PROFILE: WHO IS MIKE BROWNE?
In a short space of time, Mike Browne has rapidly risen through the road racing ranks to the extent he can now call himself a podium finisher at the Isle of Man TT Races, a double Manx Grand Prix winner, and the fastest Southern Irishman ever to have lapped the TT Mountain Course. And what makes those feats especially remarkable is that he didn’t start racing until the age of 26!
That’s extremely late by today’s modern standards but the Killeagh resident – a small village of less than 1000 people, 20 miles from Cork – is certainly making up for lost time. His recent performances have seen him finish second to Michael Dunlop in this year’s opening Carole Nash Supertwin Race, and take successive wins in the 2022 and 2023 Lightweight Manx Grand Prix Races.
Now 33, Browne’s introduction to the sport was unorthodox to say the least. With no family connection to road racing, or motorcycling in general, the TT didn’t feature in Browne’s world a few years ago. In fact, he didn’t even know it existed. But after tackling a local hill climb, he entered his first meeting in 2016 all with the view of going road racing.
“I’d done a bit of motocross but that’s about so all, so it was purely through circumstance that I started racing so late,” he explains. “A mate told me about this hill climb which I entered and enjoyed and that led me to go short circuit racing in 2016, all with the aim of doing some Irish road races the following year. I knew nothing about the TT at that stage though, I’d never even heard of it!”
His maiden year on the roads of Ireland was a successful one. Third in the Junior Support Championship was followed by fourth in the Senior Support Championship in 2018. Riding his own Kawasaki, he won at both Tandragee and Faugheen which led to him contesting that year’s Manx Grand Prix.
“I only did the short circuits so I could do the roads and once I started, I got to hear about the TT and started watching videos to understand what it was all about. I did a lot of homework prior to the Manx, and it all came to me quite quickly. My first impressions of the Mountain Course didn’t blow me away, but it was everything I expected it to be.”
Browne was an early retirement in the Newcomers Race but showed his potential with fourth in the Senior and an impressive lap of 119.788mph.
“I did it all off my own back that year and I guess I kind of slipped through the net in terms of getting any support or being shown round by anyone. Prior to the 2018 Manx I came over a fair bit to the Island and drove round solidly for a couple of days at a time so by the time it got underway, my course knowledge was pretty good.”
Continuing to progress on the Irish roads, 2019 saw him finish fourth and seventh respectively in the Irish Supersport and Superbike Road Race championships. Campaigning his own privately-run 600cc Kawasaki, with just a friend to help, his maiden TT campaign was impressive too as he took 18th and 20th in the two Monster Energy Supersport Races, posting a best lap of 121.452mph.
“I probably could have had another go at the Manx, but I got an email saying I’d been accepted for the TT. The step up didn’t bother me as I was on the same bike and riding on the same track, so I just got on with it. I wasn’t looking at the results, I was just looking for track time. As it turned out, the weather was horrendous, and I hardly got any laps during the fortnight!”
Nevertheless, his results on the Island along with those at home had seen many take note, and he was duly signed for the 2020 season by John Burrows to ride for his highly professional Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic intervened, and he’d have to wait until 2022 before he could tackle the TT once more and, when he did, he was far from his best. A pair of broken ankles, sustained at the Cookstown 100, forced him to miss the North West 200 and, looking back, it was a miracle he made it through TT fortnight.
Make it through he did though and despite the obvious pain he was in, he again caught the eye. Ninth in the second Supersport Race was his best result – his first top ten TT finish – and he looked on course for a similar result in the headline Milwaukee Senior TT, after lapping at 126.679mph before being forced to retire.
“It was incredibly difficult to get through the two weeks with the injuries I had,” the quietly spoken Browne admits. “But after the two Covid years, I knew if I didn’t race that year, that would probably have seen me done with racing.”
“I’d done so much homework for the TT and was fitter than I’d ever been so I did everything I could to get out on track. I knew the results wouldn’t be what I wanted or hoped for so, in a way, it took the pressure off and lowered any expectations. It changed my mindset, and I practically treated it as another learning year and focused on getting as many laps in as possible.”
