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

IOMTT: Supersport Race 2

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Wednesday 6th June and it’s the third race day of the week!

We decided we’d stay at home for the day and instead venture alllllll the way (1 min walk) to the top of Station Road and plonk ourselves on the decking next to Motors & Mowers. At least it’s handy to pop back for the toilet, food or to let the dog out! It’s sounds silly to say this, but two-weeks of this really does tire you out! Up and out early, the adrenaline, the late nights due to watching stunt shows on the prom or dancing around Bushy’s. Imagine how those racers must feel if us spectators are complaining we’re knackered. My other half had taken our trusty camping chairs up with coffee and snacks and I wandered up the road just before roads closed. That was us then until lunchtime. The sun was blisteringly hot. We had to share our suncream around as people had completely underestimated the Manx weather… anyone would think it rains most of the time! 

No delays were announced, conditions appeared perfect other than a burst water main which was just slightly leaking onto the road near Ballagarey, but nothing major at that moment in time. After the Supersport 1 race every one appeared to be excited about this. There were German’s to our left with a signed Hickman cap, Welsh to our right and a gaggle of Yorkshiremen with their Yorkshire rose flag. Okay, so I was sandwiched between Hickman and Harrison fans… the two who were probably about to fight it out on the road for that top step and I was slap bang in the middle.  Fabulous – lets see how this one pans out!! 

TT tan update at around 11am – Britten pink. 

As we’ve seen all week it was Conor Cummins who set off the field from Glencrutchery Road, but on the leaderboard Harrison took that number one position at Glen Helen. 1.8s separated Harrison and Dunlop with Hillier a mere 0.4s back. Cummins slotted into fifth just behind Hickman with Gary John sixth. When Harrison was due into view at Kirk Michael all I could see was that Yorkshire rose being waved around. Good job it wasn’t the Manx flag… bit shit having an all red flag when you think about. By Ramsey Hairpin Harrison had increased his lead over Dunlop to 2.7s with Hillier in third, but after his Superstock win on Monday under his leathers it appeared that Hickman was hungry for more of that. The gap to Hillier was now only 0.1s. 

Harrison’s opening lap of 128.188mph gave him a 3.6s leave over Dunlop with Hickman grabbing that third spot from Hillier over the Mountain. Cummins remained in fifth with Padgett’s team-mate Lee Johnston moving up to sixth ahead of Josh Brookes. As they sweep through the lefts and right round Laurel Bank, Black Dub and up through Glen Helen on the second lap, Harrison had increased his lead to 4.5s over Dunlop. The lead was increasing as Harrison set a 129.099mph – just a fraction outside Dunlop’s lap record from the first race on Monday. 8.3 was the lead as he came into the pits. This is where the drama began. It was announced over the tannoy that Dunlop had incurred a 30s penalty for exceeding the pit lane speed limit by 0.2km/h. I remember this happening to Guy Martin a few years back and boy did we all know about it. He wasn’t happy, he was fuming. Lots of toys out the pram, dummy spat and some colourful language. It’s difficult having to accept a 30s penalty with racing as close as 0.1s it can bring you down maybe even into tenth position. Dunlop had his rear tyre changed, something Harrison didn’t do, but it also saw Harrison up to a 18.3s lead over Hickman. Dunlop would have slotted into sixth following the standings after lap three, but by Glen Helen he was up to fifth. That podium seemed a long way off, but maybe it was possible? 

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Speaking of penalties, it was also announced that there were time penalties given to two different riders as their pit crew were using mobile phones in pit lane. It states everywhere that you cannot use your mobile phones in pit lane, yet why did these people feel it was necessary? I believe it was a 10s penalty. A penalty which the racer didn’t incur, yet instead it was their trusted pit crew that forced it upon them. I just couldn’t quite believe my ears when I heard it. Madness. Utter madness. I feel sorry for those racers. They must feel very let down. 

Up to Ramsey things remained similar. Harrison was on a charge and pulling away from Hickman, and Hickman doing the same to Hillier. Dunlop was trying to close in on Cummins who now slotted into fourth after the 30s penalty had been included. As they crossed the line to begin their fourth and final lap of the 600cc race, Harrison had a comfortable lead of 19.5s over Hickman who looked comfortable in second having fought Hillier off who was back 7.9s. Cummins still had the edge on Dunlop. No lap records were broken, Harrison led the way for the entirety of the four laps, but did in fact break the race record as he crossed the line to win the second Supersport race of the 2018 TT!

