TT RACERS TAKE 3 WHEELERS TO THE ISLE OF MAN

Words: James Ball

Photography: Bruce Holder

The Isle of Man TT is described as the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. It’s fast, exciting and extremely dangerous – the last of the real races. We let two TT winners, father and son Dean and Conrad Harrison out in two Morgan 3 Wheelers to thrash them around the world-famous Mountain Course to see whether the thrill of two wheels translates just as well onto three. The results were, let’s just say, smashing!

“Hop in!” Dean said as we were parked up at the iconic Ballaugh Bridge. “Okay!” I replied, how often do you get the opportunity to be driven around the TT course by a race winner? Little did I know that a 3 Wheeler can open up to 110mph up a mountain in the pouring rain. I would say it was edge-of-the-seat stuff, had I not been cemented firmly against the leather due to the sheer acceleration. Drifting around corners at 70mph and battling terrible conditions, the circuit’s 245 deaths weren’t far away from my thoughts. We did, however, manage to avoid the worst-case scenario – but only by inches…

Most people when hearing ‘Isle of Man’ will most likely associate it with the Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy). The TT takes place over a 37.73-mile course around the north half of the Isle of Man’s twisty country roads and was first run in 1907. The original circuit was run on a slightly different course that excluded the mountain section. Later, in 1911, it became the Mountain Course we know today, this first race was won by Oliver Godfrey who achieved an average speed of 47.63mph.

With modern machinery speeds have increased radically. To put it in perspective, Dean has achieved an average speed of over 130mph at the circuit and with top speeds hitting 200mph. Dean and Conrad are used to travelling at those speeds inches away from curbs, buildings and other immovable objects. This isn’t a race for the faint hearted.

Our road trip to the Isle of Man began at Life’s Motors Morgan dealership in Southport, who kindly agreed to store our cars, where we met the Harrisons. Conrad is a seasoned TT racer who’s been travelling to the circuit to race for over 20 years. Dean, following in his dad’s footsteps, has been road racing since he was 18. Where they differ is in their specialties – Conrad races motorbike and sidecar (known as simply ‘sidecar’) and Dean focuses on the solo bikes.

These guys have serious grit, they were going to get to the top level of road racing whatever it took.

How does anyone get into such a life threatening sport? Putting this to Conrad he says simply, “I saw it on TV and though, I want to do that.” The process of actually doing it must be a scarier prospect though? Dean’s response was also rather matter-of-fact, “I was 18 and I just got on a bike and gave it a go, there’s no other way!” These guys have serious grit, they were going to get to the top level of road racing whatever it took.

After many attempts at the track and many broken bones, it all came together last year where the two won their respective classes – Dean in the lightweight category and Conrad on the sidecars. “It was great to win together,” Dean tells us. “It’s been a long time coming for me!” Conrad adds. “But since I’ve put more money into the building of the bike, the results are starting to come in.”

there’s still a grease-monkey old-school attitude at the TT – much like the very early days of F1. They built it, and then they race it.

Both Dean and Conrad are very capable mechanics and both have built the bikes on which they won. Conrad has always built his and will be racing on a homebuilt machine once again this year, Dean has build his bikes in the past and his knowledge helps him enormously when setting up his Yamaha superbike with his engineers. Although some of the TT teams are about big money and sponsorship, there’s still a grease-monkey old-school attitude at the TT – much like the very early days of F1. They built it, and then they race it.

Another throwback to the earlier days is the absolute lack of safety. Other than the helmets and leathers they’re wearing, the TT racers have only a few padded barriers at choice locations around the track. The rest is penned in by stone walls, houses, pubs, trees and rocks. If it’s not something solid for them to crash into, it’s the vast expanse of the mountain. The course winds up the mountain on the north of the island, where there is nothing to stop you being thrown into the valley below if you get it wrong – and on a bike capable of over 200mph, it’s easy to get it wrong.

