TT - From Peak To Mountain

FROM PEAK TO MOUNTAIN

Rennie Scaysbrook is not only the last winner of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, but following the announcement that motorcycles won’t return to the fabled ‘Race to the Clouds, the Aussie ace looks set to be the ‘forever’ record holder too. Currently working as the Road Test Editor for weekly US magazine, Cycle News, he is the latest in a long line of talented Aussie riders to take on the TT Course, following in the wheel-tracks of Cameron Donald, Josh Brookes, and good friend David Johnson. His participation also continues a family association with the world-famous races, as father Jim raced on the Island between 1978 and 1984.

‘It’s amazing what can happen with a single text message and a determined friend,’ laughs Scaysbrook. ‘A couple of weeks following my win at the 2019 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, I fired a text off to my good mate David Johnson and sheepishly enquired about my chances of scoring a ride for TT 2020. “Pretty good, I’d say,” was Davo’s reply, offering to ask the organisers the same question on my behalf.

‘The best times of my life have often come after uttering the phrase, “f**k it, let’s do it.” Within 48 hours I had an invite to chat with Paul Phillips about the possibility of fulfilling my lifelong ambition of becoming a TT rider. That was in the summer of 2019, which seems a lifetime ago now.’

Of course, none of us basking in the summer sunshine in 2019 could have guessed what would happen in 2020, and a full two years have passed since Scaysbrook sent his first hopeful text message. For Isle of Man residents, that’s two years without any motorcycle racing on the world-famous TT Mountain Course.

‘Almost instantly, the world became unrecognizable to what it was when my TT stars started aligning,’ reflects the Aussie ace. ‘The cancellation of the TT in 2020 was sadly predictable but I, like the rest of the TT paddock, held out hope for a resumption of racing in 2021. No go, of course, and the dream of Glencrutchery Road kept getting pushed further and further into the future. At times it felt like it wouldn’t happen at all.’

Rennie aboard the factory-backed Aprilia Tuono negotiating one of the 156 turns of Pikes Peak

RENNIE & RENNIE

If there was a silver lining to be found, it surely came in the shape of PRF Racing, for whom Scaysbrook will race in the two Supersport Races. For more than a decade, the team headed by Paul Rennie has enjoyed some notable success on the TT Mountain Course, and the experienced team boss continues to wait patiently for his chance to support the ‘other’ Rennie.

‘Having the support of PRF Racing head honcho Paul Rennie has been a huge motivating factor,’ says Scaysbrook. ‘I’ve never met another Rennie, so that’s surely a sign. Paul has an easy-going style and when I heard of the 2020 cancellation - and then again for 2021 - he said the same thing each time: “Don’t worry, mate, your name is on the bike.” There’s been no handshake, no contract, but I can tell Paul is a man of his word, and this has put my mind at ease. It will be a special moment when I sit on the PRF Racing Suzuki GSX-R600 for the first time.’

That moment is still a frustratingly long eight-months away at the time of writing and, like many TT racers, keeping race fit and mentally sharp has been a somewhat challenging prospect at times - especially given the on-off nature of sporting events throughout the pandemic. But Scaysbrook hasn’t been daunted by either the postponement or pandemic, and continues to race when and where the opportunity arises.

‘With the support of Pirelli and American Honda, I have been racing a Honda CBR600RR in the CVMA Winter Series in Southern California,’ he says. ‘The plucky little bike and I have a combined age of 53 years, which served as a great source of satisfaction when we’d grab the occasional race win against the Moto-America riders on their 2021 machines. Admittedly, the Honda was a very well-built bike, originally put together for the 2009 Daytona 200, but it quickly earned the nickname of “Vintage” around the Chuckwalla paddock, which made the wins even sweeter.

‘Although we finished the 2020-2021 Championship third overall, predictably, the Honda cried enough at the final round and has thus been put into permanent retirement! However, I’ve got a new machine on the horizon, which will be built up in time for this year’s Winter Series, which starts shortly.’

The majesty of Colorado: Rennie mastered the Peak, but can he master the Mountain?

PEAKS & MOUNTAINS

Like his father, Jim, before him, Rennie relishes the challenge that other disciplines provide, and keeps busy with regular forays into road racing, off-road and Supermoto. However, its his prowess as a competitor at Pikes Peak for which he is best known, and whilst the TT Mountain Course remains the ultimate test for most, the ‘Race to the Clouds’ is an event for which its easy to draw comparison.

First, the course measures some 12.4 miles – putting it on a par with the original Nürburgring, or ‘Green Hell’. Pikes Peak is also a race that is staged on a mountain; the summit of which sits a (literally) breath-taking 14,000 feet above sea level. The course also boasts some 156 corners, which riders must master to have any chance of winning. The price of making a mistake on any one of these corners can also have the most serious of consequences, but despite the danger and difficulty, Pikes Peak is one such challenge that the younger Scaysbrook has taken to with an impressive degree of self-assurance.

