When it comes to talking about the Tourist Trophy the mind goes directly to legendary names like John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson. Beyond them, though, there is a huge squad of heroic riders, we should say, ready to tackle the Mountain Course counting just on their own resources.
Hours and hours of restless work on the bikes, sleepless nights spent preparing all the stuff and then the thankless task of gathering money and funds in order to achieve this unique two wheels dream.
Among them, every year the TT awards the best privateer through the TT Privateers Championship, a sort of side championship for privateer riders only, based on the points gained in every race. The best privateer wins, in other words, the best rider who raced without any factory support.
This year the coveted prize went to a talented rider from Nottingham, Daniel Hegarty, who raced his RTR Motorcycles Kawasakis, a team entirely run by himself. “Hego” is not a new name to road racing, having competed with teams such as Norton (2013) and Ian Lougher’s Team ILR (2014-15) as well as in the British Superbike. But what he recently achieved, has been done with his own efforts.
He made his real road racing debut back in 2011 (supported by “thepeoplesbike”) with a stunning top 30 position in the Supersport race followed by an escalation that brought him to impressive results in 2016: he finished 13th in the Superbike Race, 11th in the Superstock and again 11th in the prestigious Senior Race. He also lapped at more than 128 mph. Hegarty won with 91 points the TT Privateers Championship ahead of Jamie Coward, with 72 points, thus gaining much attention.
Dan is a quiet but determined person and it was a pleasure to chat with him.
First of all, I’d like to congratulate for your achievement in the Privateers Championship at the TT. That was such a result!
I didn’t event expected it, really, and I didn’t even think about that. I just went racing like normal, trying to get into the top ten and to win the Championship was a big surprise for me.
What was your reaction at the end of the fortnight, finding yourself at the top of the chart?
Well I got to the point, sort of halfway through, where I said ‘Wow, I’m leading the Championship! This could be possible, actually’. People kept saying I should focused on winning that, but I said ‘I’m not going to change’. I just kept my focus and tried to do the best I could in every race. ‘If the Championship happens, it happens’, that was the way, and it did. Sometimes things go wrong, but this time everything was right.
I think it is a great satisfaction to win the Privateers Championship. How do you prepare your racing? Do you build your motorbikes by yourself?
Yeah, I own my motorbike shop, RTR Motorcycles. I started it up ten years ago to support my racing. It’s very good for me because sometimes I rode for a team, but when things go wrong I have always myself to pull back on. I was with a Team last year, but they folded in January. I was supposed to be riding for them again and that was ok because everything I had to worry about was the riding, and then they folded. So I was on my own again. Anything we did this year was since January. I invested in a motorcycle dyno in December. It was just a coincidence that we then needed it as well to go racing. So I can develop things by myself with the dyno.
What are your plans for the season after the TT?
So, I’d like to get the funds to do the rest of the year. I want to do the Southern 100 on the Isle of Man. I want to do the Ulster GP and the Classic TT. That’s looking good.
Do you prepare the bike for the Classic TT by yourself as well?
No. I couldn’t take anymore. I couldn’t try and do that as well. Even if somebody offered me a bike to run myself I’d say no, because I couldn’t do it. I want to just go and ride somebody else’s bike and trying to get a competitive one. When it comes to preparing I’m going to concentrate on what I know, which is the modern stuff.
So you’re going to do the Southern, the Ulster and the Classic TT. Is that the plan?
Yes. And I’d like to do the Scarborough Gold Cup. When I was on the Isle of Man the Macau Grand Prix organizers came around and they asked me if I’d been interested in doing the Macau and we went to the meeting. That’s not confirmed but it’s looking quite positive.
How do you train during the season? What’s your kind of training and how do you prepare for the season?
I do a lot less in the summer. I don’t do much training because I’m riding the bikes more. In the winter I train probably seven night in a week. I play football, I do circuit training twice a week and then I do one strength training like going to the gym to keep me strong. I’d say the best thing for me is the circuit training, like 45 intense minute twice a week. That’s what helps me the most. I have a really bad elbow because I smashed it six years ago. That’s really weak so I spend a lot of time just working and getting strong again because the stronger I get the better I can be on a bike.
