Despite a rainy, chilly practice week, where, as of this writing, there has been no practice but copious ale consumption, the Isle of Man is starting to fill up with thousands of visitors and motorcycles here for the 110th annual TT races.
Once the skies clear, the 37.75-mile Mountain Course, two-lane country roads festooned with more than 200 turns, a mountain, stone walls, pubs, roving livestock, and race watchers in hedges, will come alive with racers hitting speeds excess of 200 mph. The TT is without parallel, an intense, immersive two-week long festival in a beautiful (if occasionally moist) setting where everyone loves you because, motorcycles.
I’ll be filing my ‘man on the island’ reports and video for Motorcycle.com again, capturing the goings on during the TT. All race results will posted on MO as well, so check in regularly.
So, before the racing fully kicks in, and while my riding gear is drying out, here are some of the storylines surrounding the 2017 TT.
The New Generation Has Arrived
TT experts say it takes between three and 10 years of racing to learn the TT Mountain Course in full. Think of the concentration, physical conditioning, and, well, cojones, required. TT start lists have been studded with familiar racers for years now, some of whom are well into their 30s and 40s and would be appearing at celebrity golf matches and starring in ED pharmaceutical ads as veterans of virtually any other sport.
Fan favorites including 23-race TT winner John McGuinness (sadly, out of the TT this year for the first time since 1996 due to injuries from a crash at the NW200), chill Kiwi Bruce Anstey, with 11 wins and 36 total podiums, and Ian Lougher, who has started in 111 TT races, with 10 wins, can still win.
But despite the incredible danger, long learning curve, and scant prize money, a new generation of stars in in their 20s and early 30s have arrived. Roadrace royal family member Michael Dunlop, the ‘Bingley Bullet’ Ian Hutchinson, and up and comers James Hillier, Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, and others, are now racking up victories, podiums, and top-10 finishes. Some of these names will be etched on TT ‘replicas’ for a decade or more to come, and the depth of field and level of competition for the TT might be greater than it has ever been.
Want proof? Nineteen of the first 20 seeded riders for this year’s Senior TT have lapped at over 128 mph, with a collective 71 TT victories and 195 podiums.
Despite that, most competitors hold day jobs and race for the love racing. The TT, after 110 years, still draws in brave men and women to do the impossible. The rewards for winning – hell, for just completing in a TT – are meager in dollars but unmatched in achievement.
The TT Will Make Sidecar Racing Cool Again
Well, it already is as cool as all get out, but sidecar racing is a sport that deserves greater respect, attention, and sponsorship. The three-wheeled machines are powered primarily by 600cc Fours with a kneeling driver and a ‘passenger’ who must climb all over the body of the outfit, with their ass, head, legs and other extremities inches from the pavement in what looks like motorcycle hot yoga. The price to be paid for getting one of the 200-plus turns wrong is quite high.
Interest in the sport is growing, and almost 50 entries will compete in two three-lap TTs, and the field includes 13 crews that have lapped the Mountain Course at more than 110 mph. Legendary driver/passenger team Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle, with a combined 25 TT wins are among the favorites. Multiple World and British Champion Tim Reeves will run with new passenger Mark Wilkes taking over from Patrick Farrance.
And sidecar racing is going Hollywood. I am blessed to know 92-years-young World Sidecar Champion passenger Stan Dibben, who is here at the TT again and starred in a fantastic short film about his exploits, called No Ordinary Passenger (linked here). Now there’s a new movie, not surprisingly titled 3 Wheeling, that will hopefully be the ‘On Any Sunday’ of sidecars, while making these idiosyncratic (or, as the solo riders call them, crazy) competitors the stars they deserve to be. The film chronicles the sidecar crews at the 2016 TT, focusing on Molyneux, Reeves and their passengers as they prepare to tackle the Mountain Course.
Sidecar racing is as old as motorsports, and has a unique appeal. Show anyone unfamiliar with the sport video of a sidecar race, and they are bound to be agog. Let’s get behind this.
The Future of the TT is Bright
Since the first races in 1907, the TT has been compelling and controversial. It has survived two world wars, the loss of Grand Prix status, hundreds of racer and attendee deaths, regulatory and public scorn, and foot-and-mouth disease.
Still, it persists. Over 40,000 race fans will flood the island this year, up 30% since 2010. They will drop over 25 million GBP into the local economy, and the IOM’s residents and government are extremely welcoming to visitors.
TV coverage, the lifeblood of sports, is on the rise. Over 339 hours of TT coverage was shown in 83 countries last year, reaching nearly 30 million people worldwide. Sponsorship and commercial revenue will follow. Manx Radio’s comprehensive online coverage, YouTube and social media have all contributed to dramatically increased awareness and passion. A major Hollywood movie about the TT is coming, and Big Ben Interactive is dropping a TT video game soon.
This TT marks the 110th year for the races, and I think it’s a good bet that there will be 110 more. Follow the all-electric TT Zero to see where this is going. Watch the sidecars. And set your DVRs for Velocity’s coverage.
It just stopped raining, I’m heading over to watch the first session at Bray Hill. Stay tuned to MO!