Harrison had finally done it! He crossed the line, took the chequered flag – boom – that right turn into parc ferme and down the middle After the bad luck we’d seen Harrison have in the Superbike race on Saturday, I’d never heard cheers like it. Everyone was thrilled to see him on top of the podium followed by Hickman and Hillier – the 3 H’s. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer fella. This is Harrison’s second TT win and one he’s fought hard to get this year… and there’s still the Senior TT race to go! 


Cummins, Dunlop and Brookes completed the top six with Johnston, Johnson, Cowton and Ivan Lintin rounded out the top ten.

It’s hard to think about what could have happened if Dunlop hadn’t incurred that penalty in pit lane. Maybe there may have been a mechanical problem instead. It’s really tough on these machines round this course. It’s an endurance for them yet worse. The suspension takes a beating on these roads for example, the 600cc engines are revved to within an inch of their lives. It’s a test of man, machine and mountain – one which Harrison had finally achieved. 

TT tan update – Ducati red. 

The Supersport TT was only the beginning of Wednesday’s races, the Lightweight TT followed…

IOMTT: Hickman’s maiden victory

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…and this was what followed the Supersport 1 race on Monday just an hour or two later.

After we had all just learnt the sad news regarding Adam Lyon, it was time to go racing again. There really isn’t much time to digest what had occurred in the previous race. I don’t really think it’s a good idea to have that time to digest if I’m honest. These racers, well, for some of them this isn’t just a hobby – it’s a job. They have a job to do and that’s to place their machine as high as they possibly can as well as grabbing some new PB’s whilst they’re at it. Sometimes your head just isn’t in it and that’s okay. It’s about recognising that it isn’t. That’s the key. Earlier on in practice week we saw William Dunlop pull out of this year’s TT due to his own personal reasons. I respect him for that as does everyone else. It was clear his head and maybe his heart just wasn’t in it this year, but he’ll be back. He’s a Dunlop after all.

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They line the machines up from 1 – 20 along the start line one after the other. The teams run around like little ants shoving tyre warmers on, doing final checks and most importantly making sure there’s someone holding that brolly because it is majorly hot here. My TT tan is current at level Hizzy helmet pink, but I would probably guess that it will upgrade to the next level come Wednesday. Dressed in their leather suits whether they be RST or Alpinestar, Sidi or Daytona boots. They must be roasting. And then on goes the lid. It’s race time.

Off they go one by one with 20 seconds in between. Harrison led Dunlolp by 3.5s at Glen Helen on the first lap with Gary Johnson slotting into third. Michael Rutter, James Hillier and David Johnson completed the top six. Notably newcomer Davey Todd (who I will keep raving about because I honestly think he’s been bloody amazing round here to date) was up into 9th. Oddly Peter Hickman appeared way down the list in 10th and was not where he was expected to be. Later it was confirmed that Hickman had indeed run on at the Braddan oak tree and was told by a marshal he would have to do around a 6-point turn to go back round the tree the correct way. After the Superstock race Hickman stated he had mis-judged his braking point after finishing a four-lap race on a little 600. Clearly the braking points are very different between the Supersport and Superstock machines with the 1000cc out-the-show-room bike needing a longer braking period due to its weight and bhp.

By the time they had reached Ballaugh Harrison’s lead was up to 4.4s and at Ramsey he was up to 4.8s. Except for mechanical issues, this year it really seems like Harrison is the one to beat. He’s been pushing these lap times out quicker than anyone has ever seen before. He sounds and looks more determined than ever and he’s ready to increase his tally of TT wins. Another ‘H’ was now joining the party however. Hickman had picked up his pace after a rookie error and he was back up from 10th into the 3rd position – 6s behind Dunlop, 3.5s ahead of Rutter. Johnson had filtered down to fifth and wasn’t able to keep up the pace he had initially started from the Grandstand to Glen Helen.

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It was getting exciting. The excitement was building on the grass bank and everyone was cheering as Hickman climbed up the rankings. I’m happy to cheer on every rider going – I think it’s spectacular what each and every one of them do whether they finish 1st, 34th or retire. They’re all insanely talented and world-class racers to take on this Mountain course. I for one, as always, couldn’t help but watch in awe as they flew past Kirk Michael filling station appearing on the left-hand side of the road less than an inch away from the curb right in front of me. A quick flick to the right-hand side of the road to kiss the long grass emerging from the hedge where the ’40’ speed limit sign hides. A little jump, a bit of an arse-end wiggle, and they’re gone. Onto Rhencullen 2, through the straight a Bishopscourt, round bendy Alpine and into Ballaugh quicker than you could say ‘what a race!’

