IOMTT: Tuesday’s Practice Session

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Yesterday we all witnessed a brief monsoon, which probably washed a few campers out, so that was practice cancelled. Great weather for ducks, not so much humans. It did stop raining, but at that point, there is no way the road would have dried in time. In fact, it definitely didn’t.

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Apparently I was a keyboard warrior for saying this, but no practice means no qualifying and no qualifying means no racing. It really isn’t difficult. I’m also not trying to be a party-pooper, I’m just trying to be realistic. This isn’t short circuit racing where you stick a set of wets on, change a few settings and off you go. This is road racing and for numerous years now the Isle of Man TT is not raced in the wet hence why practice sessions get cancelled. I’m not going into the reasons why, etc. except for there’s a rather long and plausible list.

In the regulations it states the following with regards to qualifying:

• To start a race, a newcomer to the TT Mountain Course qualifying for the first time must complete a minimum of six laps on a solo machine or four laps on a sidecar machine. This applies to sidecar passengers as well as drivers.
• All other competitors must have signed on and commenced qualifying by the end of Monday’s session.
• Competitors who have qualified to start in any previous race on the TT Mountain Course (TT or Festival of Motorcycling) shall be required to complete a minimum of five laps for solos and three laps for sidecars, unless the Clerk of the Course grants permission otherwise.
• For all Isle of Man TT Race classes a minimum of two laps must be completed on each machine entered, one of which must be within the qualifying time. For TT Zero machines, one qualifying lap on the machine entered is required.
• Any competitor who does not attain the required number of laps or qualification time may not be permitted into the race.

It’s essentially a large piece of jargon, but it’s very important. Each rider has to do a specific number of laps themselves and at least two-laps on each machine they’re racing. However, this is down to CoC’s discretion. Therefore, practice week is the key to race week. Yes, they can run practice session after races, move races days to allow a day’s practice, etc. but I believe there’s also a rule of how many laps a rider can do in a certain period of time. Many people purely come for race week or even the odd few days. I totally get that, I’m only here for the two weeks because I live here (although even if I didn’t I’d still try my bloody hardest to be here for two weeks), but my annoyance came from people saying: ‘oh it doesn’t matter about the weather in practice week, race week is going to be glorious.’ So far we’ve only managed to run two practice sessions due to the weather and fortunately the first session was timed. Usually it isn’t and currently, the weather isn’t looking too clever for the rest of the fortnight either.

Practice week is so vital and it is obviously a top priority for CoC Gary Thompson to run the sessions, but he can’t control the weather! There are contingency sessions ‘just in case’, but it must be a massive concern as well as a headache for those in the control tower to figure out how they’re going to fit in enough practice ahead of race week. Yes, races can be moved, they have the Tuesday and Thursday to use if needs be, but that might not solve the problem if the weather isn’t kind. Also, imagine racing/practicing every. single. day. The racers would be mentally and physically worn out by the time Senior came around. Sometimes it’s just not feasible. I believe in 2017 we had the same kind of issue and contingency plans, such as short-lapping the riders and introducing a speed-controlled run over the Mountain section, were put into place. I think the Superbike race was moved to the Sunday and various other movements happened. Back in 2013, it was Wednesday evening practice and the Superbikes hadn’t even turned a wheel due to the weather conditions and their first race was on the Saturday! I vaguely remember that being a year of concern with regards to enough practice time. 

I’m not being a keyboard warrior, although that did make me chuckle, I’m just being honest. I’ve always supported the TT, not because it’s the ‘fashionable thing to be into’, but because it’s a passion. There’s more than just race week at the TT. Just because you aren’t here to witness it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Obviously I want practice to happen, I want everyone to qualify and of course I want a fabulous race week, who doesn’t?! All the racers want to qualify and be ready for race week too, but we all know what the weather can be like. It’s out of everyone’s control!

Anyway, back to this evening’s session because it did go ahead. It was freezing out there, but they managed to get some laps in and that’s all that matters!

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Michael Dunlop on the Tyco BMW Superbike Photo: Lucas-Croydon Photography

Superbike/Supersport/Superstock/Newcomer all together in one big session. As always, it didn’t go strictly according to plan. Firstly, roads were due to close at 6:00pm. I’m very lucky that my employer allows me to leave work at half 4 to allow time for me to get to my marshals post. However, it took me 50-minutes to get to the bottom of Barregarrow… At 6:00pm the traffic was backed up from Ballacraine to Greeba, so eventually, everyone had to turn off at Ballacraine off the course. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare closing 37.73 miles of public roads, but it has to be done if we are to go racing! Hedges were full of sweaty humans in leathers, the white line turned into a personal lane for motorcycles and people were walking along main road footpaths that hadn’t been walked on for approx. 365 days. These weren’t the only issues! There was a non-racing medical emergency that had to be dealt with so there was a precise 11-minute delay to the start of the session. Finally, at 6:31pm the beasts were unleashed and the Superbikes were having their first taste of TT tarmac of 2019.

Holy macaroni shall we say. That little flutter you get from hearing ‘bike on voddy straight’. I think I probably say ‘ooo I’m nervous’ more times than I care to image, and then there it is. Nothing compares to hearing then seeing a Superbike flash by. It’s insane. All your senses go into overdrive. The biggest smile slapped on my face. Superbikes are out and they’re flying. Michael Rutter on the Bathams Racing Honda and James Hillier on the Quattro Place Wicked Coatings Kawasaki led the field away, both Superbike mounted, with Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson and David Johnson following suit. Silicone Engineering Kawasaki’s Dean Harrison had issues before he’d even turned a wheel as the Superbike machine cut-out just before he set off. The team quickly wheeled out the second Superbike machine just in time.

After completing his British Superbike round and therefore missing Sunday’s practice session, Hickman set-off along Glencrutchery Road on his Superstock machine and down Bray Hill only to encounter an issue at Quarter Bridge. He found his way back to the grandstand and immediately went back out on his Triumph Supersport machine. In fact, Hickman didn’t have much luck at all during this evening’s practice session. Hicky PR, as they’re known on Twitter, were also confused as to where Hickman had got to a few times… turns out he was hungry and took a de-tour through McDonald’s:

Ok. So … here’s your run down on that slightly confusing session Superstock went out.
Returned to paddock via Douglas.
Supersport went out.
Superbike went out.
Returned to paddock via McDonalds.
Superstock went out.
P1 Supersport P7 Superstock.

Hickman managed to put the Supersport machine at the top of the timesheets, so that Big Mac must have worked wonders! 123.29mph… not bad for the world’s fastest road racer, eh? Oh, and thanks to HickyPR for keeping us all entertained as usual! 

Manxman Conor Cummins was fast out the blocks as he set the best sector times on the opening lap to completed a lap of 128.09mph on-board the Milenco by Padgetts Superbike. That’s a mighty fine looking machine, go take a look at it if you’re having a gander down the paddock! Rutter completed his lap at 124.22mph whilst John McGuinness stopped at Sulby to make adjustments. Dunlop clocked an average lap time of 126.65mph whilst Hutchinson was slightly slower at 125.39mph. However, it wasn’t Hutchinson’s evening. We heard the emergency button being pressed and knew there was an incident. It was at the 11th milestone. Anyone who’s been to the TT will know that’s unfortuntely a very infamous part of the course. It’s not very giving, well, road racing isn’t at the best of times, but when that part bites it usually bites bad. Next thing, they’d lost the rider. Panic panic. Nope, just the marshal not completing his sentence. The rider had walked away from it unscathed by the sounds of things, but probably spitting feathers and that rider was Hutchinson. I don’t really think he was in the mood for a chat hence why he walked away for some thinking time and to let the adrenaline simmer. Good news is, he’s reportedly okay, but no doubt he’s going to hurt in the morning.

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Photo: Impact Images

Cummins’ was on a mega second lap and the pace had increased dramatically – on for a 129mph+ lap. The radio announced he had been blagged flagged as the Honda machine had reportedly been smoking. Soz hun, not today. Just the smoke from my tyres because I’m SO DAMN FAST. I’m joking, it’s important to check if a bike is smoking. It could be oil or anything, but fortunately, on this occassion, Cummins got the all clear and made it back to the Grandstand at an average speed of 104.96mph. Gary Johnson was also black flagged as a beady-eyed marshal had noticed his camera was loose. I’m pretty sure Gary probably ripped that off and chucked it in a hedge somewhere to complete his lap. On the fourth lap, Harrison almost touched the 130mph barrier on his Superstock machine with a lap speed of 129.34mph with Hillier the third rider to break the 128mph mark with a speed of 128.07mph on his Superbike. Harrison continued on his mission to dominate the timesheets as right on his last lap his stuck his Superbike at the top of the leaderboard with a stonking 129.53mph, close to that of his Superstock machine. Almost forgot, shout out to Rob Hodson for making me almost s**t my pants. He did apologise afterward, always the gentleman!