“Like I say, the results weren’t great, but I was pleased with what I did in 2022. Going through the pain barrier was worth it and despite of everything I showed some of my potential. But completing all the laps I did was more satisfying than any of the results or lap times.”
On the back of that, as well as continual wins and podiums at the National road races, much was expected of Browne at the 2023 Isle of Man TT Races, especially as he’d furthered his Mountain Course credentials with victory in the 2022 Lightweight Manx Grand Prix and third in the Classic Senior.
A lap in practice of 129.6mph further highlighted Browne’s capabilities, but race week didn’t go to plan. He didn’t even make the start of the opening Supersport Race when his engine expired in the morning’s warm-up lap. Three further retirements followed. An additional, unscheduled pit-stop in the RST Superbike Race kept him down in 15th, although he did have the consolation of becoming the fastest ever Southern Irishman after lapping at 129.294mph.
Ninth and twelfth respectively were taken in the first Superstock and second Supersport Races, with the highlight of the week coming in the opening Supertwins Race when he took second place and a maiden TT podium. He looked set to better that in the second race, only to be forced out of the lead at the start of the final lap.
“This year’s TT was horrendous,” he says in a very matter-of-fact way. “It couldn’t have gone any worse and the Supertwins podium masked over everything else. The engines kept blowing up, we couldn’t get the bikes to handle and in practically every session or race something seemed to go wrong. I was hoping and expecting for so much more.”
FOR MIKE, HIS PODIUM MOMENT WAS OVERSHADOWED BY OTHER BIKE ISSUES
“I set a new personal best lap but if you’re not doing 130mph, at least, you’re not going to get in the top ten – a 130mph lap now is like doing 125mph a few years ago. I know there’s more in me and whilst I equally know I’m not going to be lapping at 135-136mph, I felt quietly confident of getting up to the 132’s. Not getting anywhere near that was disappointing.”
“Of course, the podium was a great result, but I had a good bike and, because of that, it was exactly what I wanted and expected. I was delighted to get second but it’s not like I finished second in the Senior is it so that’s perhaps why I sounded so calm after the race. I don’t get too carried away with things so took it all in my stride.”
Browne, who works on his cousin’s farm, returned to the Island for August’s Manx Grand Prix and repeated his Lightweight victory. It’s an event he both enjoys and values.
“Being able to compete at the Manx as well as the TT is a great thing and it’s a ‘must do’ event to get more laps in around the course. I don’t want to be a 50-year old TT racer and I’m all about the here and now so will grab every chance I can to get more laps in. The Manx is a great event, very relaxed, but it’s all about the bigger picture. The more laps I do at the Manx, the better I’ll be at the TT.”
Unlike his immediate peers and rivals, Browne has so far resisted the temptation of competing in the British Championship races, preferring instead to contest the Irish short circuit championship meetings, where he’s a regular front runner, prior to the TT.
“I started out on the short circuits at home and still do them now. They may not be BSB but there’s still a good calibre of riders at the front, a good four or five at least. I’m happy doing them ahead of the roads. I may look at a BSB meeting or two next year, but I’d rather finish in the top three at home than down the pack at BSB as it helps build confidence. Running at the back of a Superstock 1000 BSB round wouldn’t do much for my confidence.”
Thoughts are already turning to 2024 but, as yet, Browne has nothing in place having made the decision to leave the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team, a move that surprised many.
“I’ve been with John for four years and the team has been good to me, but a change is as good as rest. Everyone needs a change of scenery at some stage, and I just felt the time was right to make a move and get my own little team set up. There was no plan in place when I made the decision though, and I’ve nothing finalised yet.”
“I haven’t put pen to paper with anyone and things are changing all the time. It’s just a question of getting it all over the line and, once done, I’ll be able to announce it. One thing for sure though is that I’ll be racing every bike in every category. I won’t be happy with anything other than a podium in the Supertwins Races at the TT and I’ll be looking to make big strides on the Superbike and Supersport machines.”
Mike sat down with Chris Pritchard and Lee Johnston for an appearance on The TT Podcast and talked about everything from racing with two broken legs to pineapple farming. To watch, simply search for The TT Podcast on your device or hit the link below to watch the podcast, for free, on TT+.