The 2019 Road Racing Season

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In 2019 my little motto is ‘do more of what you love’, so expect more blogs to be appearing in the new future and hopefully more frequently too!

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Photo: Babb Photography

It is currently 120 days until the first practice of the Isle of Man TT, and before I go any further if you will be on the island for Saturday 25th May PLEASE SIGN ON TO MARSHAL. Year upon year the first day of practice is always overshadowed by the usual ‘lack of marshals’ news bulletin. If you can spare those few hours for the newcomers to get a speed-controlled lap and for the other riders to have a bit of a wobble round the TT course, I know they will be very appreciative and grateful! You can sign-on by clicking here. Thank you.

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Photo: Babb Photography

Dates for the diary – 25th May – 7th June 2019. Be there, or be square. I can only apologise for the extortionate prices of ferry crossings and plane tickets, they love spanking racing fans, but I honestly believe that what you will experience is priceless and I can guarantee it will leave you speechless. Trees line the roadsides along with beautiful Manx stone walls, curbstones, and dodgy camber is pretty much everywhere between Ginger Hall and Ramsey. These racers thrive in that type of environment, me on the other hand, not so much! However, I’m not talking purely about the racing here because there are some beautiful places on this little island that you can visit on those non-race days! If anyone is interested in knowing a few hidden gems, etc. leave me a message and I’ll try to get back to you!

I’m not going to bore you too much about the ins and outs of the Isle of Man TT. I’ll save all that for another day because at the moment I’m still suffering from the ‘TT Blues’ and all the things that hit the road racing family during 2019, but I will give you a little whistle-stop tour and probably end up going off on a tangent too…

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Charles Collister

1907 – the inaugural Isle of Man Tourist Trophy race was won by Charles Collister on the St Johns Short Course. Little did anyone know that over one hundred years later (the centenary year was a corker by the way!!) we would still be racing on the roads of the Isle of Man, but on a much larger scale. The circuit changed to the Mountain Course in 1911 and I guess they never looked back after that point! Mat Oxley, who some of you may be familiar with, posted something on Twitter the other day regarding the original FIM Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship (now known as MotoGP.) Now, I knew that the TT used to be part of this, however, I find it crazy that no MotoGP rider would ever contemplate racing the TT despite the history books.

Rossi said, and I quote, ‘you are true warriors’, but has claimed he would never race a road race. Scott Redding, on the other hand, described it as a ‘death race’. You can’t win them all, but maybe they need to do their research. Thanks to Mat, he’s done it for them:

Photo: @matoxley

The FIM Motorcycle Grand Prix Championship consisted of only six rounds and, shocker, the Isle of Man TT and the Ulster Grand Prix are both on there! Two of the world’s most famous road races, also two road races who are fighting with each other for the title of ‘world’s fastest road race’. Cough, currently the TT, cough. The TT/UGP may now clash with some of the whopping nineteen rounds that MotoGP consists of, but maybe they need to be reminded of their roots? Anyway, they are two completely different disciplines now. Different rules, regs, machinery, set-up. I’m a lover of anything on two wheels, but once you’ve experienced a road race first hand you will never want to sit 200ft away behind a fence again.

Moving to the complete opposite of MotoGP, a time-trial is what sets the TT apart from any other road race. Racers are set off in twos ten seconds apart in practice and on race days the fire off down Bray Hill on their own ten seconds apart. No matter what anyone says hearing the 45-minute signal, 30-minute signal, 15-minute signal, 5-minute signal … ‘and we are racing’ in stereo from all the little battery-powered wireless radio’s firmly gripped in spectators hands makes you tingle ever so slightly. It’s usually John McGuinness who is first off the line, the road sweeper as some say, however during John’s hiatus due to injury it’s been Manxman Conor Cummins who has led the way.

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Photo: Babb Photography

I can’t even begin to imagine let alone describe the emotions Conor must be experiencing in the above photo. A flick of the visor, a brief split second to ensure it’s shut and there it is. The tap of the shoulder. It’s started. Having been through both the highs and lows of this Mountain Course, it must be both a daunting yet adrenaline fuelled challenge and an unimaginable sense of pride to race on your home tarmac.