I am aware that there were various incidents during the solo session today. Here is what the official news has stated so far:

Paul Williams – Off at Governors. Rider OK
Jason Corcoran – Off at Glen Helen. Taken to Nobles with reported neck injury.
Emmett Burke – Off at Gooseneck. Taken to Nobles with reported leg injury.
And, we’re aware of this one: Ian Hutchinson – Off at 11th Milestone. Rider OK, although Honda Racing have said he’s ‘battered and bruised’.

Wishing all the above a speedy recovery and hopefully, Williams and Hutchinson aren’t too bruised tomorrow morning. Also, Daniel Mettam, who parted company from his machine at the Black Hut on Sunday, has been discharged from Nobles which is always good news.

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The Crowe Brothers! Photo: Lucas-Croydon Photography

 

The solo session was flagged and it was soon time to see the sidecars out for their very first session. The temperature had dropped significantly by 8pm and I was starting to lose any kind of feeling in my toes let alone my fingers. The midges started to appear in full force, and before anyone says it, they’re immune to Avon’s Skin So Soft thanks to us marshals. If anyone has an alternative, let me know! With that in mind, we were all dithering around trying to keep warm whilst downing a hot coffee before they reached us.

The Formula Two sidecars were let loose at 8:04pm. As it’s the first session for the sidecars it’s more a chance to test out some settings and have a bit of a fiddle. I don’t personally feel you can take much from this session other than it’s great they’ve finally got a couple of laps in! Dave Molyneux and passenger Harry Payne set-off, but retired at Laurel Bank. There were other outfits who had stopped to make adjustments, like Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes, and then there were the Birchall’s who were probably sandbagging as usual with a lap of 111.55mph placing them fifth. It was John Holden/Lee Cain who set the best opening lap at 114.99mph with Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley, Alan Founds/Jake Lowther and Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney (111.80mph) slotting into 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Although it may not be too much of a shock for those who follow anything on three wheels,  newcomers Ryan and Callum Crowe, two brothers who’s dad is five-time TT winner Nick Crowe, pulled a 109.76mph out the bag on their very first lap on their 675cc Triumph. By the way, if you’re out and about watching the sidecars you can’t miss the Crowe brothers. Nope, not because their outfit is painted in whacky colours (it’s white and blue), but because the noise it makes is tremendous. It makes your ears vibrate for a good couple of minutes after. They’re definitely ones to watch so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that pair! As some of you may also know, Maria Costello (alongside the Lightweight solo class) has decided to take up the three-wheeled sport and completed a lap just shy of 100mph at 99.37mph whilst fellow passenger newcomer Sarah Stokoe (driver Mike Jackson) completed a lap of 102.32mph.

Despite a few tumbles, all in all, a great evening for practice despite the cold conditions. I don’t believe the sun was too much of an issue, but we can only hope it will be for the next week or so. The weather forecast is looking very bleak for tomorrow, potentially a break in the weather at the weekend, but even then it’s not looking promising.

Time will tell, but for now, I’ll leave you with this little memory that popped up today of a racer who is sorely missed:

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#14

Back in 2016 Dan Kneen was unable to race due to sustaining an injury prior to the TT, so he came down to the bottom of the Barregarrow and joined the Orange Army. I remember him saying: ‘Is that what it looks like when I’m racing? It’s not that scary when you’re the one on the bike.’

Words by Samantha Wanless

 

 

 

 

First 2019 IOMTT Practice Session

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It may be a day later than planned, but the first 2019 Isle of Man TT practice session has been completed over a rather blustery Mountain.

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Dean Harrison on-board the Silicone Engineering 600cc Kawasaki

The first practice was due to take place yesterday (Saturday), however due to extensive hill fog and intermittent rain the Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson chose to cancel the session at approx 3:30pm. The prompt decision is something as a marshal I am very grateful for and it meant we could go grab a takeaway instead rather than stand around for hours in the rain awaiting a decision. Happy days!

There is a contingency plan in place one of which allows the roads to close on Sunday for practice until no later than 6:30pm. CoC announced this would happen to allow the solo and sidecar newcomer’s to complete their speed controlled lap followed by Supersport, Supertwin and all newcomers. The schedule was provided as follows:

  • 11.45:  Mountain closes Barrule Park Ramsey to Bungalow
  • 12.00:  Mountain closes Bungalow to Creg Ny Baa
  • 13.00:  All roads closed
  • 13.30:  Solo Newcomers’ speed controlled lap
  • 13.35:  Sidecar Newcomers’ speed controlled lap
  • 13.50:  Start Supersport / Lightweight Practice
  • 17.30:  Roads open except Mountain section
  • 18.30:  All roads open

Obviously it’s great to say we’ll use the contingency plan, but the weather needs to behave itself first. I got woke up by my other half at 5:30 this morning saying the rain woke up him… I can tell you now, I was dreading opening the curtains when I woke up properly. I’d already pretty much written off today, but then the sun started to poke its way through and the wind was acting like an official TT hairdryer. Next thing, I’m grabbing bags of crisps, snacks and whatever else I can find from the cupboards to put in the scruffy racing bag ready to marshal. A marshal’s diet is very important you know. We thrive on chocolate, crisps and sarnies, but are partial to cake, biscuits and most definitely coffee. 

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…okay, I may have grabbed more than some snacks. Full Factory Marshalling this!

After we’d set-up, roads closed and there we had it… a 30-minute delay.  The road was still drying in places, particularly under the trees, but most vitally there were not enough marshals in certain places around the course. Every marshal’s post has a minimum number. If that minimum number is not met, the TT racers cannot turn a wheel. A plea went over the Marshal’s radio asking those who were over minimum to shuffle around. It appeared there were technically enough marshals, they just weren’t dispersed evenly.  This led to a further 15-minute delay, and then another 5-minute delay. If you are here to watch the TT, please consider signing on to marshal. If you’re unsure as to what it all entails, you can find out more here. 50-minutes later than scheduled, it was GO time!

First out were the solo and sidecar newcomers. They must complete a speed-controlled lap before they can be let loose on their own. If the speed controlled lap is not completed, whether it be mechanical faults, etc., they will be given another chance during the next practice session. I believe all solo’s completed their lap, but one sidecar outfit, unfortunately, didn’t. When they had all nearly completed their first-ever lap, the flood barriers were opened as well as the throttles on the Supersport and Supertwin machines. It was finally time to release the beasts down Bray Hill for the very first time… and boy were those throttles pinned.

During practice two riders set off together with a 10-second interval between each pair.  This is obviously unlike a TT race where they set off alone 10-seconds apart. Time trial remember… Before Michael Dunlop set off he said live on the radio ‘I need to sort my shit out.’ Er, yes please. If you could do that before you begin your lap that’d be ace, or at least before you get to the bottom of Barregarrow because you scare me enough as it is on the first lap…! Always fills a marshal full of confidence that. The two men first off the line were Ashcourt Racing’s Lee Johnston and Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson. Throttles pinned they were down Bray Hill on their Supersport machines. It doesn’t take long until they reached cronk-y-voddy. With the wind strong, we could hear them storming their way through Glen Helen. We knew it wouldn’t be long until they flashed by, but it wasn’t who we were expecting. It was Dean Harrioson on-board the beautiful Silicone Engineering Kawasaki shortly followed by Johnston and Hutchinson. Wow. First thought, in fact the same I thought I have every year on the first day of practice, this is f!*king BONKERS.

Usually the first practice session is untimed, however it was announced that it would, in fact, be timed today and the laps will count towards qualifying. It can be quite difficult to keep up with timings when there are different classes out and about around the course, but it’s even more difficult when you’re marshalling. You don’t really get the privilege of listening to the radio because you can’t hear yourself think let alone hear what Chris Kinley has to say. You don’t look at your phone unless there’s an interval, so timing-wise, you’re quite blind! However, I’ve heard the new live timing app isn’t that great anyway and that all sounds like a political farce, but I’ll save that for another day shall I? Instead, I keep myself entertained by oohing and aahing at different race lines, telling newcomers to put their knee away even if they can’t hear me and testing my race number/rider name skills. Oh, this is whilst fuelling myself with coffee and cake. It’s quite the multi-tasking effort you know!

