No other motor competition on Earth matches the Isle of Man TT for its sheer terror and risk of life. No other motor event, whether car or motorcycle requires such immense bravery and thorough concentration just to survive to the finish. The threat of one mistake taking a life is ever-present; all told, 252 people have been killed on the Snaefell Mountain circuit during the 100 years running of the event.
“You can go out racing on your bike, make one little mistake, and that’s it: you’re dead. I love all that. Being so near yet so far.”
This year was no different, with five riders tragically lost during the two-week event. And yet, the line of riders ready to take on this ultimate challenge continues to grow each year.
Take it from annual front-running competitor, Guy Martin.
“Well, everything in the world has been bloody sanitised with health and safety, hasn’t it,” he told The Guardian, in 2014.
“There isn’t really anything left in the world where you can go out and actually kill yourself. I like being in control of my own destiny, really. You can go out racing on your bike, make one little mistake, and that’s it: you’re dead. I love all that. Being so near yet so far.”
The TT (or Tourist Trophy to give it its official name) began in 1907 and was first contested on the St John’s short course, which was 15 miles long. The Snaefell Mountain course as we know it today was added in 1911. The first full mountain course race was won by Oliver Godfrey, with an average speed of 47.63mph. The Isle of Man TT race became part of the FIM Motor Cycle Grand Prix rotation between 1949 and 1976; however the FIM removed the TT of its official status following the 1976 event because of the concerns over increasing speeds on such a dangerous course.
“Well, everything in the world has been bloody sanitised with health and safety, hasn’t it?” – Guy Martin 2014 The Guardian
There are five major classes: Superbike, Senior, Superstock, Supersport, and Lightweight. There is also the TTXGP, which was introduced in 2009 for electric prototype machines. This year the Isle of Man Festival was held from Saturday, May 25 to Friday, June 7: the first week was practice, week two was race week.
What makes the TT unique is it’s time trial format on public roads. Riders are sent off individually in ten-second intervals and race the stopwatch and not the rider in front of them. And because they are racing the clock, they have to self-pace themselves, meaning that the most competitive riders never allow their speed to be anything less than flat out.
When the flag drops, riders explode out of the gates and blast down Bray Hill, which was an ordinary village street with regular traffic just a few hours before. For the next 37 ¾ miles, they try to survive a seemingly never-ending series of bends, bumps, jumps, stone walls, manhole covers and telegraph poles. That 37 ¾ miles is just one lap. The top riders in the Superbike class will cover six laps, averaging close to 130mph. Victory in 2016 equated to racing 226.5 miles in just over an hour and 45 minutes, only stopping to refuel twice and change wheels.
The Snaefell Mountain course offers many famous vantage points with easy access to a pub, good food, great atmosphere and the polite company of worshipping spectators. For those who prefer to be alone, there are spots where one can sit a mere two feet off the racing line and revel in the rush of a full out bike passing them at 180mph. Fair warning: the passing bikes will literally suck the air from your lungs.
Our favourite viewing spots include the Bray Hill as mentioned earlier. It’s one of the most spectacular places to watch as the superbikes approach the enormous dip at almost 190mph; no less than 19-time TT victor John McGuinness mentions that riders usually smell burning carbon fibre bodywork as their bikes slam down on the pavement at the bottom of the Hill at 180mph. If you’re in the right spot, you’ll also get a close view of the riders pulling wheelies off Ago’s leap after the dip. There is a small catering facility which serves light snacks, and hot drinks nearby.
Then there is the famous Creg Ny Baa pub. Riders approach the right hand bend flat out; you’ll hear their bikes’ banshee howl long before you see them. Small grandstands flank the corner for excellent viewing. There’s ample parking for a small fee, and the pub serves food all day.
The inside of the famous pub is full of TT memorabilia and worth a visit even when the racing isn’t on. And when it is, a couple of full pints will steady your nerves after those 180mph flybys.
Lastly is Ballaugh Bridge, a slower portion of the TT course that provides outstanding visuals as the bikes become airborne over the famous bridge at around 60mph before accelerating hard toward the village.Viewing is permitted from either side of the jump behind the barriers.
For the 2016 Isle of Man TT races, new historical records didn’t wait long as Michael Dunlop shattered the lap and race records to record the first ever sub-17 minute lap of the Mountain Course on his way to winning the RST Superbike race for BMW.
The 27-year old’s first two laps were both under 17 minutes, the quickest being 133.393mph to win by 19-seconds from Ian Hutchinson, who was also inside the outright lap record, with Honda’s John McGuinness claiming third. Dunlop’s race winning time was a staggering 1m15.643s inside the old race record.
You don’t need to be a bike racing fan to appreciate the skill and bravery of some of the most courageous men on Earth.
Hutchinson, on a Yamaha, took his 12th TT win on Monday morning as he dominated the Monster Energy Supersport TT 1 race from start to finish. The CAME BPT Yamaha rider defeated Michael Dunlop by 14.3 -seconds in a race-record winning time with Silicone Engineering rider Dean Harrison taking third. Hutchinson went on to match his Monday victory on Wednesday with his 13th TT victory in the Monster Energy Supersport TT 2 event.
The annual Isle of Man TT captures the imagination in a way no other race can, offering the heart-stopping drama of the top riders, like real gladiators of the 21st century, risking their lives for the glory of being the fastest around the TT course. This is a spectacle like no other, and you don’t need to be a bike racing fan to appreciate the skill and bravery of some of the most courageous men on Earth.