For a couple of years the Italian participation in the Isle of Man TT increased from the usual solitary Stefano Bonetti to a three riders line-up, with Marco Pagani and Alex Polita alongside the more experienced “Bonny”.
At this year’s Tourist Trophy, though, Bonetti will be one more time the only “Italian” rider on the Mountain Course, with Pagani and Polita calling it a day.
Thirtyfive years old truck driver Marco Pagani was the first of the duo to join Bonetti at the TT, after one year at the Manx Grand Prix in 2014 achieving the crown of the fastest Italian rider ever at the Manx. He stepped up to the TT in 2015, 2016 and 2017, every time with his private S1000RR BMW, with a best personal lap of 124.1 mph average speed. Pagani competed also in the historical Imatra as a wild-card in the International Road Racing Championship in 2016, adding the Finnish race to his road racing palmares after years as a non professional short circuit racer. “Phagaci”, though, now withdraws from 2018 road racing season, giving up (for now?) even his long-lasting dream of competing in the world’s fastest road race, the Ulster Grand Prix.
The same goes for Alex Polita, who, after a brilliant career in World Superbike Championship, Superstock (he was world champion in 2006), BSB, CIV and Endurance, in 2016 set his attention on “the queen of the races”, as he describes the Isle of Man TT. As a newcomer riding for the experienced Penz13.com alongside team mates like Michael Rutter, Gary Johnson, Dan Kneen and Danny Webb, the thirtythree years old from Jesi has been captured by the atmosphere of the road races. And it was mutual, as the beautiful Polita family has been welcomed straight away in the paddock. After setting his best lap on the TT course in 122.33 mph in 2017, Polita achieved three podiums in Imatra (IRRC) narrowly missing out the victory. Afterwards, he ended the season in China at the infamous Macau GP: a strong experience which has had its own amount of importance on Polita’s decisions.
Alex, Marco, unfortunately we will not see you at this year’s TT. Can you explain the reason of your choice?
Alex Polita: First of all there’s the “start permission” problem with the Italian Federation. I knew from June 2017 that we would have had this problem and I was really hoping for something to change, but it was not so. For this year, therefore, I decided to be loyal to FMI because I’ve always been helped and supported by them in my career. Apart from the “start permission” problem, who knows. Of course I will miss the thrill of the road races but I already told you during last year’s TT that I was unsure whether coming back to the Isle of Man or not, even if I’ve never lost the will, because it’s like a drug. Probably I will miss the IRRC more than the TT, because IRRC circuits suit my riding style more than the Mountain Course and I think I could have won the championship this year. To be honest, every time I started a new project in my career I set myself the win as my only goal, ambitiously, yes, but I wouldn’t be a rider if I didn’t think like that. What could I have achieved at the TT? 15th position? 20th position? The first ten riders are unreachable in my eyes, so what’s the point in going there and risk for a 15th position? I would have never won a TT, this is the true, it’s a race Italians will never win. Macau, on the other hand, is a place I would never ever come back.
Marco Pagani: During last year I changed my everyday job, now I’m self-employed and this got things more difficult in term of time for organizing a racing season. It’s been very demanding even being at the TT in 2017. When I came back home in June I was worn out, I really needed a break and I started to think about what else I really wanted to do. Now I have a couple of other interesting projects that I will possibly reveal in April. I’m working on them for the moment and they are very different from the TT. The TT took up most of my time and energy in the past four years and being just a private rider and not a professional one, with a normal job and little spare time per day, you need to choose what to do at some point in your life. You can’t do everything. I just felt the need to try and do something else, even if I know very well that I will miss the Mountain Course and all the people I’ve met on the Isle of Man, I will really miss them all. It feels so strange thinking that I will not set myself down Bray Hill in a few months. I will follow the live timing and if I can have a few days off work I will take a flight to go as a spectator.
Is it a goodbye for now or forever?
Alex Polita: I think it’s a goodbye for now. I need to think about what I want to do. I’d like to do the Classic TT though, we will see in 2019.
Marco Pagani: It’s not a goodbye forever, I already feel the need to come back riding on the Mountain Course, let’s see if it will be possible next year. On the other hand, if my new projects will be long term I could be back to the Manx GP in a few years competing in the Junior and Senior classes. By the way, I would need a more laid-back approach!
What are you going to do in 2018 then?
Alex Polita: I will ride the SB Corse BMW in the National Trophy in Italy and I will do the Endurance World Championship as well. It’s like coming back home. I choose this “minor” championship because I just wanted to build up my pace again after a couple of years away from the short circuits, but it looks like a lot of strong riders will compete in it!
Marco Pagani: I can’t really say anything before April, it’s part of the contract. I’m working on a “racing project” and also on another one for which I won’t need a licence, both regarding motorbikes and passion of course.
So what do you think about the decision of the FMI to deny start permissions for the road races?