Unsurprisingly it was Harrison who took to the top of the timesheets – 121.97mph quickly followed by a 124.39mph lap. He was hungry for that Senior win last year and I think he’s back to take another bite of the action proving to be a very popular guy in the road racing paddock. Harrison put in six-laps all together, but I felt like I’d seen him more times than that. Every lap I saw him get smoother and smoother; it was almost as though he had ironed out all the bumps and he was gliding along. Then boom. A 126.09mph lap. That’ll do, lets park it. Now he’s qualified in this class, he’ll probably work on perfecting the settings on his Superbike machine going forward, but maybe he won’t. We won’t know until the day! When being interviewed after their laps, it was clear the winds were proving to be a bit of a nightmare up over the Mountain. Conor Cummins said there were tail-winds, head-winds, cross-winds and windy corner was windier than usual. It doesn’t get any more windy that that, does it? Gary Johnson didn’t seem too phased and even told everyone he’s survived wind, so if Gary can we all can! Joking aside, the high winds are very challenging up top. It can completely blow you off-line, unsettle the bike. However, it didn’t deter many racers as most completed at least four if not five laps.

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Manxman Conor Cummins on-board the Padgett’s Milenco Honda Supersport machine

It was great to see Michael Dunlop back on the roads as he set a lap speed of 123.9mph with Manxman Conor Cummins clocking 123.71mph on his fifth lap of on-board the Milenco Padgett’s Honda. If you get chance to go down to the bottom of Barregarrow, go and watch Conor from down there. He has got it so finely tuned that the bike drops away from him, arms extended and away he goes. It’s just so perfect. He doesn’t fight to stay tucked in, he just goes with the flow and it’s clearly working. Prez Racing’s Jamie coward was fourth on the timesheets at 123.19mph and James Hillier managed to not cause chaos down at Barregarrow to clock 121.9mph placing him fifth. Ian Hutchinson finished in 12th for the Honda Racing Team just ahead of the legendary John McGuinness. I must admit, I wasn’t too impressed with his overtaking manoeuvre on a higher numbered rider just as they were to tip into the bottom of Barregarrow. Maybe understandable during a race, but personally I don’t think it’s called for during practice. Thankfully it was all okay, but I definitely think it would’ve been safer to have waited till after Barregarrow considering the stretch to Cammal Farm is straight… Onto McGuinness – he does indeed have a Supersport ride after announcing yesterday he had partnered with his Padgett’s family once again to ride the stunning Milenco machine. So get that scribbled in your race programme! He didn’t go too mad on his first time back at the TT since his NW200 accident, despite doing a couple of parade laps last year, placing himself 13th. Respectable first practice place.

The Supertwins were also out amongst the Supersport machines with Jamie Coward topping the leaderboard at 119.96mph and defending champion Dunlop putting in a 118.52mph lap placing him second. Last year’s runner-up Derek McGee finished in fourth with a 116.19mph lap whilst Stefan Bonetti, after his mega win at the NW200, posted the fifth fastest time at 116.02mph.

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McPint on-board the Norton Lightweight machine

I personally don’t think that lap times/speeds really matter on the first day of practice, but I’ve put them in for you just in case you are bothered. Yes, it’s great that it has counted towards their qualification within the Supersport and Supertwin classes because it can sometimes be very difficult to qualify every machine due to delays, cancellations, mechanical issues. However, it really isn’t necessary to go all balls out for the ‘fastest racer in first practice’ headline. I’m just glad they’ve managed to get a few laps of practice under their leathers because it really is so vitally important for them to get the laps in. With over 200 corners, I don’t think I could ever do enough laps around here to know them all inside out and I live on the Isle of Man!  Some of these racers take part in British Superbikes/Supersport, other road races and of course they must obtain enough signatures for their Mountain Course license, but they don’t get to race here every weekend. Some do race in the Classic TT, but many only race the TT meaning the last time they took to the Mountain Course was approx. one year ago. I’ve said it many times, but the road surface changes significantly. Trees disappear, appear. Curbs appear, get lowered. Your yellow drain braking marker might have disappeared or a new drain cover has appeared. That year really has an impact on a racer’s memory of the course, the bike settings, everything. For me, the first practice session is the most important. Racer’s will now spend the evening relaying all their information back to their teams. Adjusting front/rear suspension, altering tyre pressures, gearing. This first practice session is about fettling the bike back in and sorting out your own head. Johnston spoke about how he was clearly feeling a little rusty, but it’s now time for them to process the 37.73 miles in an attempt to perfect their lap times. It must be so mentally draining, but the adrenaline and the TT in its entirety is clearly worth it. First practice is literally just the beginning for these racers and there is certainly more to come.

The session was thankfully relatively uneventful although New Zealander Daniel Mettam did part company with his machine at Black Hut in the Supersport session and was taken by airmed to Nobles Hospital. His condition is reportedly not serious, but no further details have been issued. Tomorrow evening we should hopefully see some more practice with roads closing at 6pm and an approx. aim of a 6:20pm flood gate opening. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…

One last little, but important note about today’s practice session – I couldn’t help but think about Dan Kneen, James Cowton and William Dunlop. I’m sure I’m not alone by trying not to think too much about it on the lead up to this year’s TT, but I have certainly missed seeing them race these roads today. They’ve definitely not been forgotten, but are most definitely missed by all. x

(Full practice times can be shown here, although the website doesn’t appear to be very user-friendly, so good luck if you’re attempting to use it!)

Words by Samantha Wanless

 

 

‘Twas the night before the 2019 IOMTT

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There are less than 24-hours until the 2019 Isle of Man TT begins and the excitement levels are building.

Usually, the Grandstand is a barren, mushy-looking field with some concrete patches. The flags and banners are nowhere to be seen and the Grandstand just becomes that normal building you drive past. Pit lane is forgotten, the timing boards bare. Doesn’t sound like that usual Grandstand everyone knows and loves, right? It takes months of back-office preparation to ensure the logistics of the two weeks are finely tuned. It takes weeks to paint the black and white curb stones on corners of the public roads, erect the air fences around specific parts of the course and to tie hay bales around gate posts and the like, but it’s almost time.

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I get a little giddy when it’s time for the North West 200. A) The racing is absolutely amazing there, who doesn’t love road racing? B) When it finishes the majority of the larger teams ship themselves straight over that evening or the next day to the Isle of Man and overnight the Grandstand becomes the place to be. It might not be that magical first practice session we’re all eagerly awaiting, but it’s certainly the start of what’s to come. The flags reappear on the top of the Grandstand, banners are pinned to the recticels with Monster Energy and Bennetts lining the lampposts. Then, the race trucks pitch up in all their glory putting our little Manx puddle-jumpers to shame. Huge motorhomes roll off the Ben-My-Chree, vans filled with race bikes, spanners and beer. They all start to appear and suddenly that barren, mushy-looking field becomes one of the best paddocks you could wish for – a road racing paddock.

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The Grandstand with all it’s flags ready to race.

A road racing paddock is one of the friendliest places you could ever walk into. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why this is, but I strongly believe it’s because the road racing community are a family. We all know how dangerous road racing can be, we all know someone who’s been bitten by the Mountain course or worse. Yet year on year the same racers, teams & spectators come back because it’s what they do, it’s what they love, it’s in their blood. Road racing is a bug.

Teams help fellow teams, riders help fellow riders… yet when the visor comes down as they await the tap on their shoulder to fly down Bray Hill they become rivals who are all competing for the same reason – that top step and a prestigious TT victory.

The 2019 Isle of Man TT begins tomorrow. Curb stones line the way, stone walls, lampposts, electricity boxes, pavements, trees and bridges not to mention roundabouts, tram lines and hairpins to contend with as well as the ever-changing weather. There are arguably 216 corners to negotiate around the 37.73 mile course which is primarily a public road for 365 days a year. You know the drill, it’s time to go road racing!

Below is the qualifying schedule, but it is subject to change as we all know due to weather and other circumstances beyond anyone’s control. It’s currently raining on the island, which is just bloody typical, but here’s hoping the weather forecast for tomorrow is wrong else we won’t be seeing anything…!

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As always, it’s the newcomers’ speed controlled lap – first the solo’s, then the sidecars. No, that doesn’t mean they’re confined to 50mph the entire way, more in the 100mph+ figures. This is usually led by either a current or former TT racer. Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle often slides back into his leathers to lead a pack, possibly Steve Plater and rounded off by a Travelling Marshal. It must be such a daunting lap. Imagine spending months watching on-board laps, driving around the course seven-million-times, processing all the corner information, remembering where drain covers are, braking markers, riding the course in your head 24/7 and then on top of all that racing round other tracks to ensure you have enough signatures for your Mountain Course Licence. Information overload. That first-ever closed road lap must be mind-boggling; they are literally living the dream. I find it’s great for those who marshal to have a speed controlled lap first too just so you can keep that spare pair of underwear for a couple of hours longer… I’m pretty sure the newcomers will need a new set before they reach Ballacraine mind.