At Ramsey it was still Harrison, Dunlop, Hickman. Harrison was slightly under the outright Superstock lap record with a lap of 133.073mph, but 4.3s ahead ahead of Dunlop. Hickman only a further 3.3s behind Dunlop. Then they were onto lap 2 – the lap with the pit stop. A lap where everything can be won or lost. As they got to Glen Helen, Harrison’s lead was up to 5.7s, Hickman was continuing his charge and slicing through the seconds that stood between him and the second place Dunlop currently held. By Ballaugh, second was his by 0.8s. The race was hotting up, so were the roads and my bare arms. We were in for a close race both time-wise and on the roads. We were ready. It was time to see what these boys could do.

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At Ramsey Hairpin Hickman had eaten into Harrison’s lead which was down to only 2.4s. Hickman had managed to keep Dunlop at bay with a 2.2s gap back to third. Rutter was still hanging onto fourth, but David Johnson and Hillier were tearing up rubber and heading his way. It was announced over the radio the Cummins had retired at Ballaugh Bridge. Gutted. Truly gutted. The whole crowed at Rhencullen deflated a little bit. Whether you’re Manx or not, to come back and race this 37.73 mile course which spat you off 8-years-ago causing pretty significant damage is gutsy. It’s amazing and it’s brave. It’s fantastic to see how determined Cummins had been to get back on a bike and to race round his home course once again. He’s a pleasure to watch round here and a credit to the Padgett’s Honda team.

Back at the front Hickman was still on that quick lap… a quick lap which saw him smash the lap record put it in a 134.077mph giving him a 1.2s lead over Harrison with Dunlop 1.8s behind in third. Just three seconds covered the top three. Insane. These road racers were in another league, a league of their own, a race against the road, against the time, against each other. It was on and it looked as though Hickman was there to stay at the top of the timing. David Johnson had moved on up into fourth after hunting down Rutter, but this was only one second that stood between Johnson, Rutter and Hillier. Us spectators were in for a treat, a frightening one maybe, but they were all so bunched up on the roads – it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before!

Then Davey Todd. 127.890mph. The second fastest newcomer ever to lap this Mountain course which saw him take 7th place on lap 2.

As I was saying, a race can be won and lost in the pits. We definitely saw some shuffling oing on as Dunlop hit the top of the timesheets at Glen Helen on lap three after a blistering pit stop. All credit to those who are involved in the pits. They have such a vital job, a job which is out of the racers hands and they rely so much on their team to ensure everything is present and correct. Hickman had slipped back into third with Harrison remaining in second. Johnson was hanging onto fourth, Rutter was down to sixth and Hillier in fifth. Gary Johnson was announced as a retirement despite seemingly having the pace at the beginning of lap 1. Gary – go visit those fairies and ask for some luck as all you seem to get is the shit end of the stick!!

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Dunlop was still the race leader at Ballaugh, but only by 0.178s as Hickman had re-grouped, his head was clearly back on track. Harrison was still hanging on only 1s behind Hickman. The battle for fourth was still cracking as Hillier and Johnson were fighting hard – only 0.047s between them. Then we were back to Ramsey. Glen Helen to Ramsey appears to be a quick section for Hickman. He always jokes about being shit on the first lap, I think I would be to trying to get your head into speeds like that and still managing to pick out P1 +0.178. But seriously, that man is quick and he was back in P1 +0.87s at Ramsey. Up the Mountain and down. Round the creg-ny-baa pub, down through hillberry and sign-post corner into Governor’s and onto the start/finish… lap four – it’s gonna be a corker.

Half a second. That’s all. Only half a second between Hickman and Dunlop. Could you even imagine that? You would think not much could happen in 0.5s, but if you think that you’ve never been to the Isle of Man TT.

