Trackside Tuesday: All in a Day’s Time

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In the world of motorcycle racing the Isle of Man TT is indeed infamous, and as a photographer I have been lucky enough to shoot on the Isle in the Irish Sea. When my letter of credential for the Le Mans 24 Hour Moto arrived, I was beyond ecstatic — my charge would be to cover those same TT riders as they participated in the FIM World Endurance Championship finale at Le Mans.

An overnight flight from my home in Atlanta, and a train ride from Paris to Le Mans, and I was on-site 48 hours later. There are times when arriving at a circuit that I have never shot can be daunting, but one walk thru the door to the Honda TT Legends pits and I felt at home. As much due to the familiar faces, as to the more relaxed atmosphere of the team here at Le Mans versus the intensity at the Isle of Man.

You see, the Isle of Man is a race that harkens back to childhood adventures for the likes of McGuinness, Dunlop, Rutter, and Andrews — where each of these riders could only dream of being at all like their heroes rider like the famous Joey Dunlop. At the TT, these men are serious competitors on a team looking for individual glory and wins as individuals.

However, the Honda TT Legends squad that competes at the EWC level is one of individuals competing not against themselves, but the other teams…and there is a difference.

Looking back now, who would have guessed the team would have decided that Michael Dunlop’s reserve rider qualifying time would mean he would replace the venerable John McGuinness as the starting rider, leaving the 19-time TT race winner sitting on the sidelines.

I was told later, that with all due credit to McGuinness’s ability, that the youth of Dunlop, which allows him to maintain lap times over long periods of time, was part of that decision.

All was going amazingly well for the team of TT legends, with fast times each lap, and a bike that was performing at a pinnacle level – thanks to an amazing crew that is more like a group of friends, or family really, than just a simple motorcycle racing team.

It wasn’t until the 10 o’clock hour that a medical car made its way up pit lane with lights and siren wailing, causing everyone to take a moment to hope for the best for whomever is involved.

You see,  when a bike stops moving on the television screen, which shows each bike’s position on the course, it’s not good, especially when it’s your team member who’s number is frozen on the screen. But does that mean something is bad? Or, perhaps is it that he is just stalled off the track having avoided the incident?

I could see that Michael Rutter, who was awaiting Simon’s arrival for the next rider change, was now pacing around with his arms crossed. Elsewhere, Honda TT Legends Team Manager Neil Tuxworth was on his radio to Race Control, while Team Media Representative Beth Robinson was on her phone trying to get answers as well.

The tension was palpable in the pitbox. The live TV feed each team has in its pits was showing a mangled bike that lay in pieces on the side of the track, but with it being night and dust thick in the air as track marshals where sweeping up the debris, it was hard to make out whose bike had just disintegrated on the course. Whoever was on that tattered piece of motorcycle had surely been through something horrific, but was it Simon Andrews? No one knew.

It seemed like an eternity as the minutes became tens of minutes, then a half an hour, and all the while the team is wanting to know more. It was when I saw the look on the another TT Legends crew member, while she was talking to someone from Race Control, that I knew it was Simon who was involved, and it couldn’t have been good.

Everyone had questions about his condition, was it bad, and if so, how bad? It is at these times that you realize that even these men, who are fierce competitors, are closer than most are with there own family. Personally I had to leave the pits for a few minutes to walk outside and gather my own thoughts.

You see, I suffered a serious head injury during a motorcycle accident myself, which I deal with to this day, and have seen my fair share of bad news at the Isle of Man TT. But, I have never seen the news reach the Honda TT Legends team.

As time went on the question became what are the rules regarding wreaked bikes, and could the team continue on with John McGuinness as the third rider? Well according to the rules the frame and starter of the bike on track had to be used and unfortunately Simon’s CBR was damaged beyond repair, as the frame had been broken in two.

The level of professionalism to both have concern in everyone’s heart for Simon, but also at the same time to have the will to continue on, if possible, may be hard for an outsider to understand. But in the world of racing, it is understood.

This is a team after all that thrives on wanting to continue on and prove they can’t be easily defeated. As the pits grew quiet and individual team members talked among themselves expressing grief and concern things slowly got back to business.

The crew began to break down the pits, and all that means at a very late hour in the night and before dawn is that the number 18 pit at the 24 Hours of Le Mans Moto was cleared-out and the door locked just as the team had found it when they arrived.

It wasn’t until later that next morning now, that the extent of Simon’s injuries where revealed in the Honda Racing hospitality suite, where the entire team was gathered. A somber mood indeed filled the air as everyone had Andrew Simon, his health, family, and well being on their mind.

Photo: © 2013 Kevin Warren / Digital Press Images — All Rights Reserved