Following the speed controlled lap, we are given the chance to allow our eyes to adjust to the phenomenal speeds of the Superbikes as they’re kept confined to their tents until Monday. The Lightweight and Supersport machines are allowed out of the blocks first as well as the Newcomers on any machinery. Superbike or supersport, it still doesn’t prepare you for the bull that is Michael Dunlop to fly down Barregarrow and scare the shit out of you. Every year I am left speechless. I watch in awe not quite believing what I’m actually seeing. I believe that usually no times during the first practice count towards qualifying times. Let’s not forget that most of the racers may not have raced here since the 2018 TT… The road can change quite significantly during that time too – the camber, new surfaces, new tree roots unsettling the road. It’s vital to allow a brief bit of time to re-adjust to the differences, tinker with the bike’s initial settings and refresh your mind of the Mountain Course. The first night of practice is exhilarating. You swear multiple times, you take a few steps back, but most importantly it hooks you all over again. It reminds you that although it looks superhuman what these racers are doing… they really are human, just a little bonkers with a shit-load of talent, so make sure you find yourself a hedge to watch from!

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When the roads are open you should definitely head down to the Grandstand. It’s completely free for you to walk around. Take it alllllllllll in because it’s the closest you could ever get to the pre-race action. You’ll get to see inside the top team’s tents – race bikes being worked on by the mechanics, you might even get chance to speak with a racer. Also, please make sure you visit the privateer teams. They may only have small pitches, but they’ve put their heart and soul into getting themselves race ready for the TT and I tell you what, it isn’t easy!! It takes a lot of time, effort and money. They deserve as much attention as the front runners because remember, everyone has to start somewhere! You get to see every type of set-up, but you can’t beat the famous race bike in the back of a van set-up. The road racing paddock isn’t shut off like MotoGP, racers don’t tend to hide away and everyone is welcomed into this crazy little community. You’ll see kiddies racing round on balance bikes, big kids racing round on Honda Grom’s. It’s just an amazing place to be, it buzzes with the sound of bikes. They’ll be race bikes on the dyno, families frantically cleaning leathers and polishing their outfits. It’s a family affair. 

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There are also lots of other different things to see and, although it can get a bit crowded, there’s no better place to be. There’s a beer tent (because everyone loves beer, I think there’s even two now), an ice-cream van (because it’s always hot on this island…), hot and cold food and so much more. To get you closer to the action you will also find companies like Dunlop Tyres behind the grandstand with tyres labelled with racers names as well as the Arai shop who provide helmet servicing, visors and much more to both the racers and the public. There are clothing stores: RST, Red Torpedo and official Isle of Man TT merchandise. You can find anything from helmets to boots, leathers to hoodies. You name it, it’ll probably be behind the Grandstand! It all gets a little crazy before practice and insanely crazy before race days, but the atmsophere is electric and if you’ve never been to the Grandstand on a race day you are most definitely missing out.

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I can’t even begin to imagine how exhausting yet exhilarating it must be having the throttle pinned for 37.73 miles, arguably 216 corners for approx. 18 mins… and then doing that SIX times with a lap average of 135mph on two wheels, but we’re about to find out once again.

It’s almost time to take on the Mountain Course, we’re all geared up ready to go. 

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Words by Samantha Wanless


 

As a side note, local company SMP Group Ltd also has a fabulous competition where you could win two VIP Hospitality tickets for SENIOR RACE DAY! Head over to their Facebook page for more information, and don’t forget to take your picture with SMP Group’s TT Wallaby ‘Joey’ to be in with a chance of winning.

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‘Joey’ the TT Wallaby sponsored by SMP Group Ltd

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming an IOMTT Marshal

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If you’ve ever been to watch the Isle of Man TT races, Southern 100, Manx Grand Prix or Classic TT you’ve probably seen groups of people standing around before roads close looking like this:

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…Guy Martin bobble hat optional!

…also known as the orange army aka TT Course Marshals.

Before any racing can take place on the famous TT Mountain Course, there is a Marshal threshold which must be met. The TT Course spans 37.73 miles with over 200 corners lined with trees, Manx stone walls, curbs, and other furniture. As mega as Gary Thompson (Clerk of the Course) is, he can’t survey every little nook and hairpin from the control tower on Glencrutchery Road. If he can see Kirk Michael from there, he’s definitely got superpowers. This isn’t short-circuit racing. There is no safety car deployed to bring racers down to a steady speed when an incident occurs, there is no run-off area. It’s down to the Marshals. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, but I’m sure you all know that already.

This is road racing and it’s road racing on a massive scale.

More than 530 Marshals are required for the Isle of Man TT Races to commence. 530 volunteers is a phenomenal number and it’s common knowledge that every year race officials struggle to meet the minimum number of Marshals required. There are often pleas on Manx Radio for more people to sign-on. I have been watching the TT Races since I was probably around five or six. Obviously you can’t become a Marshal at that age… try 16+. Road racing was something I was brought up around and our holidays were never to Spain or Europe, it was always to the Isle of Man for TT and Manx Grand Prix. A few years ago there weren’t enough Marshals to allow a race to take place, so I decided it was time to sign-on. There was no point me being sat in a hedge watching the racing when I could be stood as a Marshal doing exactly that – watching racing. For me, it was a no-brainer. I signed-on, collected my Marshals pack and headed to my post. Laurel Bank. Definitely not an ideal spot for your very first time, but we’ve all got to start somewhere. I’m not going to pretend it’s all unicorns and sparkles. It’s not. Things happen. Racers are literally brushing the Manx stone walls with their leathers as they come through the sweeping corners of Laurel Bank and you’re stood on that very corner. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. Of course I was. I’d heard numerous incidents at Laurel Bank, I’d even seen them. However, I knew there were very experienced Marshals around me who had dealt with said incidents in the past at that very location. You’re on edge 90% of the time, but that definitely decreases with the more sessions you do.

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Bottom of Barregarrow

The spot I usually Marshal at now is the bottom of Barregarrow… once again, I know how to pick ‘em! I usually only Marshal for practice week as I can’t guarantee I can book time off work. People think it’s amazing if you live on the Isle of Man, you get to watch the races, blah, blah. Nope, not if you have to work! Anyway, you’ll find that over time the same people gravitate back towards their favourite spot and year upon year they’ll re-appear as if they’ve never been away. You can’t guarantee you won’t bump into a nosher or two who likes to think they’re John McGuinness’ best mate, but usually Marshals are a great bunch of people to be around. They’re usually petrol heads and that’s good enough for me! Camaraderie quickly develops and you become best friends with your fellow Marshals for those two special weeks. You bond over the whistling kettle on the camping stove and fight over biscuits and cakes. What’s not to love? You are there for a special reason though and I feel that camaraderie is definitely required for what could be just around the corner. I’ve seen tank slappers, curb riding and dodgy lines even sidecar drivers racing without a passenger. I’ve seen enough to last me a lifetime, but I’ll know in two weeks’ time I’ll probably see it all again. Let’s face it, it’s everything you would see sat in a hedge anyway! This is racing after all.

That’s my little intro to how I became involved in Marshalling and my thoughts. I’m very proud to be a TT Course Marshal and it’s now something I sign-up to do every year. It genuinely makes you feel like you are actually part of the TT because without you there would be no racing. You’re part of a team and, despite the seriousness, you get to have a really good laugh with mental petrol heads like yourself.

Do you think you have what it takes to become a Marshal? If you think you do, read on. If you’re not sure, well, I’ll try to help you decide.

 

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A course red-flag can only be actioned by the CoC

 

Firstly, there is no guarantee an incident won’t occur and this is worst case scenario for every Marshal. It’s best to go into something like Marshalling with your eyes open, but I’m guessing if you’re a road racing fan you’re already aware of all the risks involved. So, yes. You may have to deal with an incident. Secondly, you are Race Direction’s eyes and ears, but most importantly you are the only point of contact a racer has to warn them of what lies ahead. The third point is probably one of the most important ones to remember. It’s down to your team of Marshals to sensibly and suitably alert a rider of an incident, for example, that might be ahead. Stationary yellows may suffice or you may need to display waived yellows, but don’t jump around in the middle of the road like a muppet.

