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Britten Motorcycle Company manager Perry Rees with the Britten V-1000 (foreground) the Christchurch factory will race in the Isle of Man TT next month. Also in a rare line-up outside the factory are three more Brittens, the earlier Cardinal Britten display bike, the bike on which Andrew Stroud won the world BEARS title last year, and the latest factory production bike destined for an American buyer.
PHOTO: PETER MEECHAM
A Britten V-1000 has been granted the prestigious No. 1 plate for the world's most dangerous and demanding motorcycle road racing meeting, the notorious Isle of Man TT, early next month.
Bestowed by the organisers as a tribute to the late John Britten who designed the futuristic racer, the plate gives the New Zealand bike the advantage of being first on the road for both the Formula One race, on June 1, and the Senior TT, on June 7.
Riders start at 10sec intervals in the two main 386km races on the treacherous mountain circuit, where speeds approaching 300kmh are achieved.
British-based New Zealand rider Shaun Harris has been chosen to ride the Britten TT entry, a bike privately owned by Italian racing enthusiast Roberto Crepaldi, but raced with the full backing of the Christchurch Britten Motorcycle Company.
The small team's campaign will be master-minded by the Britten company manager, Perry Rees, who will have one of the factory's top racing mechanics, Tim Stewart, in support. Both are already veterans of previous campaigns to Daytona and the Isle of Man. Cost prevents taking a back-up machine for Harris, but they will carry as many spare parts as they can.
The modest campaign will cost "10s of thousands of dollars" and has only been made possible by the generosity of a number of sponsors, Mobil, ICI Autocolour, SBS braking, AEI, and bike owner Crepaldi and the Britten factory. "We are doing it on a shoe string. We don't have the budget for a spare bike," Rees said.
The Crepaldi Britten, which has been in New Zealand for the last five months and has been brought up to the very latest factory specifications, was flown to Britain yesterday. The factory support team will follow on May 25. Practice on the Isle of Man begins on May 27.
"It is a pretty big ask going there with only one bike," Rees said. "Each of the two six-lap races are of 240 miles, so with practice the bike will do about 1000 miles (1610km) at racing speeds. It is an incredibly gruelling course, very demanding on the machine and the rider. There are no run-off areas."
Members of the Britten team remain aware of the tragedy which cast a shadow of gloom over their last visit to the Isle of Man, in 1994. Veteran TT rider Mark Farmer died after he crashed one of the three Brittens entered, while practising for a race he was given a great chance of winning.
Rees recognises that the risks are high but says that "riders who race there are fully aware what they are getting into. They enjoy the challenge. That's why they go back year after year. Every time you put a bike on a race track there is a degree of risk. It is the nature of the sport."
Harris is no stranger to the mountain circuit. He rode a Britten in the factory's first visit to the island, in 1993, starting 23rd on the road and working up to fifth before a minor oil filter problem forced him to retire.
Last year, he finished 11th in the senior TT on an experimental 750 Suzuki with a centre-steering hub, a performance which brought no little praise.
This time the Britten team is hoping it will be third time lucky. The Britten has been brought up to the latest factory specifications, and is producing more power than when it first returned to New Zealand.
"We are confident of a respectable finish," Rees said when asked if the Britten could win.
"We have got to be in with a chance."