Despite a crash on one of numerous hairpin bends, the then 37-year-old immediately impressed on his debut in 2016 aboard the KTM Super Duke. Rennie finished runner-up in both 2017 and 2018, but a year later, riding an Aprilia Tuono with factory backing, he finally took victory in Colorado, breaking the previous record and becoming one of just five riders to post a time under 10 minutes.

His celebrations were cut short, however, when the tragic news filtered through that four-time winner Carlin Dunne had been killed. Investigations discovered that the former champion had high-sided exiting the final corner on what is the roughest section of the climb. Subsequently, the organisers have now stopped the participation of motorcycles in the fabled event, leaving Scaysbrook with the ‘forever’ best time. It also means that this particular chapter in the Aussie’s racing career has closed somewhat unexpectantly, leaving Rennie eyeing the next big challenge.

Race to the Clouds: Rennie in full flight on his way to victory and a ‘forever’ record at Pikes Peak

FOCUS 

With a two-year hiatus in TT racing, Scaysbrook could be forgiven for losing some of his initial enthusiasm for the TT, but he’s always used his time off the bike wisely. Holding down a full-time job as the Road Test Editor at Cycle News Magazine in the United States, he’s long got used to racing having to fit around work. Moreover, Rennie has found that a bit of downtime often gifts him the time to focus on preparation and addressing the mental side of the sport, in particular.

Indeed, racing at difficult and dangerous venues such as Pikes Peak has seemingly informed his approach to racing, and in a number of ways it makes the amiable Aussie the ideal TT newcomer, with a faultless attitude and clear aptitude for learning. Rennie has also taken advantage of every opportunity that has come his way to prepare for his Mountain Course debut; a process that now stretches as far back as 2019.

‘Back in 2019, I accepted an invitation from Paul Phillips to visit the Island,’ he says. ‘I was to complete a number of initiation laps and make sure that, yes, the TT was something I really wanted to do. Coming from Australia and living in the States, it’s hard for rookies to get to the Island and complete the required laps and have satisfactory knowledge of the 37 ¾-mile Mountain Course. But after 28 laps in five days - including nine with either [TT Rider Liaison Officers] Johnny Barton or Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle - the place started to feel somewhat familiar.

‘Some of this familiarity is thanks to the good ol’ Playstation. When I was tattooing my brain with the information needed to race at Pikes Peak, my daily routine was to do two runs on the Sebastian Loeb Rally Evo game, then watch one run on YouTube, then pack it all away and come back tomorrow. I did that every single day for a year, and by the time I turned up at America’s Mountain in 2016 I knew where I was going and, more importantly, what was coming up.

‘It’s the same for the TT. There’s absolutely no excuse to not know exactly where you are at any given point. There’s a trick I’ve taught myself. I look at a picture of a corner or other section of the TT Course, and I need to recall what comes before it as well as the two sections after. Even if I can’t remember all the names of the corners - which I could never do at Pikes, anyway - I need to at least picture the road. That’s the main thing.’

“Even if I can’t remember all the names of the corners, I need to at least picture the road”

Such aides to learning weren’t available, of course, when Rennie’s father Jim first raced at the TT. Arriving on ‘Mona’s Isle’ in 1978 [the same year his good friend and sometimes team mate, Mike Hailwood, made his famous comeback] Jim would experience an at-times difficult fortnight; that year’s event also marked by serious incident and tragedy. With the Island sat in numbed silence on more than one occasion, the 1978 TT would make an imperfect debut year for anyone, but Jim returned in 1980 with Hailwood as sponsor through his Hailwood-Gould dealership.

Jim waved goodbye to the TT in 1984 when Rennie was an infant, but now – nearly four decades on - the younger Scaysbrook is finally ready to continue the family’s association with the world-famous event. How the world - including the TT - has changed in the intervening years between Jim’s departure and Rennie’s arrival should ensure that their respective debuts are indeed, worlds apart. After all, Rennie can access the TT and work on his preparation at any time, even when sat 5,000 miles away.

‘Bruce Anstey’s opening lap from the opening 2011 Supersport TT is on my phone, and when I have a bit of downtime, I wind the video to a random spot and watch it. Granted, he’s going way faster than I could, but it’s not as mind-warping as watching, say, Peter Hickman’s record lap, where my phone screen looks like it’s about to melt! Hicky’s going so damn fast I can’t tell where one part starts and another ends, so I’ll stick with Bruce’s lap for now.

‘There’s still a lot of preparation yet, but I’m on the right track to have a fast and safe TT debut. I have no shame in admitting the TT is a bucket list item, and I’ll be 39 by the time the race starts so it’s my last chance to do it before the 40-year-old rookie cut-off. The TT is one of those things I thought I’d missed, but thanks to a good mate and modern technology, the dream is almost a reality. I can’t wait for that tap on the shoulder.’

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