Sadly, over the last year or so, fingers have been pointed at Marshal’s regarding various incidents that have occurred. Why do people feel the need to slate people who volunteer to help this sport? Probably because it’s the easiest answer. Unfortunately, incidents happen. That’s racing. Don’t go blaming marshals. Don’t go blaming the rider. Don’t go blaming control or the CoC. Gary Thompson, Clerk of the Course, is one of the best. He’s experienced, his knowledge is impeccable and he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders. Since he has been CoC things have run smoother than ever. Marshals are no longer subjected to long delays, they’re kept up-to-date and are now well informed. Quick decisions are made about delays as well as whether racing is to be abandoned due to bad weather or similar and updates sometimes even included ‘we’re just rounding up some sheep on the Mountain. 20 minute delay.’ Definitive and concise decisions are made and by no means are they easy decisions. As a Marshal I’m very thankful to have Gary on our side, so please don’t be put off by those who feel the need to point fingers.

Quite honestly Marshals don’t get the credit they deserve. Yeah, okay, you get some who sign on just to watch in the best spots because it’s true… there ain’t no better view at the Bottom of Barregarrow than where us marshals stand. But there is a job to be done. An important one. The reason you are on the island, the reason you are watching is because you’re watching the greatest road race in the world. Without people doing this ‘job’, you ain’t watching it! You get some who take the p… and those are the ones which tar every other marshal with the same brush. Don’t write on social media how shit marshals are at such a point because I can guarantee you there will be at least two marshals at that post which are ready, reading every race number even to the point of seeing the plate colour in practice. It’s the small details. They’ll be watching and they’ll be ready regardless of who else is around them. Everyone is given a job from rider to bike, debris to airmed guide… and every marshal just hopes they don’t have to do their job.

My heart goes out to any marshal who has had to endure an incident and deal with the aftermath. I know it’s what we all sign-on for, we are prepped as best we can be, we are equipped with the best equipment and guidance from race control, but in that moment, that fraction of a second none of that would matter. Until your brain goes into overdrive and you’re subconsciously violently waving a yellow flag in a figure-of-eight just hoping other riders see you in time. For those who had to deal with any incidents, I commend you. You are brave and please just know that you all did whatever you could because that’s what we do. Don’t question yourself for a second. Remember, if you do have to deal with an incident there is help and support available afterward. You will always be able to talk to your DSM, CSM or any other Marshal.

It’s pretty daunting reading the above, but you really need to understand that every single Marshal who signs up has a responsibility to the riders who are racing. You are not just a number. As a Marshal you may be required to stand in what would usually be restricted areas to members of the public. This means you can experience spectacular views of the racing (and of the Isle of Man) from points you would not be able to if you weren’t signed on to Marshal. Yes, it’s fantastic, BUT I can guarantee when Michael Dunlop flies down the bottom of Barregarrow flat out on a Superbike first the first time that year a change of underwear is 100% required… You’ll begin to understand why these areas are restricted. *best add underwear to the essentials list*

Before I forget, here is my essentials list:

  • Warrant card and photographic ID
  • Race Guide (for numbers, plates and names)
  • Bug/Midgie Spray
  • Midgie net for your head (trust me, you’ll thank me later!)
  • Thermals
  • Boots, proper boots
  • Waterproof jacket (and make sure it’s warm!)
  • Hat (sun and woolly)
  • Sandwiches, biscuits, cake, just food in general
  • Flask of coffee, tea, water
  • Spare pair of underwear *very important*

Interested yet? You should be! If you would like to sign on for TT 2019, you can do so here. If you can’t sign-on online, you can go to the Marshal’s hut behind the back of the Grandstand and sign-on there instead. It’s all very quick and simple!

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The Mountain Road on a beautifully clear day… that makes a change!

If you have never Marshalled before, that’s perfectly fine and you are definitely more than welcome to join the Orange Army! In fact, we need you! The more the merrier! Look at that view! You can Marshal for practice sessions, races or both. You can Marshal for one session or all of them. It is entirely down to you. If you are a new TT Marshal and are concerned you know nothing about what you need to do, don’t worry! Regardless of whether you have previous Marshalling experience at other motorsport events, you will be placed with experienced Marshals. There is now also a new learning platform for all Marshals who register for TT 2019. It is a mandatory requirement for all Marshals and must be completed before they turn up to their designated sector, myself included. It’s not scary or worrying. It’s a great little tool to help you learn the basics of what you need to know stood at the side of a closed road ready to watch a motorbike or sidecar skim the hedges at 200mph. I’ve actually found the learning platform very valuable because the last time I touched a Tetra radio or flags was nine months ago and we all know what can happen in nine months… Anyway, get it done!! It’s a very useful resource, but just be careful of the maps – I found them deceiving and I live on the island!

If you are wanting to Marshal it is a necessity to ‘sign-on’. Once you are signed on and you have collected your pack which includes your warrant card, discounts, and some other little goodies. You will also receive e-mails about attending the Marshal’s supper and other various events which are restricted to Marshal’s only. Previously there have been evenings with John McGuinness and various other racers which you can attend free of charge, but they change from year-to-year. I guess it’s how the racers can give a little back, think of it as a pat on the back! Once you have received your warrant card you have legal permission to Marshal. This also means you are covered by ACU insurance travelling to/from your Marshalling points as well as during your duties. The powers of a Marshal during closed roads used to be that of a Special Constable, now I believe the powers are ‘similar.’ However, you must always carry your warrant card as well as photographic ID to be insured, have the power, etc. otherwise you may be told you cannot Marshal. This is an ACU rule.

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Equipment all laid out ‘in case of emergency’

Be warned – practice sessions and race days can be long and tiring! You must arrive at least 30 minutes before roads close for a briefing with the DSM (Deputy Sector Marshal) or CSM (Cheif Sector Marshal) to allow jobs to be allocated. I would actually recommend arriving at your position approx. 1 hour beforehand because you may have to carry equipment such as the stretcher, fire extinguishers, medical box, etc. out of the locked containers and into position. The job you are given will depend solely on your experience, training and also preference. Examples are flags, radio comms, rider and bike. It’s never great to be designated ‘rider’ or ‘bike’, but it has to be done in case an incident happens. The role as a Marshal doesn’t stop there, however. You are responsible for ensuring your portion of the road is closed to traffic e.g. barriers are erect. You should take a sweep of the road. Is there any debris? Damp patches? Oil? Discard the rubbish, close all gates and check there are no visible road surface issues. Should you have any issues with those mentioned, you will need to contact your CSM to report them.

This leads me on to a crucial skill that Marshals should know how to do regardless of whether you have completed further training or not. OBSERVATION. There was a famous incident a few years ago involving Guy Martin where he was black flagged in Ramsey due to losing a wheel nut… definitely not a good thing to lose when you’re travelling at 200mph, but at least it was spotted. I believe a spectator noticed a wheel nut land right next to them and, after checking their camera, they had a photo of said wheel nut in mid-air with Guy centre stage. Thankfully the spectator notified a Marshal who was able to contact race control in order to stop Guy at the next safest point. It is so vital you stay focused. Observe every race number, every plate colour. Is there anything leaking or hanging off the bike? Does the sidecar driver still have a passenger? Trust me… that definitely happened.

If you are already a registered Marshal and have completed at least three sessions, you can register for the Incident Management Course (IMC). You cannot become a fully accredited Marshal until you have completed this course, but you can Marshal without it.

 

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You will receive a pack and a certificate once completing your IMC

You are encouraged to partake in the (IMC) which, on the Isle of Man, is provided by the St. John Ambulance Team who are fantastic!  They are on a first-come-first-served basis and ones around TT/MGP are usually fully booked. It can be a long day so please be warned about that – 8.45am to 5pm approx. However, on the plus side, tea/coffee/lunch is all provided and it is all free. The IMC does exactly what it says on the tin. It is to ensure you are fully equipped with the knowledge you need to manage an incident should it occur. When I first looked into what the IMC entailed I was initially put off by the ‘role play’ side of things. I didn’t want to be the mad woman screaming or being carried around on a stretcher. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, but I suppose I didn’t want to appear stupid in front of people who have probably done their IMC multiple times. Anyway, there was nothing to fear. We arrived, had a briefing, coffee and cake too if I remember rightly, and then we were onto the nitty gritty stuff. You learn about the basic roles of a marshal; checking the road, distribution of jobs, noting a helicopter landing spot and learning how to approach said helicopter, ensuring medical boxes are sealed, what’s inside them, etc. You learn about the flags – green, yellow, red, rain, sun, stationary, waived, etc. You get to have a fiddle with the Tetra radio’s: learn how to turn it on/off, change channel, radio control, the emergency button, etc.  It’s always good to go over simple knowledge like this because until it happens you don’t know how you’re going to react if an incident occurs.

