What is the Isle of Man TT?
I must confess that compared to their four-wheel counterparts, motorbikes have always been relegated to the sidelines for me. I’ve watched the occasional MotoGP races of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi battling wheel to wheel; but despite reporting on the Isle of Man TT for a number of years on behalf of Dunlop Tyres; 2018 would be the first time I was able to experience the TT, or any kind of motorcycle race, first hand. And it changed everything.
For over a century, some of the world’s most daring men have made the annual pilgrimage to the 37.73 Snaefell Mountain course to experience the ultimate thrill. Held over two weeks in May and June, these riders take part in a series of races across a variety of classes of bikes. Reaching speeds of up to 200mph, riders hurtle around the infamous road racing circuit in search of eternal glory. Due to the nature of road-racing, it comes hand-in-hand with inherent danger; and unfortunately accidents happen more frequently than anyone would like to see. Don’t let this deter you though; speak with any of the riders and you’ll understand that the risk is something they are willing to overcome just for the chance to ride the Isle of Man TT course.
Speaking with the man of the moment
This became apparent to me whilst sitting with Peter Hickman in the back of his garage on the Monday afternoon. He had just claimed his first ever Isle of Man TT win in the Superstock class; breaking the record in the process with an average speed of 134mph on Dunlop’s road legal tyres. Now, just a few hours later after achieving a lifelong dream; the pair of us sat reflecting on the gripping race as we filmed a piece for The Sun Newspaper. Peter’s background is on ‘short circuits’ in the British Superbike Championship; but he has led somewhat of a revolution in recent years; attracting many more riders to take up dual duties on both closed circuits and road racing.
“No one puts a gun to our heads, we obviously understand what we’re doing.” He remarked. “A few years back I was riding in the BSB at Oulton Park during qualifying and came off. I slid across the circuit and unfortunately my bike hit me; I broke my back and was immediately sent to hospital. Still wanting to race though, I discharged myself and made my way back to the circuit. The only thing that stopped me riding the next day was the Clerk of the course. It’s the same desire with the TT, no one could stop me. We’re reaching speeds now that seemed unimaginable five years ago – could we do 135mph? Most likely, but I don’t think we’d too!”.
Words he would eat just days later as he set the ultimate lap record en-route to his Senior TT win, with an average speed of 135.452mph, the fastest anyone has ever lapped the mountain.
It’s understandable why it becomes an itch you just have to scratch each year. I had arrived on the island just a couple of days before but had already begun to fall in love with the place. Alongside my Momentum Social business partner Jake Cawthorne (otherwise known as The Debonair) we had flown over to provide on-event social media support for Dunlop Tyres UK. Compared to many other sporting events, we were both immediately staggered by the sense of ‘community’ that fills the paddock; the circuit and in the capital, Douglas. Whereas in many sports you get opposing fans clashing, here, the only love is here for the Isle of Man TT itself; whether you’re sitting in one of the many beer gardens or on the sea front watching one of the evening motorcycle displays; fans become friends no matter their age, nationality or background. Whether you’ve supported the TT for decades or it’s your first venture, you feel instantly welcome and at home. There’s no sides here, just a shared passion among many.
Nothing can prepare you for what you are able to witness though as the riders leave the gate. Once they receive that tap on the shoulder; the surrounding world and thousands of fans become nothing but a blur as they scream down Bray Hill for the first time. Standing at the side of the track; it seems unbelievable that you can be standing just metres from them as they fly past. Unlike other motorsports in recent years, you are not hidden behind a mass of catch-fencing either. An unobstructed view adds even more to the spectacle, even if it is controversial.
Watching with a TT legend
One man who would join us trackside during qualifying was legendary Isle of Man TT rider; and 23-time winner, John McGuinness. Following an accident at the Nw200 last year, John has been forced to sit on the sidelines while his leg recovers. Coincidentally, the last time we had met with John at the Isle of Man TT media day; he walked to our interview for the first time unaided in 9 months. His road to recovery looked on-course for him to return; only for a last-minute fracture to leave him wondering what could have been. The man is a true hero of the sport. Alongside the Dunlop family, he has risen the profile of road racing tremendously. A demon on any manufacturers bike, and a true gentleman to talk to off one, he is adored by fans around the world.
“Of course I’d rather be riding. I’ve been coming to the TT for as long as I can remember, it’s everything to me. Not being able to take part this year obviously hurts, but I’m glad I was able to get out on the Norton as I felt I owed it to the fans. Some think I should hang up the leathers, and if I think back the perfect time would have been after winning the Senior in 2015. But all I want to do is ride, and I know deep down I’ve still got something in me to compete. People ask me why I still do it and it’s quite simply because I love the Isle of Man TT.”
What makes the Isle of Man TT so special
Hearing McGuinness recall so many memories through the years was inspirational. I’m under no illusions as to how privileged I am to have a job that puts me in such close proximity to these riders. For me, the most incredible part was watching the families faces of the riders as they entered the winners enclosure. Knowing that they had completed the gruelling endurance test and beaten it. For many its not about beating the dozens of other competitors, simply finishing is all the glory they need.
So for those that have always pondered heading to the Isle of Man TT. Or for those that want to experience what draws people from all over the world for those two weeks at the end of May each year; my advice to you is simple. Book the next available flight/ferry and head over for yourself. You wont regret the experience at all, and more than likely, like me, you’ll come back a road-racing fan.