Isle of Man TT2004
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Island Racer TT04

2004 Island Racer

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The Fisher King

The Fisher King
Rob Fisher, who retired this year, has won more sidecar TTs than any
other man. Phil Turner visits the man to pay tribute.

Rob Fisher's route to the TT was a little unconventional, to say the least. Borrowed bikes, Tony Pond's videos and anonymous adverts for racing bikes all played their part in propelling the West Cumbrian chargehand fitter and motorcycle mechanic to the sidecar hall of fame. Rob takes up the story himself…
“I'd been invited to a dinner dance over in the North East. Geoff Bell was there. He'd had an accident at the Southern 100 that year and was going to lend me his Formula one outfit for the British Championships, but Geoff was a big TT fan as well. I don't know whether it was Geoff or whoever but it just happened to be in ‘Pit Bits' in Motorcycle News that Rob Fisher was looking for an outfit to do the TT with. I'd never even given it a thought.”

Rob started his racing career riding sidecar motocross at just 16 and after a brief spell at local level he swapped seats and had half a season as passenger at British Championship level, “That was just way too hard. I wasn't enjoying it but desperately wanted to carry on and thought the easiest way now is to make the switch to road racing.”
Rob approaches Governor's Bridge on the 600 LMS on his way to a record-breaking tenth TT win in 2002Rob acquired a GT750 Kettle outfit from a local lad and, once again, quickly progressed from local level to Grand Prix. Rob and his passenger at the time were splitting costs 50/50, but after his colleague started to feel the pinch and lost enthusiasm, they nearly threw in the towel. Perseverance saw the team take two British Championships in '91 and '92, but lack of funds almost broke them completely and Rob decided to call it a day.

It was then that an offer of a Honda CBR600 outfit came via a Motorcycle News ad. A month before the ‘93 TT, Rob and passenger Vince Butler organised a test session at Mallory but the machine just wasn't up to scratch. “I was good friends with Eddie Wright at the time and I knew Eddie had three formula two bikes so I asked if we could borrow one and that's where it all took off really – Eddie was my sponsor for the next few years. It was a brand spanking new Jacobs bike with a new FZR engine in it, it was a belter! We had enough time to do one British Championship round on it before the TT, at Donington which we finished second in, I was delighted.”
For the few weeks Rob had to prepare for the TT, he watched Tony Pond's car lap videos religiously to try and get a feel for the course, “When I got there, I knew exactly where the corners were, but it was just the distance between them that caused the problems. On the video it looks shorter.” Amazingly Rob and Vince took sixth position in race A, with a 100.57mph average, but in race B the petrol pump gave up and that was that.
Rob's intention was to do just one year on the Island, just for the experience, but the failed pump made him even more determined to go back next year, and what a comeback it was.

In '94, now partnered by Mick Wynn and using a stock FZR600 engine bought from a breakers' en route to the Island, Rob blasted to a win in both races and put in the week's fastest three-wheeler time in the process — an unofficial record at 104.53mph. “The second year we had much more time to prepare. Vince was doing his own thing, he was actually a driver and he had just stepped in to help us. When Mick got on board with us I was starting to get a bit of a team together, plus Mick had already done the TT so he knew his way round. It just all fell into place really.”
In 1995 Rob retained his crown, when he and Boyd Hutchinson once again took both wins.
On his way to the double in '94: "The second year we had much more time to prepare...It just all fell into place really” Race A went into the bag at 106.47mph, a new race record speed, with a 107.16mph record lap. Race B proved even faster with yet another record average of 107.58mph, but not without incident…
“My crash at May Hill? I suppose I can say as they're not sponsoring me anymore! I'd been testing tyres, we'd had a bit of a problem on the run down to Ramsey and when I came into May Hill and went to steer, the rubber sat on the road and the carcass flexed, so it didn't turn. I give it a big pull and it just went sideways into the wall, must have been around 80mph. We were just really lucky, it flipped both of us out. Boyd went right up the middle of the road and I went along the edge of the wall. There was no real damage initially, I knew I'd hurt my shoulder but it was a couple of years later when I ended up having my shoulder stapled back together, it had torn the lining. The worst part was lying in hospital, not knowing how bad the bike was and thinking that was my TT over.”

