You see, here’s the thing about the Isle of Man TT. It shouldn’t be thought of as a “bucket list” event. The TT is The Bucket. The 115 year old vessel which holds the best of motorcycle racing history, technology, competition, camaraderie, and culture. It is surrounded by the places and the people and the spirits that form a shared experience unrivaled in motorsports. And once you indulge, you will know that once is not enough. This is trip number thirteen for me. And as in years past, rather than just report on the results of the TT Races, I’ll give Motorcycle.com readers a sense of what goes on throughout the fortnight, out and about on The Isle of Man.
I arrived just before Practice Week (now officially called Qualifying Week, but give it another 50 years for that to be broadly used by the locals) allowing time for copious hugging of old friends not seen since 2019. I greeted my plucky Suzuki V-Strom 650 that had sat patiently in a garage for three years on a battery tender. She fired up, and I began my rounds.
First stop, Castletown for the Pre-TT Classic Road Races, organized by the venerable Southern 100 Club, and run on the 4.25 mile Billown Course. Old school, mass starts, furious sounds, sidecars and solos, and the distinct smell of Castrol R wafting across the fields. An awards ceremony in front of Castle Rushen, one of the best- preserved medieval castles in the world, makes for a celebration of the return of real road racing and spirited motorcycle banter to the island. The Pre-TT Classic is worth a visit on its own, as is the Southern 100, run in July.
The residents of the Isle of Man broadly embrace the TT and its sister road race meet, the Manx Grand Prix, as an important part of their country’s heritage, and they dig the fun (and the money) that the TT brings. Riding up the A36 and over the Round Table, a sweet, sweeping mountain road, now with a 50 MPH speed limit as the IOM government tries to manage the exuberance of a hyped-up returning crowd, I head down to beautiful Port Erin. My destination is Foraging Vintners, one of the finest spots for a drink, bite, and view here or anywhere else on earth.
Welcomed with furious face licks by her charming cockapoo Quinne, I chat with local resident Charley Hogan and her visiting mum Jayne from Worcester, England. “We are so happy that the TT is back! We missed all the people and events and atmosphere,” said Charley. “The island suffered through lockdowns and border closings, and Covid was such a challenge, but the TT and everything around it is so wonderful and important to our economy, and this one feels very special.” Charley added that she “would rather not live anywhere else,” and a session on the patio of Foraging Vintners on a sunny day makes that understandable, while underscoring the main thing about the TT. It’s not just about the racing.
But there is much racing, and Practice (QUALIFYING!) Week sees the tension rise and the teams and event organizers getting their bearings for the most challenging road races on earth. This week has its charms, far less crowded than Race Week, but quite compelling. The paddock is open and alive and you can poke your head in and chat up most of the riders and teams as long as you show respect and awareness of their time and focus. The big noise this year is coming from the extremely well-funded and turned out FHO racing team, where US TV reality show Gas Monkey Garage has a big sponsorship presence. And their main rider Peter Hickman is the man. He was blistering in qualifying, and won the Superbike race on Saturday, setting the fastest lap of the race at 133.461mph, so expectations are high.
History was made in the Superbike Race when 50 years young John McGuinness MBE took fifth place in his 100th TT start, and for many returning riders like two- time TT winner Gary Johnson, the cobwebs from the three years away have been removed quickly, as the good weather has allowed for ample practice laps. While visiting Gary in the TT Paddock, he’s cool and collected, and jokes that the biggest change he’s felt since 2019 is that “two of my favorite Thai and Indian restaurants in Douglas have closed. But otherwise, yeah, I still remember the course well and my muscle memory is pretty good.”
Northern Ireland native Shaun Anderson represents the riders on the rise. Sharing a paddock space with Michael Dunlop at Hawk Racing for the Suzuki Superbike, and at Wilcock Racing for his other machines, Shaun grew up around racing with his race mechanic father Howard, who accompanies and supports him here. While winning is a goal, Shaun sees himself as his main competition. “I just want to go faster each time, the finishing position will sort itself out,” said Shaun. “I’ve improved throughout practice, one or two miles an hour each session and I feel good, so let’s roll.” Roll he has, indeed, and with a 9th place finish in the Superbike race, he inches closer to the TT podium. The ultimate sort-out for a roadracer.
I have been an Isle of Man TT Marshal since 2008. The races require over 500 volunteer Marshals on duty for every session, in place, in line of sight, at precise locations. Marshals are trained to address racing incidents and medical emergencies, control course access, work the flags and radio, and with constabulary powers while on duty, generally ensure their sector is fit for racing. While the vast number of sessions go by without much bother, things can go pear shaped quickly.
For Qualifying, I was placed at Selbourne Drive, right above Ago’s Leap, about 1 mile from the start line. There were no incidents there during my sessions, and we went about our duties methodically. But two days later, French rookie sidecar passenger Olivier Lavorel was killed in an incident during the first Sidecar Race right in that very spot. I was not on duty that day, but my fellow Marshals had to deal with the unspeakable aftermath. Lavorel is the second competitor taken this year, with British rider Mark Purslow
My crew has arrived from New Jersey, we’ve picked up their rental motorcycles, and we’re heading out and about again. A spirited trip up the Coast Road to the idyllic rocky beach at Port Cornaa leads us to one of the many painted dolphin statues around the island, part of The Big Splash art trail, with installations in the most spectacular coastal locations and open spaces.
Meanwhile, the pubs are filled with the most committed enthusiasts in the world, and spots like the Rover’s Return and The Woodbourne, both in Douglas, are places for moto-natter late into the night.
I’ll report back with more news and views later this week. You can, and should, subscribe to the new TT+ streaming service with live action for the first time ever (iomttraces.com) or listen on ManxRadio.com, with excellent full- time coverage all meet-long.
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