Out and About at the 2023 Isle of Man TT - Final Report
Was it a simulation? The brilliant sunshine, cloudless skies, zero precipitation, and 70-degree daily temperatures for the entire fortnight of 2023 Isle of Man TT was the best weather I’ve ever experienced in 14 trips here. Hell, it was the best stretch of weather I’ve ever experienced on a vacation, anywhere. And it made for a memorable TT for the tens of thousands of enthusiasts on the annual hejira to this unequalled motorbike racing festival.
As for the racing, the big three of Hickman, Dunlop, and Harrison in the solo classes and the Birchall Brothers in the sidecars were dominant throughout. Hickman was on a mission as the meet progressed, taking charge after Michael Dunlop’s four early wins, and nailing his own fourth win of the week and 13th career TT win in the Senior TT Race, with Harrison in second. It was only after a morning sighting lap that Hicky decided to race his BMW M1000RR Superbike in the Senior rather than the Superstock machine he had set a race lap record of 136.358mph on Wednesday. Good choice.
So, Dunlop’s quest to match and exceed Uncle Joey’s all-time TT win record of 26 will have to wait until next year. And the riders bubbling under the big three like Jamie Coward, Josh Brookes, David Johnson, James Hillier, Shaun Anderson, Conor Cummins, Davey Todd, and others have one more year to figure out how to break through to the podium. You can find the results for each race and the rider database here at the official TT Races site, 2023 IOM TT Results.
So, besides the weather, what was different about the 2023 TT? Plenty. With 116 years of history, and a very strong tradition- bound stakeholder base, mucking with any component of the TT can draw ire. On social media, vocal contingents rail against new schedules, televised coverage, race organizers, VIP grandstands, the “health and safety” types, the demise of Mad Sunday, the price of a cup of tea, and mostly, about how much better the TT was back in their day.
Perhaps it was, but while nostalgia is a powerful drug, the future of this magnificent event rests on its ability to change with the times and grow new generations of riders and fans. The organizers are dedicated to sustainability, by bringing in younger visitors with more disposable income, and a new stream of talented racers.
Essential goals are to increase audiences around the world, and create revenue streams for the government, local businesses, riders and teams. The enhanced Fan Park at the main grandstand and paddock area has become a focal point for a festival- like setting each day, and the TT+ streaming service is ace, with the potential to provide millions of pounds in revenue in the years to come.
The Mountain Course is centerpiece of the TT, and it is not a racetrack. It is a series of public roads, which, a few minutes after the races for the day end, is reopened to traffic by the Marshals. It is a remarkable thing to witness. The course is re-certified each year by the governing body, the ACU, and they are exhaustive in outlining the details of what makes the 37 ¾ mile pass muster, from barriers, to signage, to road surfaces, to Marshal locations and numbers and much more. A year-round effort by the organizers and workers is needed to continuously make the races go, and, most critically, to improve the safety of the event for riders and visitors.
A comprehensive Safety Management System has been put in place, designed to mitigate racing risk and change the culture of what was once thought to be an untamable event. This year there was one race fatality, with Spanish rider Raul Torras Martinez killed in a racing incident, compared with six last year. Still one too many. Across qualifying and race week not one red flag was displayed, and there have now been three TTs in a row without any fatal accidents on the Mountain Course on open roads. You can read more about the SMS here.
TT 2023 was wonderful for visitors, and not just because of the delightful weather. New vigor was apparent as first-time attendees, many from the US, discovered the magic of the meet. The number of people flying to and from the Isle of Man TT is expected to rise by 19% over 2022.
I met Dawn and Geoff Smith from Colorado at The Railway Inn in Union Mills. Both are dedicated riders at home, with Geoff running a KTM 1290R Adventure and Dawn a Triumph Scrambler. They and their two young children Inara and Zariah were pressed up against the fence watching bikes blast by at 150+ MPH. According to Dawn, "We came as a bucket list trip, to show our kids the greatest motorcycle race on Earth, but now we want to stay for the experience, the people, the beautiful sights of the island." They’ll be back!
As race week rolled on, we watched the Supertwin and Supersport races from Kirk Braddan Church, The Sidecar Race at Ginger Hall, and the Senior race from Conker Fields, across from the famous K tree. Each spot provided breathtaking and markedly different views, scattered about 25 miles along the course. Interesting bikes abound everywhere you look, from the most modern machinery to unlikely touring rigs like the loaded- up Vincent I encountered as the rider headed to the ferry for a return to the UK.
Getting to know the island and its people as much as I have over the last decade and a half provides a view into the place that transcends attending any other race. Taking nothing away from inhaling the racing and imbibing Cask Ales at the local pub, the enjoyment found in bopping around the island on my V-Strom and visiting beauty spots like Niarbyl or hitting the B roads to visit some abandoned Manx "Tholtans." And relaxing at places like Groudle Glen, hiking up to Bradda Head, or taking in the new TT exhibit at the Manx Museum are welcome diversions.
And the new, green shoots of environmental awareness and a generational shift towards a more modern and sustainable Isle of Man are apparent. A carbon offset program by the IOM government aims for the TT to be completely carbon neutral. A notable effort by the AB Project led by Robin Birdsall provided five water sites for reusable bottles around the TT paddock, saving between 60-80,000 single-use plastic bottles from being used over the fortnight. And while the TT currently has a moratorium in place for the TT Zero electric bike race, the organizers are working with teams, universities, tech partners and manufacturers to establish long term plans for clean emission motorcycle racing and technology development on the Isle of Man.
And then there is the IOM’s burgeoning culture, food, and drink scene. We enjoyed places like the boutique Shore Hotel in Laxey, with a fantastic restaurant, lovely pub, and incongruously exotic high-tech toilets worth holding it in for. Foraging Vintners in Port Erin, Tacoma and The Seven Kingdom Distillery in Douglas, and Fynoderee Distillery in Ramsey provide high end cocktail vibes in marked contrast to the hubbub of thousands of revelers at Bushy’s. And it was a great night of music and craft beer at Noa Bakehouse, sponsored by local vinyl emporium Sound Records and featuring Ed Oldham on the turntables and two superb Manx bands, Baad Acid and Cubzoa & The Leaning.
Yes, I know this is supposed to be a motorcycle race report. But a trip to the Isle of Man TT is so much more than a motorcycle race. One is dropped into a magical island far from home (well for us Americans at least) for two weeks, surrounded by history, beauty, acts of sheer bravery, quirkiness, passion, and like- minded people all focused on the last event of its kind, an almost unfathomably fast and exciting series of motorcycle and sidecar races. Hmmm…maybe it is a simulation. I’ll find out next year, at TT 2024.