It’s still Northern Ireland’s Joey Dunlop who has won the most Isle of Man TT’s at 26 wins. I was fortunate enough to visit the memorial garden last year and I can say I was more emotional than I ever imaged. The legend that is Joey lives on in all his fans, his family and of course the entire road racing community as does Robert Dunlop, Joey’s brother, and William Dunlop, Robert’s son, Michael’s brother. If you’re ever in Ballymoney, please go. Don’t forget to visit Joey’s Bar too! The best Guinness in N.I.

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Joey Dunlop’s Memorial Garden, Ballymoney

McGuinness sits slightly behind at 23 race wins and often jokes he’ll never be let back into Ireland if he surpasses those 26 wins! (I think he might be right though…) Joey’s nephew Michael is currently in third with 18 TT wins and at only 29-years-old, I think that’s bloody phenomenal. Known as ‘the Bull’, Michael isn’t the smoothest rider to grace our presence at the TT, but it sure does work for him and it’s amazing to watch him bounce from hedge to wall to curb to white line.

There are now six different classes: Superbike, Supersport, Superstock, Lightweight, Zero and Sidecars. I’m sure you’re all familiar with cc’s, etc. for the above so I won’t bore you with that! All you need to know is practice starts on a Saturday evening and continues every evening from Monday to Friday with the first race being held on the following Saturday. Obviously, this is all weather, marshals and strange emergency dependent. Those two weeks are completely nuts. You have to be nuts to be a spectator let alone a racer and if you don’t embrace the sticky floor of Bushy’s beer tent have you really been to the TT? Oh, and if you’ve never watched from the Bottom of Barregarrow or Crosby Leap you’ve definitely not been! I will definitely be writing a bit more in-depth about the TT, different spots, etc. in the near future before 2019’s kicks off, but I will leave it here for now. Finally, if you see and excited blonde woman with her head popping out of a bush along the TT course… it’s probably me, so say hi!

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Photo: Babb Photography

Between the months of September and May the island falls silent. Our three main road racing events finish for the year and, I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t know what to do with myself other than countdown to the Macau GP and get up at silly o’clock to watch it.  If you live on the island, regardless of whether you like road racing or not, I can probably guarantee you will suffer from what is mainly known as ‘TT blues’, but similarly this can be reformed into ‘S100 blues’, ‘MGP blues’ or just pure ‘road racing blues’. The roar of motorbikes disappear, the sound of squeaky leathers and boots you have become accustomed to fade into the background and the articulated lorries dressed in team livery vacate the island in the blink of an eye. The island falls silent… until July.

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S100 Photo: Babb Photography

July is when the Southern 100 begins, down South as the name suggests, and if you have never been I highly recommend you do! It’s a mass start and a ‘proper’ road race as some like to call it. The Southern 100 started in 1955 and takes place on the Billown Circuit with the start/finish being in Castletown. There only used to be three races for different solo classes, but there are now twelve races with the inclusion of sidecars too. (If you want a tip, Church Bends is an epic place to watch, but take a spare pair of pants because the last time I watched from there Dean Harrison was millimeters away from touching the Manx stone walls whilst fighting for the lead. I’m also pretty sure my heart jumped out my mouth too….!) Veteran road racer Ian Lougher currently holds the most wins at the Southern 100 at a staggering 32 wins! The lap record, however, is held by Michael Dunlop and was set in 2017 at a time/speed of 2:12.231 at 115.707mph. Yes, that is two minutes… it is only 4.25 miles compared to the 37.75 miles TT Course. It is usually a very very close race on the roads, and if you want to be scared shitless at times, this is the race for you! You can literally hear them set off from Castletown, and regardless of where you are sat around the circuit, I guarantee you will the furore. I find the Southern 100 more edge-of-your-seat watching that the TT. You don’t even need to listen to the radio down there, just watch and you’ll know! Ps. 8th – 11th July 2019.

