Australian star Josh Brookes could be set for a return to the North West 200 after signing to ride for Norton at this year’s Isle of Man TT alongside fellow countryman David Johnson.
Brookes, who will return to the MCE British Superbike Championship this season with the TAG Racing-run Anvil Hire Yamaha team, will be back at the TT in June on the all-new SG6 machine following a two-year absence.
The former fastest newcomer around the Mountain Course clinched his best finish at the legendary event in the 2014 Senior with an excellent ride to seventh, lapping at 129.859mph on the Milwaukee Yamaha.
Brookes, who won the British Superbike title for the first time in 2015 before moving to World Superbikes last year with the Milwaukee BMW team, forms a strong line-up for the famous British marque with Johnson, who finished seventh in the Superbike TT last year, lapping at 130.872mph.
The TT remains the number one priority for the factory, but on Tuesday, Stuart Garner, Norton CEO, told the News Letter the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix were very much on his radar.
“The focus and the push is the TT, but we know the North West is a big deal and a big race, but we have avoided it in years gone by because we had been so deep in development with the SG series, we never felt the SG was fully developed enough to go and be competitive at the North West,” he said.
“We’d always taken the view that we’d be better off staying at the factory and continuing to develop the bike than competing at other races.
“But at some point, and we still haven’t ruled it out for this year, we’ll be there and we’ll race the North West either this year or next year – that’s the window we’re looking at to take it on – and maybe the Ulster Grand Prix as well.
“We’d always said that we need to get the bike competitive because we wouldn’t be going there to try and do some testing – we’ve got to be match-fit before we try and do those type of races,” he added.
“But with Davo’s seventh last year at the TT [in Superbike race] and particularly his lap time, I think we’re starting to feel that the bike is capable of challenging.
“In testing last year, we reached speeds of 204mph to 205mph, and I think the package is slightly faster this year and capable of between 208mph and 210mph in our straight-line speed testing. I’m not saying we’ll do that in a race, but that’s where our top speed is.
“If we continue to get the bike handling well and continue the development we saw at the TT, then why wouldn’t it be competitive at the North West and Ulster Grand Prix?”
Aussie Brookes, who finished as the runner-up in the feature Superbike race at the North West 200 in 2014, said he was delighted with the opportunity to return to the roads in 2017 in conjunction with his BSB commitments.
“Firstly I want to come back to the TT. After SMR said I couldn’t ride at the TT over the last two year, I’ve been desperate to get back and race at the island.
“I like the history of the Norton and it will be so great to be a little part of the Norton story. It’s just something that interests me, and I’m really excited by the project. It’s always hard to predict results, especially around the island, so I think it’s important that I let it come to me.
“I’ve not been for two years, and I don’t know how much the Norton bike has improved, but I hear great things about the bike.”
Brookes is targeting a 132mph lap at least and has his sights set on a high top-ten result in the Superbike and Senior races.
“My first ever race at the TT was in the Superbike and I got a top ten, so let’s hope we are better than that at least, but realistically if we finish the races without a problem and I’m in the 132mph club by the end of the fortnight then we’ll be celebrating.”
Meanwhile, his team-mate, Johnson, is confident of taking another step forward this year after an excellent display last June on his debut on the Norton, which became the fastest British machine ever to lap the TT after his 130.872mph lap in the Superbike event.
“As a team we did such a great job last year, we all worked awesomely as a team and I really felt at home with Norton. Without that sort of relationship with your team it’s almost impossible to get good results.
“I knew the 2017 bike was going to be better again after what we learnt in 2016, so I wanted to stay and make the next step with Norton.
“This year I know if everything goes smoothly with no problems we can battle for the podium, I’m ready to be up there and I feel the bike will be took,” Johnson added.
“But like I said, everything must be perfect as everyone is really flying these days. We had a small bike problem in the Senior TT last year which caused my concentration malfunction, but before that we were up dicing for a top five position and my ideal lap was 131.5mph, so I’m confident for good things this year.”
Both riders will compete on the all-new SG6, derived from the recently launched V4 SS road bike, for the Donington-based factory team.
The SG6 is hand-built at Norton’s Donington Hall factory and is currently undergoing a punishing development and testing schedule in the hands of two-time TT winner and Norton development rider, Steve Plater.
The SG6 will feature the V4 Aprilia CRT motor with Norton’s own V4 engine being raced in 2018. Heavily based on the TT racer geometry-wise, the V4 SS road bike is almost identical to the SG6 TT bike in terms of frame stiffness, weight distribution and chassis.
Ian Mackman, who rode for Norton in 2013, will join experienced Norton Race Manager Johnny Cusack in the team along with TT legend Mick Grant, who will continue in his role as Senior Advisor.
Norton boss Garner added: “There are a couple of reasons why we wanted to sign Josh Brookes. Firstly, he gives us the opportunity of a world class short circuit rider to move along the V4 road bike development, and secondly, with his TT rider experience and his achievement of being fastest newcomer in 2013, Josh is clearly capable of a 130mph-plus lap.
“Given the requirements of the team at this stage of the project this makes him a perfect rider for Norton.”
On Johnson, Garner said the Aussie’s performance last year more than sealed his place in the team for a second season.
“To come in last year and move the development on and do all but a 131mph lap was a huge achievement and ground-breaking for the team.
“There’s a huge amount of respect from everyone in the Norton team for everything he has achieved and Davo has more than earned his place back on the bike in 2017. We are looking forward to the new season.”