The sun was still blazing, but a light breeze had appeared. At Glen Helen Hickman had pulled another eight tenths of a second out, but Dunlop was responding and he was responding quick. The gap was down to 0.146s at Ramsey. That’s now less than half a second to think about… it takes me longer than 0.146s to change gear never mind grab some clutch, some brake, change gear, throw your weight to the left than back to the right ready to twist that throttle some more. I don’t know how they do it! With Hickman obviously catching a glimpse of a pit-board showing Dunlop’s pace increasing it was down to him to do the same. And so he did. Hickman set the fastest eever sector time form Ramsey to the Bungalow then for the Bungalow to Cronk-ny-Mona… followed by a new lap record on a stocker of 134.403mph.

It was beginning to look too close to call, but after Hickman set a sensational lap of 134.403mph he took the chequered flag and became an Isle of Man TT winner for the very first time. Huge congratulations! Us spectators can only dream about what it must feel like to race around here let alone put in a new stocker lap record followed by a win. Incredible scenes and what a race it was to watch. A pleasure to listen to and, although I love a Dunlop on the top of the podium, so amazing to see someone take their first TT win after such a hard four-lap battle. Dunlop took second 4.4s behind and Harrison took third. Johnson won that incredible battle for fourth with Hillier and Rutter fifth and sixth respectively. Sam West had a mega race and finished in 8th as top privateer and it was newcomer Todd who rounded out the top ten. I can imagine he’ll be snapped up pretty sharpish by a team in that paddock this week.

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That Superstock race was sensational. The crowds were wild for Hickman and I still think there’s more people on this tiny little island in the middle of the Irish Sea than I have seen in years. Probably the last time I remember it looking and feeling this busy was back in 2003. The atmosphere is just incredible and of course the weather helps, but I can’t help but feel that this year the Isle of Man TT has found its mojo again. Maybe next year, it’ll be even bigger than ever before with the likes of John McGuinness back to race the Norton and Hutchinson hopefully back to full fitness. I’d also like to mention a huge get well soon to Bruce Anstey who is currently undergoing treatment. I know there’s a huge amount of people who are missing the Flying Kiwi both on the roads and in the paddock. Keep on fighting!!

For now the racing will go quiet and take a day’s rest. The action returns on Wednesday for the second Supersport race followed by the Lightweight TT.

IOMTT: Supersport 1

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RACE DAY, RACE DAY. EVERY ONE UP. LETS GO.

7am we were up. Packing our cool box with Monster Energy Rossi Edition, sausages, burgers and bacon. Snack box was overflowing, but we were ready. 7:30am we were in the van fully loaded for the day and heading 2 minutes down the road to Rhencullen where we were to plonk ourselves on the grass bank for the forseeable.

Our view just before roads closed – Rhencullen 1

The sun was baking. I’m very fair-skinned. I don’t tan. I turn a bright shade of tomato then return to my pasty self. I thought we had prepared for every eventuality, but nope. I’d forgotten my hat. Suncream was applied, but even at 8am the sun was already turning bald heads pink and I had resigned to the fact I probably wouldn’t make it through both the Supersport and Superstock races. Instead I would probably be sat in the back of the van with a sulk on because it would either be that or burn baby burn! 

Roads closed at 10am sharp. Like clockwork. It’s amazing to see how quickly the roads are closed, how organised. There’s never (usually) any bother with getting motorists off the road. Just lately it’s been the spectators causing issues instead. After I’d climbed through the farmers fence, narrowly avoided a nettle to the face and escaped any injury, I was up on the grass bank with legs dangling. Now you might think that’s dangerous. Why would you sit with your legs dangling whilst motorbikes fly through at 150mph+ about an inch away from the curb you’re closest to? Actually, I can’t really answer that except for at least my feet weren’t touching the pavement! This truly is the closest you will ever get to racing and this is exactly why you won’t find me in a grandstand at a BSB or MotoGP in the UK because there is no way you’re sticking me behind a load of chicken wire so I can look on a big screen. Nope. I want to be right there. A stones throw away. (In fact one clipped my nose on Monday, but that’s another story.) The TT and road racing in general really does spoil you. So, I’m sat on the grass bank like a pig in muck. Sun is out, I’ve eaten by bacon bap and I’m just patiently waiting listening to the radio build-up. Roads are closed and there’s a nosher stood in his socks on the road. I just don’t understand. Clearly a biker with his leather trousers on, guessing his feet were too hot in his boots. I couldn’t smell the pong, but the sweat was showing. I’m tutting, shaking my head. There’s no way he didn’t know the roads were closed. It was bellowing out all through the field. Yet still he has to be told by a marshal to get off the road and even then it took him a few minutes to realise… 

Michael Dunlop appeared to be the favourite before the race had even begun after his Superbike win on Saturday. Sure, he was probably still on a high from that too, but this is a different machine. It’s pretty much full throttle 80% of the time as opposed to a Superbikes and now it was time for the 600’s, it was time to thrash the nuts off them. 