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Photo: Babb Photography

Onto the next then! There a little rest before the Manx Grand Prix (and Classic TT) begins in August and first started back in 1923 as the ‘Manx Amateur Road Races’. Seven years later it was renamed the MGP due to various rules, regulations, and interpretation. Basically, are you still an amateur after you’ve won a newcomer’s race and potentially set a lap record? Nope. This Mountain Course race is more of a stepping stone for those capable of produce lap times quick enough to compete at the TT. If you are looking for future road racing stars, look no further than the Manx. The majority of your up and coming road racers will begin their Mountain Course debut during these two weeks.  It’s two weeks where newcomers start to properly learn the vast TT course, and where some riders come back year after year to compete because of the love for the Manx, or maybe for an elusive win. On paper, it looks no different to the TT aside from the average level of experience, but in action, it is very different. A lot of riders say they don’t feel as much pressure as you do with the TT. It is publicised and there is radio commentary, etc., but as the top names aren’t involved I feel a lot of people think it’s boring. It is FAR from it.  It’s more laid back, mostly privateers and takes you back to the days of Joey Dunlop racing out the back of a van. There are six four-lap races which include the Newcomers Class’, Lightweight/Ultra Lightweight, Junior, and Senior Class.

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Photo: Babb Photography

The Newcomers Class does what it says on the tin basically! No experience is necessary, but you must hold a Mountain license. This is obviously a class you wouldn’t see at the TT and therefore it usually over-subscribed as a stepping stone to the TT. The riders are limited to machinery and it must not exceed 750cc. One thing that is similar to the TT is that any newcomers must wear an orange bib over their leathers during practice. The Lightweight/Ultra Lightweight class is for machinery of 125cc, 250cc, and 400cc capacity. The smell of them two-strokes though! Mmmm!!! Bliss. This is the one class I miss at the TT. The noise, the smell. It was part of the schedule until 2004 and so it’s usually a heavily subscribed class at the Manx. Then we are onto the Junior Class for machines between 200cc and 750cc although the majority are now four-stroke 4-cylinder 600cc bikes. What else could a Manx road race end with other than a Senior?! The final race of the MGP fortnight and I always find it’s a cracker because frustrations are always high after a week racing the Mountain Course. Blown engines, broken bits, fuel shortage, maybe even a little crash or two. Tensions are always high, but of course, everyone is in it to win it!

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Photo: Babb Photography

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on who you are, they decided to ‘re-brand’ the Manx Grand Prix as the Festival of Motorcycling with the inclusion of new races – the ‘Classic TT’. It allows top TT riders such as John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop, Lee Johnston, Dean Harrison and the like more Mountain Course time without the added pressure that comes with the TT in June. It’s very interesting to see how these top riders have to adapt their style to suit the classic machinery. Dunlop, for example, noted how he had to stop being so aggressive to prevent things from breaking! They are very temperamental and it’s usually a miracle if they manage to get up the mountain let alone down it! There are big teams now involved in the Classic TT such as Norton, Team Classic Suzuki, etc. It’s not a walk in the park by any means, but it’s not 134mph laps as we saw in 2018 by Hickman. Although I think it is a great idea to allow the riders more time on the roads, I find it’s drawn a lot of the attention away from what the Manx Grand Prix really is. A lot say the Manx was dying and I do admit that some years it doesn’t seem as busy as it did 10 or so years ago. However, the addition of the Classic TT cannot have increased visitor numbers over the two weeks. It appears busy on the bank holiday weekend of the Classic TT races where ‘the big boys’ race their classic machines, then it fizzles back to those who are there purely for the Manx. I find it’s caused a bit of a divide in the road racing community. I guess I see both sides, but it’s nice for the Newcomers to the Mountain Course to have their time to shine and I really think people should be more supportive of them. At the end of the day, these are the potential TT winners of the future and I don’t want to take anything away from their two weeks of potential glory.

Rant over… oops!

Of course there are many other roads races, but for now I shall leave you with the Isle of Man’s road races. Notably there’s the NW200, Tandragee, Skerries, Macau GP and the Ulster Grand Prix… the latter I visited last year and I’m so excited to write about my experience as it is something completely different to the Isle of Man TT. That’ll be with you all soon!

Words by Samantha Wanless