Rob's biggest rival on the circuit, Dave Molyneux, jumped to his aid that year and straightened out the outfit so Rob could continue. Dave himself had been having problems with his machine but took time out to help. “Molly's been my biggest rival at the TT since I started, but we do get on really well. I asked him if he'd sort the bike out for us. He needn't have even said no, all he had to do was make himself scarce, but he didn't and I went out and beat him in the next race!”
“That's the kind of atmosphere you get really, it gets a bit tense towards race day, but everyone's very, very helpful. You'll never get that on short circuits, the atmosphere's brilliant. That's one thing that I will miss.”
Despite his best efforts, Rob finished second to Molly in both races the following year and in '97, despite getting off to an early lead in race A, and setting the fastest lap from a standing start, the Baker Yamaha's engine self-destructed. In race B, Fisher put things right, taking the win by 64.4 seconds, despite doctor's orders to rest after injuring his leg at Cadwell Park the previous month. Fisher led from start to finish, with a fastest lap (110.45mph) almost two mph quicker than his rivals.
Molly and passenger Doug Jewell took their DMR (Dave Molyneux Racing) Honda to victory the following year, when the lousy weather marking Honda's 50th birthday celebrations allowed only one sidecar race to be run. After qualifying second fastest, Rob again retired when his engine blew at Quarry Bends on lap one of the race.
In 1999 Rob placed second in race A, at 108.54mph and notched up another win in race B, at an average of 108.76mph, but it was the following year when things really took off for the Cumbrian.

With main rival Molyneux out of the picture due to World Championship commitments, Fisher and Rick Long comfortably qualified quickest. In race A, the duo took full advantage of their main rivals' mechanical gremlins, for Holden and Bell pulled out on the first lap. Fisher held a lead of almost 30 seconds going into the second lap, one which would be his fastest ever at 110.71mph. Despite rain on the final lap, Rob held on to take his seventh TT win, over a minute ahead of the second-placed pairing of Gary Horspole and Kevin Leigh.
Race B, however, proved an altogether tougher propositon. It wasn't until the final lap that Rob managed to take the lead from Ian Bell and Neil Carpenter, when they came off at Barregarrow. Fisher cruised to the finish, 64 seconds clear of Norbury and Smith in second.

1995, and the bubbly was richly deserved: a second sidecar double in as many years, this time with Boyd Hutchinson in the chairRob Fisher's final trip to the Island in 2002 saw him take his ninth win in race A, joining the likes of Mick Boddice, Dave Saville and Siggi ‘Sideways Sid' Schauzu in the sidecar hall of fame. He made it look easy, finishing 21 seconds ahead of Ian Bell, but the race was not without mishaps. Cement on the road at Sulby Bridge nearly had Fisher out, as did a spectator crossing the road on the Mountain Mile. In Race B Fisher started ten seconds behind Molyneux on the road, but once he caught up the pair treated the crowd to some of the most spectacular sidecar action the Isle of Man had seen for a long time. At the finish, Fisher's advantage was 14 seconds, putting him alone at the top of the all-time sidecar standings with ten wins.
But what of the machines which took Rob to his impressive number of finishes? “I liked all the bikes I rode for different reasons. The first bike I went to the TT with was made by Colin Jacobs. It was quite heavy on the steering but it made it very positive on the road. For a first timer I thought it was very good. But the faster I got I needed a bike that was more stable. The next one I got was one of Molly's. Very, very stable but just a little bit light. After that I bought one off Tony Baker. I always liked Tony's bike cause I helped with the development.”

Listening to the man himself describe how he watched Pond's videos three weeks before his first TT to learn the course, makes his achievements on the Island even more amazing. To get the newcomer's award and finish sixth first time out without ever having ridden the course is breathtaking alone, not to mention the successful years that followed. But what sticks out in Rob's mind about his time on the Isle of Man isn't the ten wins, or the fact he's now part of TT history. “The high point for me,” he enthuses, “was winning for the first time and it's gotta be. Just the disbelief that you've done it, even though you know you can do it, it's just finishing that hundred-odd miles, it takes a lot of doing.”

Although he's keeping himself more than busy with two jobs on the go and a family to look after, Rob is keen to have another crack at the British, or even the World Championships and is still very much part of the scene. His response to this year's changes to the TT was positive: “I think they're a good thing, Knocking morning practice on the head is a good thing especially. I did enjoy morning practice myself but the more the week went on, the more tiredness set in and by the time race day came you weren't as fit as you were at the beginning of the week. People are gonna be a lot more alert. Sidecar wise, having practice on Saturday and Wednesday is better in my opinion, too. It gives you more time to solve any problems set-up wise.”
Rob has no plans to go back to the Isle of Man in the future – although, his exact words were “I never say never…” and he even admits he would miss it himself; “Apart from the great atmosphere on the Island, the thing I miss most is the course itself. My favourite part? Well I like all of it from Ballacraine to Ramsey. I love all of that section ‘cause you can't really see what's coming, and what's round the corner. It's good fun to ride. Even the hairy bits are good fun. One of the most dangerous is Milltown Cottage, I enjoy it because we were going through there flat out and you've got to hold a really tight line, fantastic! “
But, I've no plans to go back. I've done what I wanted to over there. I didn't aim to get the record of wins really, but as it's turned out I've been fortunate. Watch this space.”

End of article. The 2004 Island Racer has many articles like this, with more stunning photography and technical details.

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