The Isle of Man TT, which kicks off yet again this Saturday, May 30, occupies a special place in the world of motorsports. An unmatched two-week spectacle in an idyllic setting with almost unimaginably brave athletes, the TT proudly sticks a middle finger in the face of the banality and conformity that rules modern life and more pedestrian sporting events.
Motorcycle.com 2014 TT Highlights Video can be seen here:
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As I prepare for my eighth annual trip to the IOM, packing up my riding gear, TT Marshal tabard, and jaunty porkpie hat with press pass sticking out of the band (I kid), I’ve compiled a list of some of the storylines that will make this year’s TT even more interesting and compelling than ever.
1) How far are we from ‘Peak Speed?’
Scotsman Bob McIntyre ran the first 100-mph lap of the Mountain Course in 1957. Fifty years later, John McGuinness cracked 130 mph. Last year, on the sixth and final lap of the Superbike TT, 44-year-old New Zealander Bruce Anstey set a new lap record, covering the 37.73-mile course in a jaw-dropping 17 minutes 6.682 seconds. His average speed for the lap: 132.298 mph! Let that sink in for a bit. And watch a few minutes of on-bike video from the lap here, courtesy of Duke Video, for a sense of this speed:
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With motorcycle technology evolving rapidly, it is hard to peg just how much faster TT race bikes can go. But the limitations of the human being astride the machine must be also considered. During the race, a rider’s brain is processing so much information at speed that conscious thought is barely possible. That leaves it to us mortals to speculate. Is there a limit? What do you think?
2) Will McGuinness and Hutchinson Bounce Back?
Ian Hutchinson suffered serious leg injuries in a horrific crash at Silverstone in 2010, just three months after he became the only man to win all five solo TT races in one meeting. The following year he suffered another leg fracture, setting back his recovery. He returned to the TT in 2012 but has not reached his former heights.
However, Hutchy won the Macau Grand Prix last November. And, proving he’s back in racing health, he grabbed two podium finishes at the 2015 Northwest 200, setting a new lap record of 121.680 mph in the Superstock race. Ian will ride a Kawasaki ZX-10R for the Paul Bird Motorsport Team at the 2015 TT. Don’t count Hutchy out!
McGuinness had a frustrating year after suffering a broken scaphoid while off-road riding just prior to the 2014 TT. The 21-time TT winner still claimed top-10 places in the Superbike and PokerStars Senior TT races, as well as a victory in the SES TT Zero. McGuinness also did well at the 2015 NW200, grabbing seventh and sixth in the Supersport and Superbike races, and he’s confident heading into the TT. Can McPint reclaim his King of the Mountain title from Michael Dunlop, whose eight wins in the last two years have propelled him to the summit? Don’t bet against him.
3) Whither Guy Martin?
The idiosyncratic and entertaining Guy Martin is arguably the most popular and broadly recognized TT racer. Besides his motorbike racing, which has included Pikes Peak, endurance events and The Southern 100, he holds a regular job as a £12 an hour truck mechanic (double time on Saturdays!), stars in high-rated UK TV shows, has been rumored to be in the running to host Top Gear, and has penned a best-selling autobiography. Guy Martin has claimed 18 podiums at the TT, but he has yet to win one.
On his Facebook page, Martin recently said, “There are some events that I’m thinking of calling it a day on. But I love building and racing bikes and I’ll always find some oddball events to have a go at. I’ve given it everything. There’s no unfinished business. If people say, ‘Guy Martin – never won a TT’, I couldn’t give a s**t.”
Sources in the Martin camp say he’s not likely to quit, but perhaps scale back racing or take a year off from the TT. But if he finally claims an elusive TT win, it would be tough to walk away from the fame and commercial opportunities that the TT brings its greatest stars. Look for Martin to continue his multi-faceted career, excel on the BMW this year, and remain a fixture at the TT.
4) Will electric racing motorcycles finally capture our fancy?
TT Zero was launched in 2010 as a one-lap contest around the Mountain Course. Some of the no-emissions bikes didn’t make it around the course, and some that did were crossing the finish line at moped speeds.
American rider Mark Miller, on a MotoCzysz, won the inaugural race at an average speed of 96.820 mph, and since then, there has been a dramatic increase in battery technology, speed, and manufacturer and enthusiast interest. In 2014, Japan’s Mugen achieved a 1-2 finish, with McGuinness smashing the existing lap record by over a minute and achieving an average lap speed of 117.366 mph. Mugen is back for 2015, with Anstey and McGuinness riding once again.
In a stunning development, Victory Motorcycles will enter two electric bikes in this year’s TT Zero. The machines are based on the Brammo Empulse RR, spoils of Victory’s takeover of that innovative firm. It will be a full factory effort with two top riders in William Dunlop and Lee Johnston. The bikes will be powered by 17-kWh batteries and a motor with a claimed 150 horsepower and 166 lb-ft of torque.
This could be the year that electric bikes break the 120-mph lap threshold, a milestone only reached by internal combustion machines in the late 1980s. But until these eerily silent futuristic machines can achieve more than one lap of the course, TT aficionados are not likely to fully embrace the buzz.
5) Will there be a TT World Series?
When the TT lost its world championship status in 1977, many feared it was over. Instead, the TT, which is owned by the Isle of Man Government, reinvented itself as a unique, stand-alone, authentic road race festival, which has grown tremendously in prestige, global awareness, and, critically, revenue for the IOM.
Where to go from here? Organizers look to take the TT format around the globe starting in 2017. The IOM Department of Economic Development is seeking an independent promoter to manage and commercialize the TT, Classic TT, and develop an Isle of Man TT World Series.
The vision is for 20 to 30 core riders in Superbike, Supersport and Superstock classes to participate in up to six race meets across the globe, both in TT format as well as mass start racing. The proposed series will run primarily in Southern Hemisphere countries from November through May, and culminate at the IOM TT each June.
Is there room for another global motorcycle race series? Would a World Series dilute the TT brand? Is it even feasible to create from scratch a bonkers motorcycle race on public roads in the 21st century? What do you think, MO readers?
I’ll be reporting from the IOM on the goings on during the 2015 TT, so stay tuned.