Alex Polita: As I said, I decided to be loyal to the Italian Federation which has supported and helped me a lot during the past few years. I don’t think it’s right for me to change Federation just for a whim. Yep, a whim, because I knew from the start that the TT was not a race I could have won, so it was a whim, something I wanted to do once in my life.
Marco Pagani: I’m disappointed I can’t represent my Country in the International road races but there’s nothing I can do about it. I just have to take note of it and find a solution. Who doesn’t want you doesn’t deserve you. I don’t want to discuss about their decision. I will ask for a licence in Slovenia, there is a very good Federation there.
Can you tell me which have been the best and the worst moment for you in those years in road racing?
Alex Polita: I’ve had loads of good moments, it’s certainly been a great experience. I am usually very critic with what I do but this time I would give myself a 7.5/8 because I showed I can take on new challenges without making a fool of myself. I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone, just to myself. The best moment has been my first ever lap of the TT on my own in 2016, when I finally realized what I was going to face, when I realized my dream was becoming reality.
The worst moment has been last November in China, what I saw in Macau. Everybody knows the risks in road racing but I probably wasn’t prepared enough to face what happened over there. Maybe us Italians struggle to understand some situations and behaviours, British people act differently, they think differently, both riders and families. In Macau I also struggled to understand why some riders were out celebrating just a few hours after they were crying in the garages for our fellow rider. Their attitude is completely different from ours.
Marco Pagani: The best moment for me has been the Manx GP in 2014, you never forget your first time on the Mountain Course! The first ever lap on my own has been completely breathtaking, something that just 8.000 people out of 6 billions on this Earth has experienced. And, trust me, there’s nothing similar you can do on a motorbike! Another great moment was my last lap in the Junior Race at an average speed of 117.295 mph, becoming the fastest Italian rider ever at the Manx. I will never forget it. It was a pity I lost half practice week because of problems on the bike; with the pace I had in the Junior Race I could have battled for the win in the Newcomer Race with Malachi Mitchell-Thomas and Billy Redmayne, but I didn’t have enough laps under my belt to try and push harder. It’s something you will never have anymore, you are newcomer just once. I’m proud anyway for what I did and for having always used my brain other than the gas! Another great moment was at the Ulster GP 2013, as a spectator, when my friend Davide Ansaldi received the “Spirit of the Ulster GP Award”; a recognition like that represents a personal achievement that a Federation like the Italian one could never understand: dedication, sacrifice, passion, determination, the fulfillment of your dreams just with your own strength. Davide Ansaldi and Dario Cecconi are a true example of this.
I’ve had a lot of bad moments, though, with all the riders and friends that I lost in the past few years, very often not for their fault. Dario is the first one. When I went to the Manx GP it was clear to me straight aways that it was not a joke: during one of the first practice sessions I started together with a fifty years old teacher; I came back in after a lap, he didn’t. Sometimes a perfect stranger’s fate is so close to you and you don’t even know; on the Mountain Course our fates are all linked. One night at the TT in 2015 I went to Franck Petricola’s awning to have a chat with him; the following day he had a fatal crash at Sulby Straight. It was touching, then, talking with his mum: a parent should never go through this. In 2016, again at the TT, Paul Shoesmith crashed right in front of me at Sulby and I avoided his bike for a thousandth of a second. I don’t know how I came out of that hell of smoke and fire at over 300 km/h. Just luck, or fate? In 2017 we all rode for two laps past Davey Lambert who was laying on the ground at Greeba Castle, and I just couldn’t understand why the race wasn’t red flagged. I met Davey at the Manx in 2014, we were both Newcomers, I lent him a part of my Kawa so he could race and he finished just two seconds ahead of me! I was also good friend with Alan Bonner from 2013, when I first saw him riding at the Ulster GP, a very talented rider with a great riding style. A few days before his fatal crash last June he was sitting behind me at the Prize Giving at Villa Marina. Alan is one of the three fatalities at the TT 2017, and it was not his fault at all; he crashed on the oil lost by another bike and not promptly signaled, on a 250 km/h right hander just before the 33rd Mile. I was behind him and I don’t know how I got through it; I run over the oil, I was going to lose control of the bike but eventually I saved it. Probably it was not my time. During the first lap of the Superstock Race I also saw Jochem van den Hoek laying at Birkins Bend; I didn’t know what happened, but I’ve been so sad about it, he was very young and we raced together in Imatra the previous year. I’ve also lost good neighbours in the paddock like Ian Bell and Andy Soar. This is the dark side of the TT, something that you know can happen but you would never want to live. Probably it would be easier to not being friend of anyone in the paddock, but it’s exactly the sharing of the same experiences, the same fears and the same feelings that can lead to special friendships. Only those who have lived this can understand; you don’t have to see or phone someone very often, just a glance is enough during that fortnight on the Isle of Man, wherever you are: while bikes are lining on Glencrutchery Road, or when you stop around the Course for a red flag, or at the Race Office, at Isla Schott Physiotherapy’s, even at the loo. It’s not important where you are, those eyes already know everything.
Thank you very much guys and good luck for whatever you’ll do!