These two very talented and extremely brave chaps tested out two Morgan 3 Wheelers, a Stage 1 tuned 3 Wheeler from the Williams Morgan and a brand new JAP 3 Wheeler modified and tuned by Krazy Horse, also upgraded to Stage 1, but with a custom mapped ECU and special exhausts. Paul Beamish, owner of Krazy Horse, trailered this car up from the showroom in Bury St Edmunds to meet us in Southport.

Krazy Horse, as some of you will know, sells big American motorbikes, burgers, beer and Morgans and is the result of Paul Beamish’s love of all things larger than life. Needless to say, he arrived in style. Towing his new JAP-engined baby in a racecar style trailer, his tow car was a bizarre Chevrolet pick-up. With time tight, we unloaded the JAP car and took off with haste to the ferry in Heysham.

With feet to the floor in both the JAP 3 Wheeler and the Ford Focus support vehicle – we arrived two minutes late. Luckily, they let us board. Settling on the boat and enjoying a bite to eat, we thought the worst of the drama was behind us – naively, as it would turn out. Next stop, the Isle of Man.

After the ferry docked, we set off to the start/finish to let the Harrisons blast round the circuit they know so well in the 3 Wheelers. Dean started off in the Krazy Horse JAP car and Conrad in the Williams machine. They snaked off into the distance with the wheels spinning on the damp tarmac and big grins on their faces. Clearly enjoying themselves, the TT racers put the 3 Wheelers through their paces.

They continued onwards to Glen Helen, through to Handley’s Corner and to Kirk-Michael. The cars ate up the road and look spectacular as they winded through the iconic Isle of Man villages.

Heading through the left-right of Braddan Bridge, past Union Mills and onwards to Ballacraine, the racers seemingly needed no time to get to know their new vehicles. As TT racers, they have an intuitive understanding of grip and power delivery.

They continued onwards to Glen Helen, through to Handley’s Corner and to Kirk-Michael. The cars ate up the road and looked spectacular as they winded through the iconic Isle of Man villages. After a good run, at about the halfway point on the circuit, we pulled over at Ballaugh Bridge where Dean and Conrad jumped out and gave their initial verdict on the cars.

“These are built for fun!” Conrad shouted. “It’s seriously got the umph!” He walked around the car and took it in. “You really have to drive this thing, it’s not doing anything to help you. It’s a simple machine. It reminds me of my sidecar – I feel like it could do with handlebars!” Conrad continued, explaining how direct the car feels, “It’s like a motorbike. It’s like my sidecar. On a normal car you have to turn the wheel a lot to get around corners, but with the 3 Wheeler you only have to move it a little bit.”

Dean was just as impressed: “These are great. With the thin front tyres and the big back tyre you’ve got the same amount of grip at the front as you’ve got at the rear, which means it’s brilliant to drift. It handles much better than I expected and it doesn’t lack grip at all,” Dean said. “You have to really do have to drive it. But saying that, it’s like an everyday car in traffic.”

Something else that impresses both racers is the Mazda gearbox. “That ‘box is fantastic. It makes sure you get a nice gear change.” Conrad states. “It’s very easy to get them tail happy, too.”

“They are a bit slower than I expected though,” Dean laughed. As somebody who’s used to getting around this circuit in less than 20 minutes, it’s not so surprising! Having driven the Williams car up from Southport, and now the JAP 3 Wheeler, Dean admitted that the Krazy Horse car has some serious edge. “This one has got much more torque and can go quite a bit faster, you can see it’s got 20-horse on the other one. Oh, and it sounds brilliant! Those pipes sound great. Both cars are fun though.”

Of course, the thrill of going around the TT on the superbike is pretty much incomparable – but how was it in the 3 Wheeler? “I’m used to leaning over, and the 3 Wheeler doesn’t move – so that’s different! Going over bumps you think the suspension is quite soft, but it’s solid in the corners and goes round quite well.

“I didn’t expect it to be as stable – I thought there would be a bit of body roll, but there’s hardly any! Also, you’re in an open top car so you feel as exposed as you do on a bike. These cars are about having a lot of fun and they deliver.” When asked about the build of the cars Dean responds: “They’ve been faultless. That said, there’s not enough on them to go wrong!”

