How Old Is Too Old To Race At The Top?
John McGuinness, 49, will ride in the 2022 Isle of Man TTby Harry Fisher, on LISTEN 04:33
Despite the age of 40 having come and gone, John McGuinness, Isle of Man TT legend, is not planning on hanging up his leathers just yet.
John McGuinness Will Ride In the 2022 Isle of Man TT
In motorsport, as in many professional sports, it is rare for a competitor to be racing beyond the age of 30 or 35, let alone the dreaded age of 40! When that competitor has been racing at the very top for their whole career, as opposed to just making up the numbers, and has managed to maintain a winning average for that whole career, it is even more remarkable.
Valentino Rossi is the highest profile bike racer to have prolonged a career perhaps beyond the point where he was capable of fighting for podiums and wins. But the fact that he remained the benchmark against which all others measured themselves, even long after he stopped winning, was good enough reason for him to carry on as long as he did. Let’s face it, if you’re still enjoying yourself and someone is willing to pay you to carry on doing it, why would you stop?
John McGuinness has similarly had to face a barrage of speculation that he is over the hill at the age of 49 (and for a good few years before this as well). The second most successful TT rider, with 23 wins to his name (only Joey Dunlop is ahead, with 26 wins), his has been a stellar career and few would blame him for hanging up his leathers with no shame whatsoever.
But McGuinness himself obviously feels differently: that there is unfinished business with the Island and that he still has what it takes to do well there. If the last couple of years had been different and the races hadn’t been cancelled, it is likely that McGuinness would have retired gracefully by now.
2018 saw him break a leg in the North West 200 race and he returned to the TT in 2019 with the ill-starred Norton effort. A shock move to proven winners Kawasaki would have seen him race the green machines at the 2020 TT but, as we know, that wasn’t to happen due to Covid.
With the expectation that the 2022 event will take place, McGuinness has apparently been negotiating to get back onto a factory Honda, the team with which he enjoyed so much success from 2006 to 2018. Even though McGuinness admitted that the two-year interruption to the TT might have forced his hand in terms of retirement, the fact that the Honda deal might be in the bag means that he is not ready to retire just yet.
“It’s a great package and I feel like I’m maybe going to be going back home, maybe slipping into the old slippers that I know,” McGuinness - who will take his 100th start next year, told Manx Radio, the local Isle Of Man radio station.
“But I can’t say too much about it, but the main thing with the TT is that you’ve got to be happy, you’ve got to be confident in your team and all on the same page, and where we’re going next year, we’re all really excited about it.
“It’s been weird, coming up to my 100th start, so I’m feeling a little bit of pressure, but I shouldn’t really feel any pressure because it’s just going to be another race.
“I’ve nothing left to prove anymore and I just still love coming across, I still love riding the place and I still enjoy everything about it.
“I miss the people, I miss the bikes, the atmosphere – there’s only one place like it and the Isle of Man is so unique, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Of course, the one thing that is essential at the TT is experience and that is something that McGuinness has more than any other rider. But the competition will be stiffer than ever. Michael Dunlop knows only one speed - flat out - and is always a danger. The likes of Peter Hickman, Ian Hutchinson, Dean Harrison, James Hillier, Gary Johnson and Lee Johnston are all winners at the TT and all are hungry for more. Being younger it is likely they are faster than McGuinness but outright speed hasn’t always necessarily been a race-winning formula at the TT.
The biggest danger, of course, is that he will injure himself - or worse - in the pursuit of the unachievable. No-one can criticise a racer for wanting to go out one more time: it’s in their blood but we all want to see McGuinness grow old gracefully and continue to be the ambassador for the sport that he has so long been.
Having said all that, the TT without McGuinness just wouldn’t seem right and I for one will be cheering him on one last time. It is unlikely he will win three races to match Dunlop’s record but this is the TT and anything can happen.
All things being equal, the 2022 TT races will take part over the first week in June, with the previous week being dedicated to practice.