The Isle of Man TT bike races are held over this weekend and next week. But why should an F1 fan care about bike racing? Guest writer Adam Corlett explains.
You might expect veteran F1 commentator Murray Walker to pick Monte-Carlo or Silverstone as the home of the greatest race on earth. But no:
The Isle of Man TT is the greatest motor sport event of any kind in my opinion. Nowhere else has the tradition of the TT.
What’s so special about the TT? Read on to find out.
If, like most F1 fans, you are tired of sanitised racing at soulless Tilke-dromes with all challenge removed by acres of tarmac escape routes – the Isle of Man TT could be for you. Instead of run-off areas, tyre barriers and gravel traps think dry-stone walls, trees, hedgerows, telegraph poles and houses.
The Tourist Trophy began over a century ago in 1907 as a time trial for the primitive motorcycles of the day and rose to become the most prestigious event on the World Championship calendar. Once witnessing motorcycling greats such as Hailwood and Agostini, it lost World Championship status in 1976 due to safety concerns but the event survived to its centenary in rude health.
To many the TT is an example of motor racing in its purest form, to others it is a dangerous pariah in a world that has moved on. What is for certain is that there is nothing in the world of motor sport quite like the Isle of Man TT.
The world famous Mountain Course, first used in 1911, is made up entirely of closed public roads and is nearly three times the length of the Nurburgring Nordschleife. Modern superbikes complete laps at an average speed of 130mph through sleepy villages, narrow country roads and over the windswept mountain section.
Riders have to negotiate a hump-back bridge, tram crossings and begin the lap with the terrifying 160 mph run down Bray Hill in suburban Douglas. The entire course features exactly what you’d expect of public roads: manhole covers, pavements, and numerous bumps and camber changes that make this track extremely challenging to learn and even harder to master.
Unlike the North West 200 and other road racing events, the TT is strictly speaking a time trial rather than a race. The riders are set off at ten-second intervals, racing against the clock with spectators being kept informed of the positions on corrected time by radio. Although this means there is no racing for position, it can still aid the spectacle, as fans wait in suspense between each timing point to discover who’s in the lead.
This years TT will feature two 600cc Supersport races, a Superstock race for production bikes, and two six-lap, 226-mile long races for the 1,000cc superbike:; The Superbike TT and the Senior TT.
But the racing is not only confined to the solo bikes as the worlds best sidecar riders, including former world champion Tim Reeves, race in the less-than-imaginatively-named ‘Sidecar A’ and ‘Sidecar B’ races.
Continuing the same pioneering spirit that The Isle of Man began the 20th century with, the beginning of the 21st century again sees the Isle of Man TT as leading promoters of motorcycling technology with the first ever ‘TT Zero’ being held this year. Electric bikes will be pitted against the gruelling mountain course providing a huge challenge for the new technologies that may well provide the basis for motor sport in the future.
Racing on public roads is fraught with danger. No amount of straw bails or other safety features can make road courses completely safe, it is tragically the case that fatalities are unavoidable in the TT. The Mountain Course has claimed 227 lives since 1911.
There has been an important and subtle change since the event lost world championship status – no one is forced to compete. During the world championship era riders were often contractually obliged to compete even if they thought it was too dangerous where as today everyone who competes is doing so because of their love for the sport and the thrill of taking on the greatest challenge in motor sport; fully aware of the dangers. Many of the riders have lost close friends in road racing but their passion for the event remains too great to give it up.
The attitude of the riders is explained best by fan favourite Guy Martin “When you’re touching 200mph and there’s a drystone wall up ahead, let’s just say it concentrates the mind. That’s what gets me going. I like the idea that if you get it wrong you could end up in a bloody box.”
But when Valentino Rossi visited the island last year he had one word for the TT: “Crazy.”
How to follow the event
British fans have several ways to follow this year’s TT. For the past few years ITV4 has been providing excellent coverage of the event with nightly highlight programmes covering each of the races. Coverage is presented by Craig Doyle, Steve Parrish and Jamie Whitham and is equally suited to veteran fans or those watching the TT for the first time.
Highlight programmes will be shown every night at 9pm from now until the end of race week. The TT will also be getting more high profile TV coverage in Australia on Network 10 beginning on Friday 4th June. For details on TV coverage elsewhere check the TT’s website.
There is talk of live TV coverage for the TT in the near future but for now the only way to follow the TT live is by radio. This can be done world wide from the Manx Radio website, and if you’re able to receive Manx Radio broadcasts where you are in the UK you can listen on AM 1368.
Although the TV and radio coverage is excellent, nothing can ever match the thrill of sitting on a hedge or a garden wall only a few feet from a motorcycle racing past at 200mph. There are few motor sport events in the modern era where you can get so close to the action and with the mountain course being so long there is no shortage of vantage points to see the action.
I’ve lived on the Isle of Man all my life and am still finding new places to watch the races out on the course and unlike going to see a Formula 1 race, which can cost a small fortune, at the TT you can sit within touching distance of the action free of charge.
Whether you choose to watch at the bottom of Barregarrow where the bikes bottom out at 140mph, brave the elements at the high speed Windy Corner up on the mountain, or prefer the comforts of the Creg-ny-Baa pub seeing the bikes come down the hill from Kate’s Cottage, witnessing the TT in person at some point in your life is a must for any true motor sport fan.
Isle of Man TT onboard video
An onboard lap of the track in two parts:
Isle of Man TT links
What motorsport would you recommend other F1 fans to follow? If you want to put the case for your favourite non-F1 category write a guest article and send it in. More information here: Write a guest article for F1 Fanatic
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Image courtesy of Jonathan Camp on Flickr