Then it’s onto your first-aid bits. My favourite bit, but probably not if I have to put it all into practice. You can even be strapped to a stretcher if that’s what you’re into… It’s vital you remember that Travelling Marshal’s are trained in advanced first-aid and there are paramedics strategically dotted around the Mountain Course just in case. There is, of course, air-med, but until they arrive it’s down to you. I won’t go through everything you are taught, but you are first shown how to approach an injured rider. I never really thought about it, but if you’re lay on the floor with your helmet on, you’ve got seven million blind spots because you probably can’t (and shouldn’t) move your head. You are shown how to remove a rider’s helmet safely, the recovery position, bandages and most importantly CPR along with a lot more. Yes, that is how real your job as a marshal could be. I would insist you take this course. I know marshals who have saved lives because of first-aid training such as this. It is free and you will gain valuable information and knowledge which could potentially save not only a rider’s life but anyone’s life.

If you’re interested in taking the IMC, a list of dates can be found here. If you have any questions about it feel free to ask away in the comments below. I will be more than happy to answer any queries or forward them on to those who can assist further.

On a side note, one thing you should be prepared for if you are wanting to become a TT Course Marshal is the weather. You’ll probably end up looking like this:

The weather cannot be guaranteed, but don’t expect sunshine. You could be stood in the wind and rain for 20 minutes or more before a session is cancelled or you could be lucky enough to end up with a Manx tan! I can assure you you’ll get cold standing around, so definitely wear layers and don’t forget to take a hat! Just enjoy every moment of it because the TT really is f**ing amazing and you’re doing an amazing job by supporting it in the best way you can!

There are only 15 days until the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course closes for the first practice session of 2019. Becoming a marshal is easy, so there is no excuse not to sign-on if you want to. Don’t let there be a risk of cancelled sessions due to a lack of marshals.

Sign-on and help this world famous event take place. 

Words by Samantha Wanless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning To Ride A Motorcycle

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This is something a little different from the race reports I usually waffle about so hang in there…

I am currently learning to ride… a motorbike. Having always been around motorbikes, whether it’s racing or travelling as pillion, learning to ride is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had a few obstacles in the way, but I’m ready to tick this off my bucket list. Let’s face it, I live on the Isle of Man… there’s no excuse not to get it done!

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I’m yet to attempt the beautiful Mountain road… there’s a time and a place…

I passed my car test at 16 and yes, that is legal on the Isle of Man. I think everyone believes that because you are aware of the rules of the road that side of things shouldn’t be difficult. Okay, in some respects I believe that, but in others… not so much! I honestly think it makes you believe you should pass your motorbike test in a blink of an eye because you’ve practically done it before. Nope, wrong, false. It’s completely different and sometimes I envy those who did their bike test before learning to drive a car. I’m already thinking I should have done it that way round!

Let’s start from the beginning. Your CBT (Compulsory Basic Training.) I passed my first CBT when I was 19. Loved every minute of it even though it lashed it down. I then didn’t take my test. At 24 I decided to do my CBT again. When I did my re-CBT, the instructor said in the car park ‘are you sure you’ve done your CBT before?’ Oh eff off, yes I am sure! I’d never felt so embarrassed or put down. Yes, it had been a while since I’d been on two wheels. I’d been open and honest about that as well as the fact I’d lost all my confidence. It probably also didn’t help it was SO fucking hot the sweat was running into my eyes. It was madness, but the moment I started to ride on an actual road rather than a bloody playground, it all came flooding back. The life savers, mirror and head check…. I felt like I was spending more time looking backwards just as I did before. And, before anyone says it, yes I’m fully aware they are very necessary thank you. They take you over part of the TT course, through estates, along the prom and them dreaded horse tram lines. Potentially you pass the grandstand at a phenomenal 30mph (because that’s the speed limit folks…!) and then it’s done and dusted. You can ride legally on the road on your own on your own motorcycle as long as it’s no more than 125cc. Let the panic begin.

It is terrifying. The first time I put my gear on and sat on Nelli ready to go out on her I was nervous… of course. I was on a brand new bike for the very first time and I’d only just passed my CBT. Now, yes I’m a woman, maybe a man or another woman may find learning to ride a motorbike differently to how I did, but there are reasons why. Fortunately, riding a motorcycle kind of came easy to me, but I can see how it doesn’t for so many people. The amount of times I’ve sat there about to set off and I’m constantly thinking ‘shit, I’ve forgotten how to do this,’ ‘1 down 4 up,’ ‘fuck where’s my brakes.’ As soon as you get going it’s absolutely fine and you forget about all the crap you were thinking 5 seconds before you let the clutch out. As much as I enjoyed being on two-wheels, the fear of falling off or whatever else could happen ruined it for me at the beginning. I have now, however, found the reason why I was so worried!

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I currently have a Benelli TNT 125

Being only 5’2″, it’s been a slight struggle finding a motorbike I can actually reach the floor on as long as trousers that fit, etc, etc. (Thankfully I found MotoGirl who’s kevlar legging type trousers are DIVINE. I will do a little gear list eventually on here.) After I passed my CBT the first time my Dad helped me buy a KTM Duke 125. She was a bloody beauty and I loved her, but I’m pretty sure I rode that bike on pure adrenaline. I couldn’t reach the floor very well at all and without the experience and confidence behind you, there is just no way you can deal with that as a learner. I lost all my confidence. I didn’t want to go out on it and instead she sat dormant in the garage for 2 years. I loved the idea of a Honda Grom, but didn’t like them to look at… They look fun-sized, but without looking too ridiculous. The amount of grown 6’4” men riding round on them at TT last year was obscene, but they all looked like they were having the time of their life! Anyway, my partner had spotted a different motorbike which was similar looking to the Grom… that’s when we took a drive up to Dedman’s Performance in Ramsey. Little Nelli was sat outside and I fell in love. Probably two weeks later I’d ordered my brand new Benelli TNT 125 and booked my CBT. I part-exed my KTM for Nelli, Paul Dedman came to drop it off and pick the KTM up and that was that. Don’t buy a bike that you don’t feel comfortable with. I learnt the hard way and now I’m starting all over again!

My little Benelli TNT 125 – I absolutely love her. The OTR prices are considerably lower (potentially £2k less) than a Honda MSX 125 and in my opinion I think the Benelli have got the design of it on point. I’ve had a few comments now asking what it is, how smart it looks, how fast does it go and they all end with ‘I want one!’ If you are looking for a little 125 to bob around on, I can highly recommend this:

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Benelli TNT 125 in white

 

As you have probably guessed, I did pass my re-CBT and here we are. Riding on the roads solo. Well, not technically. I think my mother would probably kill me if I decided to go out on my own, but also my little comfort is having Chris ride with me. Trust me, that poor ZX-7 is fed up of my 50mph riding and Chris is too…

 

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You’ve got to start somewhere to join in with the big boys…

Talking of 50mph, that’s the learner limit here in derestricted zones. If you’re not familiar with derestricted zones, it basically means if in doubt flat about because there is no limit. If I’m honest, I’m quite content at that speed right now. The thought of going any faster currently makes me want to vomit, but I’m sure in time that will pass. Now, in a car, I’d happily do *insert high number here* mph, but I probably wasn’t happy doing that when I was learning to drive or just passed. It’s come with time, practice and experience. After all, that was almost 10 years ago. *feeling old*

The other week I got overtaken by some crazy woman in a clapped out Nissan Micra. Was I upset? A little. Chris was even more infuriated because she then persisted on tailgating him allllllll the way through Ballaugh’s 30mph zone. Prick. Anyway, let not forget I am riding on the Isle of Man TT course and I am most definitely not a TT racer. Usually they’re in the range of 150mph+, not under 50mph, so I’ll keep motoring along at my own speed for now. I got frustrated, but there was no point because Nelli probably only does a max of 60mph bless. Also, legally 50mph is my limit and in all honesty it is where I’m comfortable at the minute. Yeah, yeah, take the piss. Everyone has to start somewhere. Whatever, overtake me. See what I care. I’m learning to ride a motorbike and that’s not something everyone does in their life, so give me an effing break. 

This little blog was inspired by that shitty Nissan Micra woman, so thanks to her you got this little insight into my brain whilst learning to ride a motorbike. 10% of the time I’m shitting myself. 85% of the time I’m loving life and probably ‘whoop whooping’ in my helmet, and the other 5% I’m raging at a shitty car driver for not understanding that I’m a learner and people have to learn.

