Racing for Keith Flint’s Team Traction Control in the British Supersport Evo championship, Steve Mercer is also tackling the Isle of Man TT for the sixth time. We caught up with him between races to see what it’s like in a new team, and how he’s getting on with his stable of GSX-R machines.
Steve Mercer is currently vying for the British Supersport Evo championship on a GSX-R600, partnering American James Rispoli in his first year in the British Superbike paddock. But the likeable lad from Kent is also back at the Isle of Man TT, and is happy to be back with a full stable of GSX-R machinery.
“The first time I was out here in 2009 it was on a Suzuki, and I really enjoyed riding it,” he explains. “When Keith spoke to me and was on about putting the team together this year and using Suzukis, I was quite keen for that. They’re a proven bike around here.”
This year, however, was the first time Mercer has competed on the smaller GSX-R600 machine, having always competed on Superbikes or Superstock machines before. In tricky conditions on Monday, with dry sections but a wet run over the Mountain, Mercer came away with a 17th placed finish, his first race on a Supersport machine at the TT. In the second Supersport race Mercer took his GSX-R600 to 12th place. Not bad for someone who’s never ridden a 600 around the TT course before.
“I’ve always only come here with one bike, which restricts track time. This is the first year I’ve done it on the little bike, the GSX-R600. Using more bikes, I’m sort of going to get a couple of years worth of experience in one year.
“On the little bikes you learn stuff that you don’t on the big bikes, and so they improve the way you ride the bigger bikes. The 600s are all about momentum and corner speed. When you’ve got over 180 – 200bhp, it doesn’t matter too much if you miss an apex here or there and doesn’t effect the lap time too much. You do that on the 600, you literally lose two or three seconds. You do that a couple of times a lap, lap times’ gone. But because the bigger bikes pick up their speed so quickly, it doesn’t effect it too much and you can claw it back a bit.
“The little bikes really teach you to be precise, so when you learn to ride like that and take that to the big un’, it improves your lap time even more.
“We’d done a bit of practice here on the 600 and also in the British Championship, as I’ve normally only ridden the bigger stuff, and we were getting there with the 600 and I’m learning to ride it around here. We were there or there abouts in practice, first time here on one, and I was pleased with the result in race one. In race two we improved and come away with 12th, which I was happy with and shows we’re getting there.”
Mercer is also in the hunt for the British Supersport Evo championship on the GSX-R600. He has spent the opening part of the season in the top three of the championship, but an electrical issue at Oulton meant a non-finish and dropped him out of the top three. However, he’s confident he and the team will bridge the gap and get back in the hunt.
“We started the season at Brands in the soaking rain, and it was a bit of a lottery, but after that, we’ve always been on the podium when we’ve finished. The bike’s good and we’ll get back up there. I’m confident of that.”
Saturday’s opening superbike race unfortunately ended in a retirement, with a problem with the fuel filter, but Mercer will campaign a GSX-R1000 Superbike in the Senior on Friday. He also finished 19th in the Superstock TT, after he was handed a 30 second time penalty for creeping over the speed limit in pit-lane when he was knocking on the door of the top 10.
“The GSX-Rs make such good road-racing bikes. They just give you bags of confidence. It’s a shame about the Superbike race but you’ve only got to look at the footage of Guy Martin to see how stable and in line the GSX-R is, when other people’s bikes are tying themselves in knots.
“The bike’s competitive. It handles so well, which is important around here, and it’s definitely fast enough when you look at the speeds through the trap.
“The chassis is forgiving and predictable, and that makes it easy to ride, which is what you want, especially around here, and it’s easy to ride fast. Some of the other bikes I’ve ridden over the years are a lot twitchier and quite nervous, whereas my bikes, the GSX-Rs, are dead stable.
“Which is the same when you then go and buy yourself a road bike. The GSX-R makes such a good road bike. It’s confidence inspiring. It’s fast and handles, but it’s also a bit of a gentleman’s bike, it makes you ride well. On the roads you need something that’s nice to ride and the Suzuki’s are nice to ride. People get so engrossed in this or that which is hard to pronounce and you don’t actually understand what it does, and actually forget what you’re going to do on these bikes. Without a doubt you’ll ride faster and better on a Suzuki on your average road than on anything else.
“The time penalty in the Superstock race was unfortunate, and we would have finished much stronger, but I was happy with the last lap though, of 125.2mph.”
So how do the likes of Mercer, Guy Martin and William Dunlop set off down Bray Hill on a bike nudging 200bhp?
“The first time I went down Bray Hill my brain couldn’t keep up; there was too much going on and I had to roll the throttle off,” Mercer explains. “I was thinking, ‘this is too fast’ and I couldn’t deal with it. I remember on the first lap when I got to the Creg and coming out the corner up toward the next left, it felt like riding in a tunnel because the banks are so high and things are flying by so fast, it definitely took a few laps to get used to that.
“Once you’ve done it for a couple of nights and you get in tune with it, it becomes slow. But even the first time you set off for practice on the Superbike you’re thinking, ‘how am I going to hang on to this thing for a week?’ But soon your brain’s in tune and catches up, you get used to it again.”
After the TT, the team’s attention returns to the Supersport Evo championship. But that’s not to say Mercer’s not eyed up the bigger bikes on the short circuits, too.
“I’d like to have a crack on the bigger bike in the British Championship. I jumped on it at a test at Cadwell two days before we came out here and went two seconds quicker than I’ve ever gone round there, first time out on it.
“I come back in and Keith goes, ‘would you like to do a bit of Superbike on it?’. I said, “well, you know…” and that’s about as far as it went!”