Out and About at the 2023 Isle of Man TT – Part 1
TT Week is here!
Greetings from the Isle of Man, where I am bathing in unprecedented warmth and sunshine for the 2023 TT races, my 14th trip to this remarkable event. Qualifying week has seen immaculate conditions. Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison and Peter Hickman are all turning 134 mph laps (UPDATE: Dunlop has now set an unofficial lap record of 135.531 mph during the last day of Superbike qualifying! -Ed.). Hickman hit an unprecedented 202.3 mph at the Sulby speed trap. Dunlop has unofficially smashed his own SuperTwin lap record by five seconds, and the sidecars are hitting nearly 120 mph per lap. In practice sessions! It is going to be a mega- TT, and you should subscribe to TT+ streaming.
Last year, after two years of COVID cancellations, the TT rebounded with great crowds and exciting racing, but was dampened by less than stellar weather, six racing fatalities, and a recognition that changes were needed to ensure the long-term viability of this unparalleled two-week meeting.
While over 40,000 visitors come to the TT, the Island’s capacity is only 28,000 visitors at any one time. So, a new race schedule launched for 2023, adding two more race days that will give visitors greater flexibility, accommodating shorter visits, and ensuring that there are two weekends with racing. This is not a unanimously popular decision with racers, marshals, and residents. We’ll see if it sticks.
The TT is not an easy lift for US enthusiasts, requiring flight or ferry connections that book up far in advance, not to mention challenging accommodation options. To a newcomer, it can be quite daunting. And if it is overwhelming for a visitor, imagine what it is like for a first time Isle of Man TT racer to take on the 37 ¾ mile Mountain Course! But there are resources to enable both a racer and a visitor to become knowledgeable and ready for the action.
Hopping aboard my trusty Suzuki V-Strom 650, I head down to beautiful Port Erin and my favorite spot on the island, Foraging Vintners where I encounter John and Debora Kraeger, of Geneva NY. First-timers, they are wide-eyed and looking to triage the myriad options for viewing and entertainment over their short four day stay. I gladly help.
Real enthusiasts, they own multiple bikes and tour regularly. Debora tells me “So far I love the people. They’re so friendly and helpful and this place is stunning.” John was more direct. “I’ve been on the ground for 24 hours and I’m already planning my retirement here.” This is not an unusual sentiment.
The Kragers used Duke Travel and Visit Isle of Man to help with accommodations and planning, wise choices for newcoming visitors looking to turn-key things. For US come-overs, I find the Aer Lingus and United air routes through Dublin with connection to the Isle of Man to work best. If ferries are your jam, and you want to take a bike over, the Isle of Man Steam Packet runs quite a few routes from other UK gateways.
A few days later, I had lunch at Barbary Coast on the Quay in Douglas with a few other newcomers, likely recognizable to many Motorcycle.com readers. Adam Tromp and Abhi Eswarappa of Southern California’s amazing Iconic Motorbikes have arrived along with family and friends, to take in their first ever TT.
I consult on the best spots to watch, touring the paddock, and for Adam’s wife and daughter, rides on the island’s ‘iconic’ historic railways.
Always effervescent Adam, on the heels of a trip to London to launch the expansion of Iconic into the UK, is smitten. “Let’s buy bikes here! Let’s move here! We’re coming back!” Abhi takes notes, and his wheels are turning. I nod knowingly. They will blow through their newcomer status with aplomb.
Back on the bike, with my buddy Kes Scott from near Manchester, UK, we bang up the sinewy A4 through Kirk Michael to Sarah’s Cottage, situated on a corner between the 9th and 10th milestones. We settle in on comfy lawn chairs right on the course for qualifying sessions with a cup of tea and copious mosquito spray. What a fine night, and incredible viewpoint with the bikes and sidecars feet away. And it is free. The essence of the TT.
Finnish rider Erno Kostamo blazes by astride the Penz13.com BMW M 1000 RR wearing an orange Newcomers tabard over his leathers. He’s a winner of the Macau Grand Prix, and a regular podium finisher in the International Road Racing Championship. But he’s a TT newcomer, one of five this year, so he’s got to get with the program.
No matter how many championships you may have won elsewhere, when it comes to the TT, you’re still a ‘newcomer’, and this is where Rider Liaison Officers Milky Quayle and John Barton come in. Barton says “It’s 37-miles like nowhere else in the world. You’ve got blind approaches, blind corners, markers like trees and kerbs and posts. And then there’s all the jumps and bumps and crests. And the road surfaces and the cambers, and where they should expect gusts of wind through openings in the hedges. There’s a lot of learning to do before you get let on the start line.” Yikes.
Only when John and Milky give their blessing will a newcomer’s entry be approved. Then, their first ever closed-roads lap of the Course will be behind one of these seasoned ex-racers, who keep a careful eye on their progress throughout their debut TT.
I meet with Kostamo’s Crew Chief, Pekla Oikkonen. I ask what Kostamo has done to prepare for his freshman TT. “He felt confident knowing the track by visiting and driving it over 100 laps. He played incredible amounts of the TT video game. Then, he went out on the speed-controlled newcomer laps led by Milky Quayle. After one lap he said he wanted to pack his things and go home! Milky’s ‘speed control’ had a different meaning! But, by the second lap, he was feeling good and loving it.” Feeling good, indeed. Kostomo turned a 119.8 MPH lap on his Superstock bike in Qualifying on Friday. Milky smiled.
I’ll be back next week with more from the 2023 Isle of Man TT. Any questions? Write me at email@example.com