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1988-90 1991-92 1993-94

Norton Rotary Racing Development- Middle Years 1991-1992
In the years 1991 and 1992, a change in the leading figures in the race team took place, in that Brian Crighton, the man behind the very first efforts, was mobbed out of the team and Barry Symmons and Ron Williams (of Maxton frames) took over. Symmons, a forceful and outspoken man, had no time for Crightons semi-artisan approach, but wanted things done systematically and according to his, and no-one else's, agenda. Crighton was equally adamant in his views on engineering development and team direction, and with characters as incompatible as these, something had to give.
It is true, that the team became far more professional in some respects, whilst on the other hand the learning curve that Crighton had already behind him was, in many ways, started again at the bottom with the NRS588 race bikes. Furthermore, the efforts of the "chassis guru" were not really complimented by the riders, TT winner Hislop commenting that the bike he first tried- as prepared by the works team- was practically unrideable, and had to be set up completely differently for the TT course. Obviously, the requirements of the Isle of Man are different to those of short circuit racing and it is to the credit of Hislop and his team that they changed the bike from unrideable to race-winner in such a short time.
Crighton, in typical one-upmanship, was at the same time making steps towards the good old days setting his latest chassis up with twin shocks. He claimed it worked better, and we suspect this is true, as the damping of the central units must have been adversely affected by the great heat of the rotary racing engine hitting it squarely, whilst twin shocks had the advantage of air cooling (unless they were under cover, as in the Commander, that is!).
A clever move by Simmons was to recruit "Rocket Ron" Haslam, a world-class development rider if at that time perhaps past his competitive peak, who must have led the team out of the woods in the handling department.

The first "post-Crighton" bike was this 1991 JPS Norton with new, Harris-built chassis.Whilst far more elegant in appearance perhaps than the 1990 machines, it took a long time to become as competitive as the previous seasons bike had been- ask the 2004 Ducati Moto GP riders about the symptom!
Brian Crighton, on the other hand, left with Steve Spray in tow to build and race the Roton and even had a short stint in Australia, where he was left penniless and stranded by his sponsor. His approach was "retro" rather than "modern", and he stuck to the 1990 works fairings as well as the Spondon chassis, whilst going over to twin shock rear suspension.
The oft-cited injection never came, though announced as imminent several times in "sensation" interviews of Crighton in MCN, nor did any clever electronic ignition equipment. Basically, the bikes were on the technical level with early 1970s bikes, having normal carburettors, pretty basic electronic ignitions, and engines whose main components were in most details identical to those of the late-seventies prototypes ("Cooke Neilsen"). Still good enough to take on, and beat, the latest opposition from the Land of the Rising Sun!
In the end, Norton did write history by winning the 1992 TT under the late Steve Hislop, who leased the bike and in so doing paid for the privilege to give Norton its last TT win (so far?), 85 years after its first under H.Rembrandt Fowler. Normally, this should have been the rotary racing swansong, and as far as the works team was concerned, it was.
picture of Roton by friendly permission of