How do you start your racing career? Did you started as a road racer or a circuit rider?
I started in 2003 and I did Club racing on a Kawasaki KR1S 250. I rode it for two years and learnt a lot. Then I built up in the years and I did circuit racing until 2010. I did the British Championship and I started well as a privateer, being in the top ten regularly. But that’s when I smashed my elbow up in 2010. It was really a bad injury and they had to nearly take my arm off. Since then I did some short circuit racing with reasonable results but I can’t be quite as fast now as I used to be because my arm is not very strong. Then I got into road racing and I did the Isle of Man and that’s a different kind of riding. It’s more about accuracy and smooth and planning your riding. That’s why I love it. It’s such a challenge. It’s the accuracy I like the most.
In terms of comparing the two kinds of racing, short circuit and road racing, which are the positive aspects of road racing you like? We all know it’s like a big family and the risk involved is very high, but at the same time that create a sort of brotherhood between the people. What do you reckon?
Yeah. Because it’s so dangerous I think it cuts all the bullshit. And it makes it real and pure. Even if I do it myself I still admire all the other riders knowing what they are doing. I think that makes the whole thing real. We admire each other.
Do you have any particular feedback from your family?
Well, I hard with the children because my oldest son is nine years old now and he understands things and he can go on YouTube himself and get facts and statistics, like how many riders have died in the years. It really scared him for a long time, so I found myself explaining it to him. But then I took him with me at the TT and he loved it as much as I me. He got through the stage where he was scared and asked a lot of questions and I didn’t understand why he did it. My parents are really scared (laughs). I wouldn’t like to be them, because it’s hard for me going riding. I just switch off and focus on what I’m doing ad forget how many people are at home worrying. I just told them I’m as focus as I can to minimize the risk.
You previously raced for Norton and for Ian Lougher’s ILR Team. How were these experiences with them? Norton achieved great results this year, but back in the days it wasn’t as good as this year.
Well, at Norton they weren’t prepared for the Isle of Man TT when I was riding for them. They were a young team and inexperienced and they probably weren’t ready for the TT. They spend a lot of money developing the bike. I wasn’t involved after the year when I rode, but they kept working and working and the hard work seemed to pay off this year because they’ve shown the bike’s potential. They paid a lot of people and a lot of money to do it and I always think that perhaps if they’ve stuck with me we could have grown together as they promise we would have when I signed. But they started showing some good potential now.
I think that switching from a bike to another and from a team to another doesn’t pay off at places like the TT.
No, because it takes a long time to get a set up for the bike. But also the team, because it’s such a close relationship. You want to know your team intimately and you want them to know you, what you like of the bike. Although I haven’t been with a team for more than two years I’d like to have a long term relationship. My dream is to be John McGuinness and being with a factory team for a long time. Or Joey Dunlop with his relationship with Honda. I aspire to be like that and to get in a team that look after me be loyal to them. I like loyalty.
Do you take any particular mechanic with you at the TT?
Actually that’s only me so I don’t have a real mechanic. I have a really good friend, Paul Thompson. He’s been helping me out for years and I don’t go racing without him. If he stops I would stop myself. He doesn’t get paid a lot of money.. Well, he doesn’t get paid by me but he’s always been there chasing the dream with me.
It’s just for passion and friendship.
Yes, that’s right. Absolutely.
What was the best moment at 2016 TT for you?
Well, it’s always the last lap of the Senior and finishing that race. Crossing the start finish line and turning around the service road you know you have finished another year and your going home safe. That’s always the best moment for me.
I’d like to say a couple of things about Ian Lougher…
I really enjoyed my experience with him, because he is quite similar to John McGuinness. He had a long career in road racing and it’s very hard to do. He taught a lot to me. There was a moment where I was less experienced with setup and I listened to him and he stopped me growing the wrong way. The best thing I learned off him is to make decisions slower. He’s done well for a reason and to watch him making decisions a lot wisely is what I learnt. Just slow a little bit and think about things really thoroughly before making a decision. He is a really wise man.
So he was a really good teacher for you.
Thank you very much Dan for the interview. We’ll see during the season.
Thank you too!