Since its inception in 1907, the Isle of Man TT has held a unique position within motorcycle racing – but, more widely, within the world of motorsport.
With 114 years of history, it’s the oldest motorsport event in the world. The list of famous names that have set off down Glenclutchery Road reads like a road racing Hall of Fame: names like Surtees, Woods, Duke, McIntyre, Agostini, Read, Hailwood, the Dunlops, Fogarty, Hislop, McCallen, Jeffries and McGuinness - the list is endless. All tackled the unique challenge that the infamous Mountain Circuit presents – and triumphed.
The TT Grandstand and Glenclutchery Rd
Motorcycle Road Racing
As a spectacle, all motorcycle road racing is utterly breath taking. It demands total commitment, bravery and insane levels of rider skill. The first time road racing's experienced up close it’s a total assault on the senses. The action takes place in such close proximity and at such shockingly high speed, it’s initially hard to process and fully take in. It can take time to de-sensitise to what the senses are experiencing. When spectating other live motorsports, you’d need a monocular to see the action!
But road racing’s more than just exciting: it’s a visceral experience. This applies equally to the smaller three and four mile Irish National circuits – like Armoy, Kells and Cookstown – all highly technical in their own rights and is not just the preserve of the larger International events like the TT and the North West 200. But it’s the TT Mountain Course that will always be regarded as the Holy Grail: it’s truly unique, predicated on its history and the scale of the challenge it presents to man and machine.
Manxman Conor Cummins - St Ninian's at 175 mph
The Allure of the Mountain Course
The TT Mountain Course winds its way across the Island’s majestic countryside - through villages and small hamlets, over hump back bridges and round hairpin bends…. over 170 mph jumps, and around some 240 corners. As a closed public roads “circuit” it has lamp posts and traffic lights, man hole covers, sidewalks and kerbs, stone walls, buildings and mature trees. And for good measure, the “Big Man” threw in a 2000 foot mountain that riders blast across before returning to the start / finish line in Douglas. Maximum speeds approach 200 mph in parts and average lap speed has now been pushed beyond 135 mph.
The TT's a time trial with riders setting off in 10 second intervals. Whilst most other “races” can be over in twenty minutes, Superbike and Senior TT races last for six laps – that’s 224 miles or about 1.75 hours of flat out racing on closed public roads, not a purpose built asphalt race track with run-off areas and “kitty litter.”
Northern Irish TT star Lee Johnston - Ago's Leap
The Ultimate Test
In terms of extreme, hardcore racing experiences there are other strong contenders. The Dakar’s brutal and would be right up there too - but the Mountain Course is truly unique. At just over thirty-seven miles, it’s an absolute beast and makes the mighty thirteen mile Nurburgring look like a go-kart track. It’s super demanding and regarded as probably the most dangerous stretch of “race track” in the world. And that’s the very essence of why elite road racers take to the start line each year. It’s the ultimate challenge for rider and machine in motorcycle racing - quite possibly, in all of motorsport.
Dean Harrison descends Bray Hill - Kawasaki ZX-10R Superstock
In the on board footage below, 23 times TT winner John McGuinness negotiates a section of the TT Mountain Course during a 2016 Superbike qualifying / practice session on a Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade. In the low sun of early evening, he's going in and out of the shade of the trees. At 1 min 56 secs he goes through the village of Kirk Michael reaching speeds of around 175 mph. With buildings on either side of the road and only very narrow side walks, there's a real impression of the incredible speed the riders are travelling at. He crosses Ballaugh Bridge (3.14) then on to Sulby Straight (4.07) where the riders go through a speed trap. In race conditions the Superbikes are touching just under 200 mph along Sulby.
The culture of the TT and road racing in general is also very special. In some other forms of motorsport the characters are constrained in terms of behaviour and what they can and can't say by sponsors’ dictats. But the personalities in road racing are genuinely unique. Riders and teams are hugely grounded people. Road racing’s not a sport with room for “prima donnas,’ or BS. It’s a grass roots sport with its “home” rooted in Northern Ireland. Listen to the likes of John McGuinness, Dean Harrison or Lee Johnston talking. Racers know what’s at stake and what it takes physically and mentally to perform at a high level. There’s a huge amount of mutual respect for their fellow competitors and that extends to the respect that true fans have for the racers.
Guy Martin on the Tyco BMW S1000RR - 2015
At the TT, you can stand feet away from Dean Harrison or John McGuinness’s bikes being prepped and the chances are, the riders themselves won’t be too far away – maybe for a passing word or two. For those who've never experienced this type of access and relaxed environment it's a real eye opener and immensely enjoyable. It just doesn’t happen in other motorsports. Formula 1 fans wouldn’t get within a few hundred metres of Lewis Hamilton’s latest Louis Vuitton kilt - let alone his car.
Padgetts Racing Team preparing their TT bikes
For those interested in bikes but who've never been to the TT, it's a "must see" event. But for anyone interested in any form of motorsport, they never fail to be blown away by the whole event. So, think about planning a visit over to the 'Rock' - as the TT is coming back after a two year break bigger and better than ever.
In our next blog, we'll take a look at the planned improvements for TT 2022 and 2023.
📸 Peter Faragher & Diego Mola