No Room For Error: Inside The Isle Of Man TT
New docu-series will change the way you look at the Isle of Man TT
Imagine doing what you do for a living and at the end of the day being thrilled you’re still alive. - Lee Johnston
No conversation around the Isle of Man TT is complete without talking about the very real possibility of death. More than any other competition in the world today, few, if any, are more dangerous than the Isle of Man TT. But ask anyone who competes in the legendary race (or has ever competed in it) and you’ll hear a general theme about why they do it: Passion. Love. Fulfillment.
Isle of Man racers aren’t crazy, despite what people on the outside might think. These are people who have decided to pursue a passion, even if just once, with everything that they have – to spend two weeks feeling most alive by skirting the gates of death at 180 mph. These athletes do it not by sheer lunacy, but with skill, precision, and thoughtfulness – attributes typically associated with surgeons, but equally fitting here. Like surgeons, these attributes were developed over years, even lifetimes, of training and practicing. The result, when done right, is the amazing spectacle we’ve seen for over a century that keeps us intrigued and coming back for more.
But there’s a side we don’t see. These racers have lives outside of the track. They’re husbands, wives, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and friends. They’re people just like us. You know all about the Isle of Man TT as a motorcycle race, but, so far, many Isle of Man documentaries only skim over the human element of the race, if they touch on it at all. This is what separates No Room For Error. This four-part docu-series chronicles the 2022 Isle of Man TT, taking you inside, behind the curtain and connecting you, the viewer, on an emotional level to the riders – and, ultimately, the race.
Like any drama goes, you’re introduced (and reintroduced several times) to most of the major players and protagonists you’ll see throughout the series, including some newcomers (rookies) to the event as well as seasoned veterans that have become a household name. As the show goes on, the story of the 2022 TT becomes one about the main characters because they’re the ones who ultimately end up on the podium – but not always. When they don’t, we see their heartache and frustration.
On the other hand, the newcomers give us a peek into their lives and we get to witness their excitement and joy from simply being there. But that’s not to say there isn’t any drama for them either, as witnessed by Rennie Scaysbrook, Cycle News Road Tester and friend of MO, as his team suddenly, and without warning, packed up and left him before the fortnight was over. If it wasn’t for his demand to leave the bike and tools behind, he would have been watching from the rafters. What No Room For Error does successfully is build a rapport with the riders, eventually getting them to drop their guard and get used to cameras being around them. This matters because we get to see their range of emotions come through as they fulfill a dream.
The thing is, whether you’re a newcomer or TT veteran, we see another common theme: everyone still gets nervous. The nervousness is fitting because episode one ends with a rider crashing, emphasizing why nerves are always on high during the TT. As episode two opens, we learn the rider highsided, but other than a bruised hand, will otherwise be fine. His bike, however, is toast. As we all know, motorcycle racers are a different breed. They can compartmentalize pain, even death, to another part of their brain and continue on with the job. But what about their families? Where No Room For Error succeeds, again, is in getting access beyond the racer, but with their support groups, whether it’s one racer with a friend providing support, or a big-name racer with his whole team and family. You can’t help but get sucked into their candid feelings and emotions.
This is what separates No Room For Error from, say, Drive To Survive. On the one hand, DTS was successful in getting behind the iron curtain that is F1 and giving viewers around the world a peek into the rigors and human element of motorsport at the highest level. But F1 is still highly shrouded in secrecy, with big teams and handlers still able to whisk their drivers away. The paddocks are exquisitely manicured and the level of professionalism is second-to-none. Big bucks are thrown around at every F1 race and DTS showcases this, consciously or not.
If ever there was a race that was the antithesis of F1, it’s the Isle of Man TT. Maybe aptly described as a professional grassroots event, there are no handlers. Team walls don’t exist. Every rider, big or small, rookie or veteran, walks out amongst the people. Access to riders is unheard of in modern professional motorsport, and No Room For Error takes advantage of this. You almost feel like you’re there, in the pits or in the motorhomes of all these riders. You get to see them chatting away with their families, eating lunch, playing with their kids – even heading off to the bathroom (no, the cameras don’t follow them there). One minute you’re hanging out with the Birchall brothers – Ben and Tom – 10x TT sidecar winners, having a laugh, then the next you’re holding your breath right along with the Birchall brothers as they drop into Bray Hill, right before a red flag during sidecar practice.
The series continues to ebb and flow and take you through the rollercoaster of emotions. This particular time, the rollercoaster is in a downward spiral as we learn that the red flag was caused by a crash in sidecar practice that would eventually take the lives of Olivier Lavorel and Cesar Chanal. The 2022 TT would go on to claim the lives of four more participants – Mark Purslow, Davy Morgan, and the father and son sidecar pairing of Roger and Bradley Stockton. To its credit, NRFE continually touches on the topic of death, facing the subject head on with not only the riders, but their families, and it does so with grace and respect (the actual incidents are never shown).
While obviously nobody wants someone to die during the race, a racer’s supporting cast all understand they have to let their loved one pursue their passion. Maybe none more so than Nathan Harrison. A TT rookie, Harrison grew up on the Isle and has only ever wanted to compete at the famous race. His mother, meanwhile, in typical motherly fashion, fears for his safety – but supports his decision. And then, out of nowhere and with a nonchalant attitude you wouldn’t expect, she announces to the camera, with a nervous laughter, that she has terminal cancer. It’s this prognosis that has her supporting her son’s passion for racing the TT. “Look at me. I haven’t done anything in life and now I have cancer,” she says.
Just as quickly as we’re holding back tears watching a terminally ill mother watch her son fulfill a life’s dream, the series brings us back up as it builds the drama for the biggest, and final, race of the weekend – the Senior TT. The cinematography is beautiful and captivating as we get to see the different ways racers get themselves ready for the big race.
Interestingly, the show spends much more time behind the scenes building a plot line and a character arc than it does on the actual races. It’s not that we don’t see any racing – there’s a wide variety of shots ranging from on-board footage to helicopter shots depicting plenty of racing action – NRFE uses the racing to add context and finality to the plots it builds inside the respective rider’s camps. It’s an interesting take on covering a worldwide racing spectacle, but it works in connecting the viewer to the human element behind the Isle of Man TT.
No Room For Error will launch exclusively on ITV4 and ITVX in the UK broadcast over four consecutive evenings from Monday, May 22 (Subject to scheduling). Outside of the UK, it will be available free to air in all territories via the TT’s own streaming platform – TT+.
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If only I had basic health insurance. I had to quit track days when I realized one off with an injury, i could lose my job, my place to live, my money for living.
Free to view on the TT platform? I'm there. Great to see a show like this, dealing with the tragedy and the triumph of this amazing race event. As a kid I used to read about it in Cycle News and the two British motorcycle magazines my grandfather subscribed to, decades before it was on any TV network.