BATHAMS RACING FOR BIG BIKE SUCCESS
2024 will mark 30 years since Michael Rutter first competed at the Isle of Man TT Races yet, after securing more top ten finishes and laps north of the 130mph landmark in 2023, the evergreen racer is clearly riding as well as ever with no signs – just yet at least – of calling it a day.
Riding the exotic Honda RC213V-S, Rutter lapped at 130.398mph on the way to a 9th-placed finish in the RST Superbike Race. It came at a cost though… literally. In addition to the usual consumables of fuel and tyres, the service intervals and associated costs meant that it was costing £1,000 per lap to keep the MotoGP-derived bike going. But for anyone that got to see or hear it in action, it was a price well worth paying!
With strong performances across the classes (8th in the first Carole Nash Supertwin Race and 10th in the second RL360 Superstock Race), 2023 was a far more enjoyable year for the 7-time TT winner when compared to 2022, where he came close to calling time on riding big bikes on the Island.
“It was a good year for me this time around” says Rutter. “I did what I wanted to do in terms of finishing in the top ten on the big bikes and we also had a good run on the new Yamaha R7 in the Supertwin class. We were a bit unlucky as well, especially retiring from the Senior with a puncture, and had it not been for that it could have been even better.”
2 RIDER LINE-UP FOR BATHAMS RACING
It was also a good year for the team overall, which expanded to a two-rider line up for the first time. Also riding in the black and gold colours of Bathams Racing, Craig Neve took a maiden top ten finish and joined the ‘130mph Club’ too, with a best lap at an impressive 130.863mph average in the closing Milwaukee Senior TT.
BATHAMS RACING EXPANDED TO 2 RIDERS FOR THE FIRST TIME AT TT 2023
The expansion to a two-man Bathams Racing team had be mooted for a number of years, so how did the decision to back Neve come about?
“We got talking quite a bit at the 2022 TT as every time a session or race got red flagged, we seemed to end up parked up next to each other! He already had a good group of people around him, including one of my former mechanics Mark Hanna, as well as his own bikes and he fitted in with our team set up in terms of my own racing career continuing.”
“The whole set up worked well and everyone bonded together well. We all helped each other and got stuck in and developed a small, but close-knit team. He’s already an accomplished rider, obviously, but all of us at Bathams Racing wanted to run a two-man team and bring another rider on.”
“We put a lot into Craig and whilst we had no major expectations, other than for him to enjoy himself and to get through the fortnight safely, he had a very good TT. It was his best TT in terms of both results and speeds, so we were very pleased with how it all went.”
SUCCESS FOR CRAIG NEVE AT TT 2023
Aside from a retirement in the Superbike Race, Neve finished all his six races inside the top 13 which included an 8th-place in the second Monster Energy Supersport Race. He broke the 125mph barrier for the first time on the Supersport machine and was on course for another top ten finish in the Senior.
Overshooting at Cruickshanks dropped him down the order but he fought back and a final lap of 130.863mph helped him claim 11th at the chequered flag. It also meant he was the tenth fastest rider at the 2023 Isle of Man TT Races.
NEVE JOINED THE 130MPH CLUB IN HIS FIRST YEAR WITH BATHAMS RACING
“Everyone has issues at the TT and Craig had to battle through some himself. We kept it quiet, but he was carrying an arm injury – which is all sorted now – and it took a while to get the Honda Fireblade working how he wanted it to. The whole team kept plugging away and he was rewarded with some excellent results whilst he made a good jump up in speed, too.”
“Lapping at close to 131mph is no mean feat so we couldn’t have asked for anymore. We’re definitely doing something again with Craig next year and may also be helping another rider in the British Championships so Bathams Racing should have a bigger presence in 2024.”
HELPING NEWBIES TO THE TOP
From the moment the Bathams Racing team was set up, Rutter has made noises about running a second, younger rider to help their career. So now that it’s established, does the team want to give talented riders a step up to a top team, or does Bathams want to take them to the top themselves?
“Either/or to be honest. We’d love to get a Bathams Racing rider on the podium in one of the big bike races at the TT and it would be fantastic to see that happen in the Senior. It’s probably a dream of mine, but whether a rider comes to us and then moves on to a factory team, or if a rider stays with us, we don’t mind.”
“At the moment, we’re putting the time and effort into Craig and will do all we can to help him make further progression. There’s a lot of knowledge within the team, not just from myself, so with a bit of luck and being in the right place, at the right time, you never know what might happen.”
So, having spent the best part of the year with Neve, what does Rutter feel are his attributes and how far does he think he can go?
“I’m not one for making predictions, but there’s definitely a lot more to come from Craig. Being fully fit now means he won’t have any more issues with his arm so that will help as will more short circuit riding.”
“He’s very studious when it comes to the TT and never stops with regards to doing his homework on the Mountain Course. Obviously, I pass on as much information as I can from what I know and feel but he does a lot of studying himself whether it’s his own sector times, what other people are doing and watching onboard laps. I’ve actually learnt from him!”
“He’s the right build for the TT, very much in the DJ [David Jefferies] and [Peter] Hickman mould, and being a strong lad is a benefit for muscling the big bikes around the course. All the attributes are there. All he needs is a bit more confidence which is where I see my part coming into play and where I can help.”
IS MICHAEL RUTTER STILL RACING?
As for Rutter, turning 53 next April means he’s pragmatic about his own racing.
“It’s not easy at my age. I still feel like I’m riding well but you can see other riders are catching up. Things like the improved track surface and alterations at places like Windy Corner, for example, as well as improved tyres are helping me do the speeds I’m doing. It’s not easy to lap at 130mph and I think my age is catching up with me now on the big bikes.”
RUTTER WILL BE BACK FOR TT 2024
“Like I say, I was happy with my results this year, but the big bikes are really hard work now at the TT and you need the motivation to ride them hard in order to be at the sharp end. You need to be riding them all year round too. Riding them at just the TT and North West 200, like I do, means you’re up against it.”
“I enjoyed this year and will definitely be racing again next year. I’ve made no decision yet on what I’ll be doing but I’ll be there to some extent, I’m just not sure yet what classes I’ll be riding in.”