After a disappointing Saturday for Harrison, despite becoming the outright lap record holder, I was sure he was going to push for a win. Conor Cummins, a favourite being a Manxman, gives me a little laugh when I see him on a 600. He’s probably around 6’4″ and yet still manages to wrap himself round that Padgett’s Honda. It must be like some sort of origami! Still quick though and definitely one to watch especially since that number 1 plate he’s sporting seems to be suiting him well. That number 1 plate isn’t for everyone. It’s the road sweeper. You’re the first out onto the road. You find the wet patches, the little stones in the road. You disturb the little birdies in the trees with the roar of a Superbike/sport machine. You have a clear road ahead of you and John McGuinness always said it can feel lonely. If you’re winning a race you know because there will be no one in front of you. You could go a whole 4 or even 6 laps round the TT course without seeing a single bike on the road next to you unless you find a couple of back markers. No carrot dangling in front of you, no one to catch. It’s just you and the road – something Cummins appears to be gluing well with. 

…and Cummins heads off over St Ninian’s and down Bray Hill with a full twist of the throttle, but it’s Harrison who took the lead through Glen Helen on the opening lap holding a 1s lead over Dunlop, James Hillier in third. It was a ‘watch this space’ kinda lap. Watching the live timing you could see that Dunlop was on a stonker of a lap which brought the gap down to just 0.2s at Ballaugh. By the time they’d laid their rubber down at Ramsey Hairpin Dunlop had taken the lead by a mere second. Hillier was now in the race for third as Peter Hickman started to pick up the pace drastically. He was 8s adrift of Hillier, but only 0.2s ahead of Cummins. 

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128.265mph was Dunlop’s opening lap average speed placing him 1.7s ahead of Harrison. Hillier was currently at the shit end of the third place battle as Hickman now had a 2.5s advantage and had taken that third position. 3 laps left, a lot of time to win or lose and Harrison decided he wasn’t having any of the ‘raging bull’ taking yet another TT victory. At Glen Helen Harrison had started to pull back the time ever so slightly and with Hickman 14.2s behind he didn’t have anyone breathing down his hump. 

Harrison didn’t stand a chance. Dunlop had pulled another second out the bag at Ballaugh and by Ramsey the gap was 4.6s. It felt like Harrison was riding the arse off that Kawasaki, but Dunlop just kept pulling and pulling. His style of riding is so aggressive, but I actually think it’s what those 600’s need. You’re constantly throttle open, dancing on the pegs to pull the bugger from the right to the left and then up-right and back to the left and so on. They might be smaller machines, but they take some muscle. 

End of lap 2 marks the first and only pitstop in the four-lap Supersport race… and there it was – another lap record smashed! Dunlop finished his second lap at 129.197mph breaking his own record which was set back in 2013. That aggression was so visible on the road. He was ready for this win, he was on it. A 6.4s advantage was something Dunlop could keep under control. Harrison remained in second with Hickman a whopping 22.7s behind. Hillier was putting on the pressure for Hickman with only a gap of 3.6 determining the third position… and Hillier was leading on the road. A mega pitstop by Hillier’s team and a longer than anticipated pitstop for Hickman meant the gap narrowed to only 0.2s at Glen Helen. By the time the pair were through Ballaugh it was Hillier in that third position, but only by 0.6s. At Ramsey that had doubled. 

Going into the fourth and final lap there were no records broken. The third lap took the pit stop into consideration, but now they were all on flyers. Dunlop and Harrison were together on the road with the official gap being 9.4s. Watching those two together on the road was just magical… with a slight hint of fire. They both have very different riding styles. As I said before, Dunlop is quite aggressive. He literally looks like a bull in a china shop. Harrison doesn’t look so heavy footed on a bike, but he’s mainly elbows out with his head down. Harrison clearly had his carrot and he was ready to bite the arse end off it… but unfortunately just couldn’t keep up with Dunlop’s pace. 