I am currently loving and living for every minute on two wheels. It rained the other morning, the sun shined at lunchtime and I’m asking work colleagues ‘IS THE ROAD DRY?! DID YOU NOTICE?!’ Going out in the wet isn’t at the top of my list just yet, but I’ll do it eventually. Aside from letting Chris take the ZX-7 out for a blast, I’m trying to sieze every little moment on Nelli because quite honestly, at the moment, it’s the best little stress reliever going. I would 100% recommend to a friend. Just do it.

I’ve still got a lot of learning to do, lots to experience and a test to pass, but I’m enjoying being back on two wheels especially on such a beautiful island where motorcycles are a way of life.

 

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17 days and counting…

Updates to follow…

 

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 not long 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! If you want to know more about becoming a TT marshal, I’ve written a little blog to help you decide.

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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

The Truth About Road Racing

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*This may not be an easy read, but I think it’s an important one.

Road racing. It’s exactly that. Racing on a road. A public road, albeit closed. On two wheels. On a motorbike. Between the stone walls, hedges and curb stones. Through the trees, mind that damp patch and try to hit that apex. Trees, barbed wire fences, lampposts line the roadsides. There are bridges, hairpins and maybe a Mountain to contest. Roundabouts and chicanes maybe. A mass start or a time trial.

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This is road racing and it isn’t for everyone.

Before I moved to the Isle of Man myself and my family made the pilgrimage over to the Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix almost every year. I remember kids at school asking me why was I going to an Island where there will be nothing to do? Are you sure you mean Man and not White? Is there even electricity. To answer those questions – yes I meant Man, yes there is electricity and that little journey over the Irish Sea is more than just a holiday. It’s a community flocking to a small island to witness one of the greatest ever spectacles. Standing at the bottom of the road watching these racers fly through is something I don’t think you can comprehend at 6 or 7. I can still remember how it felt though. That jumping feeling when one flew past, maybe a little step back. Okay, a rather large step back, but I was hooked. I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t help but watch. I’d run down to the bottom of my grandparent’s road ready to watch. When you’re small you don’t have to be anywhere early… people just let you push in. It was great! At that age you don’t understand the ins and outs of road racing or probably motorsport in general. My Poppa (Grandad) used to track race, he always had a motorbike. I guess it’s all kind of in my blood. The speed, the danger, the mechanics. My Mom followed BSB, WSBK and MotoGP religiously. All you really see at the age though is the race bikes in the paddock, the racers who you meet and talk to and then the races themselves. You cling onto a favourite at that age, you idolise without even realising. You’re oblivious to everything else that goes on. I suppose you think these racers are invincible and that everything will be okay; it’ll t-cut out mentality. Until one day you’re that little bit older and suddenly the world is no longer rainbows and butterflies.

I was 9 when myself and thousands of race fans lost their racing hero – David Jefferies. I cried and I cried. The whole atmosphere on this little island changed, the whole island was devastated – something we would unfortunately encounter again and again.  I didn’t see it, in fact I wasn’t anywhere near where the incident happened, but even at 9 my heart sank hearing the words ‘red flag’ and the press release that followed. Flowers and items in memory were laid by Jefferies family, team-mates, friends, fans. They still are to this day. I guess at that point for me it was a realisation. Jefferies was a TT winner, in fact he won nine in the six years he contested. He knew his way round; he knew his bike. Yet in a split second – gone. The realisation for me at that age was simple. This sport is dangerous. This sport can seriously injure people, or worse fatally. This sport is not for the faint-hearted. This sport is something you need to understand before you immerse yourself in it. This sport is where you need to be prepared for every eventuality. It could be due to a mechanical issue, rider error or even a rabbit. With some fatalities we will just never know except it was a racing incident. I remember my Mom consoling me telling me ‘it’s what they do, they know the risks’. I couldn’t understand how anyone could say bye to their wife, children or parents, put a flammable tank between their legs and ride the nuts off a motorbike with the knowledge they might not make it home alive. I was 9. I was angry. I was upset. The rider I loved, the rider who made me giddy over Suzuki’s, the rider who ignited my road racing spark was gone.

Two months later I found myself back on the Isle of Man for the Manx Grand Prix. I was only 9. I can’t remember what happened in those two months, I can’t remember how I felt, but I’m pretty sure even at 9 I was questioning why I was stood at the bottom of the road once again ready to watch yet more road racing on the same course that took my hero. Yes, it was my family’s choice as to where we went on holiday, but ultimately it was my decision as to whether I watched the racing or not. I chose to. I was drawn to the racing. Not because of the chance of death, not because of the risk, but because of the elation and emotion that everyone feels when you hear ‘xxx WINS THE SENIOR TT’.  You feel like you’re part of something special. Sat by your little radio with Manx Radio AM blaring out, alongside other race fans who are waving their programmes, shouting ‘GO ON FELLA!’, waving their arms around, jumping up in the air. It’s unbelievable. And all this is happening whilst you are stood at the end of a road, sat on a hedge or in a field. They are, in some places, inches away from you. Probably within touching distance. It is scary. You have to be prepared for it, you have to know that motorsport is dangerous. Not just road racing, but motorsport in general. You’re don’t usually get that type of danger at Silverstone or Brands hatch. You’re shoved behind a tall fence or in a grandstand. You don’t often get the danger of a curb stone, a brick wall or a lamppost either. You have to pay for admission, which these days can cost the world, and the majority of the time you have to be pretty important to take a walk down pit lane to the garages. There’s none of that b*llshit at a road race. The paddock is open for everyone to walk around without any charge. You can find yourself a space in a hedge, provided it’s not prohibited’ for free. Take yourself a few beers and a packed lunch and you’re set for a day’s racing! You can congregate on the start line and watch the racers set off down Bray Hill one by one. You can be right where the mass starts take off from at the Southern 100, NW200 or Ulster Grand Prix. Whether you go with friends or go alone, you’re bound to make new friends, race friends, friends who just get it. Nowadays you have to pay to sit in the main grandstand at the start/finish of the TT course and they have started to put up paid-for Grandstand at various points around the course. Some people who only know this are likely to pay, but old school race fans will just perch on a wall, in a hedge, in a field where it’s free (or a donation is payable). You begin to learn that road racing fans aren’t like ordinary race fans. You begin to learn that road racers aren’t like track racers.

There are people I work with who just don’t get it. There will be people in Tesco’s complaining that roads are closed, no food is left or that there’s simply too many motorbikes. They live here, love the Isle of Man, but just don’t understand why for almost 5 weeks of the year specific roads close for racers to jump on their motorbikes to race the roads we drive on daily. They don’t understand why people make the pilgrimage from all over the world to be on this little, not usually tropical, island. One year I noticed some motorbikes had Australian number plates. Turns out the riders had shipped their bikes over so they can ride on the famous TT course. A number of people often ride through Europe, jump on the Eurostar or ferry, cross the English Channel, ride up from Dover to Liverpool or Heysham, sail the Irish Sea just to get to the races. That’s days of travelling. That’s commitment. That’s what we do to watch and immerse ourselves in what this bizarre sport we love. I don’t expect outsiders to understand. Not many people I know would be happy to sit on a grass bank with ants and whatever else is lurking for a day’s racing. Not many find it appealing especially if you’re in the middle of a field and the only toilet you have is a bush… Personally, it doesn’t bother me. I’m 100% content sat on a grass bank, in a hedge or on a stone wall. I’m in awe of these racers. It’s a pleasure to watch these people do what they do best. Hitting those apexes, navigating through the shade of the trees, dancing on the foot pegs. I don’t expect everyone to understand, I especially don’t expect them to understand after recent events where even road race fans are questioning their love for the sport. I know I have been hence why I’m writing this today. Ask a road racing fan on a good day how they feel about road racing and before you know it you’ll be hooked yourself. Catch a road racing fan on a bad day and they’ll tell you how much they hate it. A few weeks later you’ll catch that same road racing fan back in a hedge. But why? Because it’s all we know, it’s under our skin, it’s part of us. I truly believe that a road racing fan carries the death of a racer around with them for a while regardless of whether they witnessed it or not. The turn up on a hedge the next day because it’s what that racer would want. It’s a sign of respect, it’s a show of solidarity.

Some of these racers didn’t make it home alive, but were they doing what they loved? Yes. Some have been critically injured, but were they living life to their fullest? Yes. Some may have lost finger tips, some may have lost a limb, but did they know the risks? Yes. The additional danger in road racing is quite clearly obvious and it isn’t rocket science. 1. Racing on two wheels comes with an additional risk in comparison to rallying for example. 2. The furniture. 3. No run off area, kitty litter or similar. Those of the three main differences. In a racing incident it can be difficult to distinguish a fault, a reason specifically when the mechanical factors appear to be sound after inspection. A rider error can be hard to take, but it’s a stark reminder that they’re only human.