Heading out for the final half of the circuit, this is when Dean asked if I’d like a ride. There were spots of rain in the air, but I popped on a helmet and got in. Dean drove off first, with Conrad behind. We headed down Sulby Straight and the rain started to fall. Passing Glen Duff and around Hairpin, I could see the mountain approaching, shrouded by a dark grey cloud.

The rain was pelting my visor, but I could see the speedo is reading over 100mph.

We accelerated toward the mountain section where there is a no speed limit zone. Although the island has speed limits in the built up areas, the roads on the mountain don’t have any limit at all. Dean decided to see what this little Mog can do. The rain was pelting my visor, but I could see the speedo is reading over 100mph. We drifted around corners with Dean constantly correcting with the steering wheel as the back end threatened to step out.

On our right there was a very steep drop down to a valley with only a barbed wire fence lining the road, on our left the view alternated between muddy banks and solid walls. We rounded the corner at Mountain Box – visibility was very poor. The car squirmed under Dean as he took corners at frightening, but controlled speed.

We slowed down and pulled over at Bungalow to let Conrad catch up. The bungalow is at quite a high point, not easy to see from the road at the best of times. We could hear the roar of a V-Twin as Conrad drove by, not seeing that we’d pulled over.

Pulling out to follow his dad, we headed under the bridge at Brandywell and round Windy Corner, which lived up to its name. The wind howled round as the rain started to hammer off our helmets at a horizontal angle. The 3 Wheeler shifted across the road, but Dean caught it before we got to the edge.

Conrad wasn’t so lucky. “Oh no,” Dean shouts over the engine and wind noise. As we approach Keppel Gate there were deep tracks in the mud and broken bollards. At first it was hard to see where the car was. The 3 Wheeler had gone backwards down the side of the mountain, hit a wooden stake and made contact with a stone marshals’ building.

The conditions had quickly become dangerous and they had caught Conrad out. The 3 Wheeler was quite badly damaged from what we could see, with its front right wheel askew. Conrad thankfully emerged relatively unscathed, although plastered in mud. “I aquaplaned on the water and the wind was very strong, I couldn’t catch it as it span and that was it – I was down here in the mud.” Conrad explains. “The car was faultless, but in these conditions anyone can get it wrong.”

Making light of the situation Dean says, “You’d have thought it would be me that crashed! He’s the one with the three-wheel experience!” The Mog had made contact with the wooden stake that had broken its front steering and damaged the chassis and ended up inches away from the marshal’s hut. Had the car hit at a different angle, or had Conrad touched the brakes a moment later, things could have been much worse.

“In these conditions anyone can get it wrong.”

As shocked as our crew were, Conrad seemed unfazed at his near miss – the mentality of a TT racer. “I’ve seen my friends die here,” Conrad later explained. “But it’s not something you think about whilst you’re racing. It’s a dangerous place, they don’t show you the worst bits on TV.”

It just goes to show, you can know this place like the back of your hand and it can still surprise you. The TT roads lived up to their dangerous reputation and very nearly claimed another life – it certainly claimed a Morgan. Is the TT the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’? Probably. Is the Mountain Course the most terrifying circuit on Earth? Definitely.

 

Specification

Williams 3 Wheeler

  • Williams branding
  • Silver metallic
  • Black leather Interior
  • Garage 56 sports exhaust
  • Garage 56 Stage 1 air filter

Krazy Horse JAP 3 Wheeler

  • Red with JAP logo
  • JAP branded valve and cam drive covers
  • JAP graphics and JAP branded interior
  • Modified cooling fan assembly
  • Krazy Horse Stage One turnout exhausts
  • High performance Air filter assembly
  • Krazy Horse Bob-air valve
  • Krazy Horse Stage One ECU (Electronic Control Unit) optimised for drive-ability using their rolling road

Thanks

Many thanks to Paul Beamish and Krazy Horse for providing the JAP 3 Wheeler, Williams for their 3 Wheeler and the Morgan Motor Company for picking up the pieces!