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Harrison led on the road to the finish line, but being the gentleman he is let Dunlop through to take the chequered flag. Such an amazing show of sportsmanship – it really gives you a hint of what this road racing family is like. Yeah, they’re all competitors. There can be tensions in the paddock, although I think most of them have gone since a certain tea-drinker hasn’t been around, and they clearly all want to win and be on that rostrum. Yet they are the first people to congratulate each other whether that’s first, second or 30th. Everyone who finishes their race round this monster of a course deserves a pat on the back. It is ruthless on both body and machine. It is why we race. 

Harrison finished in second 0.258s ahead of Hickman who had finally put Hillier into fourth by 1.8s. Cummins finished in fifth, Brookes sixth on the McAms Yamaha. Huge congratulations to newcomer Davey Todd who finished 12th – one of the road’s rising stars as you’ll soon see. He’s a little bit special in my opinion, he’s one to watch. 

During the post-race press conference the top three finishers mentioned an incident on the Mountain section during the Supersport race. Nothing had been mentioned by the race officials. Everyone was buzzing after that race. We all sat on our grass bank. Some with sandwiches, some with their coffee. We’d cracked open the barbecue as per, beef burgers topped with bacon were on the menu and a can on Monster, listening to the radio whilst the crossing points were open. My other half was laughing at me sat in the back of the van munching on my burger – happy as larry – and then I hear the sentence I hate. 

‘ACU Events Ltd have released a statement’ 

Shit – no. I run over to the fence to catch the announcement. Another racer was living their dream to the very end. The statement reads as follows: 

ACU Events Ltd regrets to confirm that Adam Lyon, 26, from Helensburgh in Scotland was killed in an incident during the Supersport 1 Race today at the Isle of Man TT Races. The accident occurred at Casey’s, just after the 28th mile of the course, on the 3rd lap of the race.

Gutted. Heartbroken for his family & friends. Made even harder when you note he was a newcomer. It was Lyon’s first ever time competing on this beautiful island. The first night of practice he was shown round by Milky Quayle on a speed controlled lap, then not long after the 3 newcomers were released to go about their racing career on this amazing course. All week the newcomers had been fast. Not quite as fast as Hickman when he came over a newcomer, but they weren’t far off. It scared me if I’m honest. These were newcomers and they were doing the same lap times as someone just outside of the seeded 1 – 20. Are they just oozing talent, or are they going all balls out? Most likely both. You don’t get offered a newcomers spot at the TT if you hadn’t proved yourself somewhere else, if there wasn’t a spark. There are strict rules and ultimately it is down to the race officials as to whether you are ready or not to tackle this course. Lyon’s had qualified 24th in the Supersport race with a fastest lap of 122.261mph and on his opening lap of the race he’d managed a 122.636mph. In an instant, he was gone.

I don’t know what happened up on the Mountain. The red flag didn’t appear, the situation was obviously controllable through waived yellows. Hickman said that he and others had slowed down considerably due to the incident, but hoped that everyone was okay – that glimmer of hope so quickly taken away. Lyon’s along with Dan Kneen were both doing something they were passionate about, something they loved and lived for. Tonight I watched the red arrows over Douglas Bay. I winced more watching them cross paths at a speed I dread to think about. An accident could have so easily have occurred, yet you don’t see many people complaining about how dangerous the red arrows are and how they should be banned. People see the red arrows practicing, people don’t necessarily see our TT racers practicing. Hickman, for example, is in BSB. He races most weekends during the season. He’s accustom to his machines despite circuit racing being a different discipline. The Dunlop’s are born and bred road racers and they attend many of the Irish road races before and after the TT. Many of the racers are involved in circuit racing or other small road races during the season. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be granted their Mountain licence – it’s not an easy process. Just because you watch the Isle of Man TT, please don’t think this is purely what these racers do. Yes – it is most likely their biggest two weeks of their racing calendar. It takes months of preparation every year if not more and ultimately it takes years to learn this course properly. I won’t blabber on about how they all know the risks because we should be fully aware of all that from when we heard the devastating news about Dan Kneen. Just be thankful you got to see these men race, you got to see them achieving their dreams. 

 

Adam Lyon

Adam Lyon

My thoughts are with all of Adam’s family and friends at this sad time. I hope it brings them some comfort to know he was doing what he loved, what he wanted and ultimately living that dream right to the very end. 

…and then we went again because, as we all know, it’s what we do, it’s all we know.

Next up – Superstock Race 1.