. There’s nothing else that can replace it. Not BSB, definitely not endurance.”

This year for Johnson, the challenge is to finally stand on the TT rostrum. His career best result is three fourth position finishes and he knows that he is close to the podium, and he’s doing everything he can to be ready, but he is also doing all he can to keep the pressure to a minimum.

With Ian Hutchinson as his teammate however, Johnson will also know that the expectation for results will fall on the 16-time TT winner rather than at his feet.

“I never feel as if I’m in the right position to yell at people and demand stuff. So when they demand stuff I know that I’ll get it. Hutchy is definitely the man for that because he wants the best.”

“He’s sixteen-time winner around here and he wants to win again. That’s only going to benefit me because I’m going to get what he gets when he demands it. So I just sit back and keep quiet! I’m the new guy. So I’ll demand stuff when I start winning.”

“I’m with the factory outfit, and that’s still pretty surreal for me to be here, but I’m starting to feel like I’m part of the crew now. I’ve been riding a lot in Australia. We did six days of testing with Honda and the North West 200.”

“The North West was a disaster for me and I ended up in hospital. I was doing classic bike races in Australia and some other bits and bobs. I was riding a lot and I do as many track days as I can, and I’m cycling and to keep fit the fun way.”

“We didn’t race enough and I didn’t actually have enough race signatures, I had race starts, but with DNF’s so they didn’t count, but they’ve still let me race.”

“This year already at the TT you can see that Dean straightaway, even on a dirty track, is fast. He a 123 mph on his first Supersport lap! I was literally just putting around, looking at the track, then looked at his speed and…he wants it really bad.”

“That’s the thing at the TT it’s about how bad do you want it. They’ll tell you that they’re not really pushing, but they’re lying! Everyone is trying to get up to speed real quick now. It is what you want it to be. Everyone’s their own rider, and I’m definitely different to a lot of people because I’ll build up.”

“I know that it doesn’t matter what you do the first night. It’s what you do at the end of practice week, and in the first race, and from the races after. I think I’m more reserved like that. I’m not going to go out and risk everything just to look good in the first practice.”

With one week of practice and a week of racing. The TT is a fortnight when the pressure starts to build and you do all you can to learn as much as possible. With 37.75 miles and over 220 corners, the challenge to understand takes time. There are sections where riders have to sacrifice speed in certain corners to make sure they make up time on the straights that follow.

There are sections that bikes are at full throttle for mile after mile. You need to understand the right sections to push hard and the right sections to ride within yourself.

For Johnson that process is still ongoing even though he’s been coming to the island for ten years.

“Before I raced for the first time, I did lots of laps before racing and I knew the track. I got to a point where I did enough laps in the car and I was getting bored of being in traffic. I played the Playstation and watched onboard laps.”

“The Playstation game back then was crap at the time, but the new game is awesome. It’s great for a newcomer because it’s so real and you’re in the right gears and everything. Davey Todd used it before coming here and he was up there in the top rankings in the world in that game. It definitely helps because it’s so realistic.”

“It makes a huge difference for riders and that’s why people can come in now and sort of think they know it straightaway. I’d say for some newcomers. they think they’re still in the game when they go out! The newcomers are quick now, and you’ll see Hickie’s 129 mph as a newcomer lap, which is just ridiculous, and think that’s the target.”

“He’s different because of the way he is as a rider. He could do it, whereas people that sort of are not quite up to his caliber are trying to do that as well and then getting themselves into trouble.”

“My flag-to-flag time hadn’t improved since 2015, but my riding has improved. It’s hard to say because you just pick up bits here and there. It’s more mental than anything. It’s only little bits here and there, but little bits here and there amount to, like, twenty seconds a lap around here.”

“You don’t even know where you find it. It just does come to you. I’ve done laps where I’ve gone out and tried real hard to push. I’ve come in sweating my ring off and looked at the speeds and I was twenty seconds slower than I did before!”

“You’re trying too hard. So it’s a completely different animal like that. You’ve just got to ride it differently. It’s all mental. Basically you lose your momentum when you ride like that.”

“You push too hard and you’re basically braking too hard in the corners, which you do on a short track to make up time, but around here you lose momentum. You come in knackered. You have to relax and just let it flow. That’s the way to go fast around here.”

Keeping calm. Keeping a limit on the pressure. Keeping expectations in check. That’s the key to a successful Isle of Man TT.

Photos: © 2019 Steve English – All Rights Reserved

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