Over the years my eyes were opened to even more road races. There isn’t just the Isle of Man TT or the Manx Grand Prix – there are many! North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix in Northern Ireland, Skerries 100 in Southern Island. The Southern 100 down south on the Isle of Man and many more, but these are to name a few. There have been huge achievements at all of the above, but with great achievements come sadness and at each of the above road races there have been fatalities. You also find road racing in Spain and other European countries, however they’re not as well publicised here in the UK. In fact, the only time road racing gets a mention in the press is when there is are life-threatening injuries or fatalities.

You’ll find The Time, The Independent, The Huffington Post and many more only ever mention the Isle of Man TT, Southern 100, Skerries 100 if a rider has died. They might mention if Cal Crutchlow grabs a podium position in MotoGP, but they won’t mention that Peter Hickman is the world’s fastest road racer as he set a new lap record around the Isle of Man TT course. They won’t mention that Dean Harrison won the Supersport TT this year and that before Hickman smashed the outright lap record at the TT Harrison was actually the world’s fastest road racer at the Ulster Grand Prix or that John McGuinness had signed for Norton. The only recent ‘news’ the world knows about McGuinness is that his Honda spat him off at the NW200 leaving him partly broken. People on the outside are only aware of a handful of riders this year: Dan Kneen, Steve Mercer, Adam Lyon, William Dunlop, James Cowton and Ivan Lintin, People on the outside are only aware of these riders for the worst possible reason. They have either been fatally killed whilst racing or critically injured. Of course this is news, serious news, but they are also people. They’re not just racers. They have families. They might have a girlfriend or wife, possibly even children. The risks are well-known by both the rider and their families. McGuinness has said ‘we look selfish at times; we just can’t help it.’ Their wife will probably be the one holding their helmet whilst their husband zips up their leathers on the start line. Their children are probably holding their gloves whilst their daddy puts on his helmet. Their partners go into a relationship with them as racers whether that be on a road or a track. Their children are brought into this crazy world of road racing from birth and it’s all they know. Paul Shoesmith, who lost his life in June 2016, had two young boys. You’d see Shoey’s tent in the paddock and know that his two little boys wouldn’t be far away razzing round the paddock on their little balance bikes. They loved it! This racing world is all they know. It’s not just a few weeks of the year. The racing world is their life, their family. It’s in their blood regardless of whether they decide to take up racing later in life or not. I hope people can at least understand that part of this crazy world rather than criticising the life they choose.

It was Senior Race Day in 2015. Myself, my partner and his family decided we’d go up to the K Tree, but it was pretty much full! Instead we headed to the 11th milestone and set-up camp on a hedge. The buzz around the Senior TT is unreal despite having a Superbike race on the Monday, this is always the one racers want to win. The Marquis de Mouzilly St. Mars trophy is awarded to the winner. It’s prestigious. It’s special. However, that day in 2015 I witnessed my first ‘big’ crash. I heard a bang, saw a fireball and jumped down behind the hedge as I saw bike bits fly towards me. It was horrifying. The adrenaline had kicked in after a few short seconds and I was ready to deal with whatever had just happened, but I wasn’t signed-on to marshal that day. I was there to spectate. There were adequate numbers of marshals and in a situation like that too many cooks’ rings all too true. The helicopter came, although it felt like hours before it arrived, and I believe there was an off-duty nurse spectating who offered her assistance. It also felt like hours until the helicopter left, but you’re never really certain as to whether that’s a good thing or not. Steve Mercer unfortunately had to ride through the smoke and potentially the fireball that lit up the sky. He pulled into the field next to us and sat there facing away from the road. He just wanted to be alone. All of a sudden the realities of road racing were all too clear. I remember a marshal walking down the pavement after it happened asking if everyone was okay with blood over his orange jacket. He was so calm, collected. Seeing that crash was upsetting, but it never stopped me from watching road racing. The love was still there, just a little tainted. After I’d calmed down and made sure others around me were okay, I looked at Twitter. Rumours were rife. I remember seeing riders’ names strewn left, right and centre. None of which were correct might I add. None of us could even see a number on the bike and we were there, we saw it. This happens every damn time, but unfortunately we live in a world now ruled by social media. There appears to be some kind of sick trophy that people want to grab and say they were the first to announce a death.

Social media wasn’t really a thing when I watched as a child. Smartphones didn’t exist and you were lucky if you were able to send a picture message without trying 273 times. You listened to Manx Radio and if you wanted to document anything you either had a camera or a camcorder. You couldn’t upload photos or videos onto Twitter or Facebook. The latest news wasn’t in your hand. Now I’m constantly fighting with people to keep the rumours they’ve heard to themselves rather than plastering them over social media where families could potentially be given false information. Would you like to see that your boyfriend, husband, wife had died in a racing incident on Twitter? These people either call themselves race fans or their people who want it banned. It boils my blood how social media can be turned into such a negative form of communication. A lot of road racing fans use Twitter, for example, to keep up with the results, the latest updated whether that be yellow flags, red flags. Those of us who know the sport, who respect the sport know that nothing good ever comes of speculation. Twitter is full of racers, teams, team members, family and friends. I have many friends who are directly involved in road racing whether they race themselves, are family or friends of a racer or even part of a team. There’s a little network behind the scenes of Twitter both publicly and privately. When an incident happens we don’t gossip or share information over a public platform. If something needs to be said, it’s done privately. That little network is what holds this community together sometimes. This community knows nothing is official until a press release is published. This community knows the heartache. This community knows this is road racing and this is dangerous. This community is a family. We are all well informed of the risks, of the consequences. Please don’t try and tell us our sport should be no more, that we should suppress such natural born talent on a motorcycle because some people who aren’t even involved in this sport are worried about the consequences.

The past few weeks have been ones of loss, heartbreak and tears. Practice week of the 2018 Isle of Man TT brought up heartache and loss. The Isle of Man lost one of its own – Dan Kneen. This little island will take a while to heal from the loss of Dan, it won’t be quick nor easy. With the support of Dan’s family, the Tyco BMW team and the races went on as scheduled with the knowledge that this is exactly what Dan would have wanted. On the same evening Steve Mercer was also involved in an incident where he was said to be in a critical condition. As per the schedule, we continued knowing that these racers wouldn’t want the races to be stopped. During the Supersport Race Adam Lyon’s was fatally injured on the Mountain section after a competitive start to his Mountain course career. At the Skerries 100 only last weekend it was announced that we lost another of the Dunlop dynasty – William. Brother of Michael, nephew of Joey, son of Robert. Northern Ireland once again along with the entire road racing community are mourning the loss of another of the greatest road racing families in history. I still don’t really know what to say about William other than he was a gentleman both on and off the roads. He’ll be sorely missed by many. Only yesterday at the Southern 100 we lost another road racer – James Cowton. The death of a road racer regardless of whether they are a newcomer or experienced always comes as a shock. It always takes time to come to terms with a loss, and for some it will never leave us.

This is by no means a direct comparison, but for a bit of perspective in 2018 so far FIVE people have died attempting to climb Mount Everest. In 2017 there were SIX. In 2016 there were SEVEN. Now, you tell me that road racing is dangerous and that it should be banned? Ban it because people died doing what they loved, people died living their dream? Ban it because it’s not safe? It’s just not the answer and it’s not what the families of these racers need to be hearing. They will grieve, they will go through every possible emotion, but they will eventually find some comfort and may even find themselves back in the paddock involving themselves because it’s all they know. Whilst writing this my thoughts are with those who are no longer here to live their dream and especially with the families of William Dunlop and James Cowton. Ivan Lintin remains in a critical condition following yesterday’s incident and has been transferred to Liverpool for further treatment – keep fighting!

I’m not too sure how much more this sport, the families, friends and fans can take, but what I do know is we’ll get through it & help those who need it. Don’t get me wrong it’ll take time, lots of time. This season has been horrendous, one of the worst I’ve known, but we’ll get there, we’ll get through it. The truth is road racing is dangerous. Motorsport in general is dangerous. I hope that this gives an insight into this crazy world of road racing especially if you’re someone who just doesn’t get this sport. It’s difficult to understand at times, it’s difficult to love at times. It’s a sport I hate to love sometimes, but a sport I can’t help but love.

Steve Mercer posted something quite poignant today on Facebook for his first post since his incident at TT and I thought I would leave you with this little sentence – ‘We are bike racers and bike racers fight.’

Words by Samantha Wanless