Out and About at the 2024 Isle of Man TT

Andrew Capone
by Andrew Capone

“Nostalgia is a dangerous drug, but I enjoy the sensation of happier memories flooding my mind.” —Alice Feeney

Peter Hickman, TT Qualifying. Photos by IOMTT.

If, in 2024, you were to plonk yourself beside virtually any segment of the 37 ¾ mile Isle of Man TT Mountain Course, and witness the incredible sound, sight, and fury of race bikes blasting past a mere few feet away, you would be experiencing virtually the same thing (more speed and less tweed notwithstanding) as someone in that same spot 117 years ago. Keeping this event alive and thriving despite a world that has changed beyond what that person in 1907 could have ever imagined is the challenge. And the pull of tradition vs. the push of progress is where the friction lies.

Going off the grid on the Isle of Man on a trusty Suzuki V-Strom 650. Photo by Andrew Capone

More on that, but for now, I’ve arrived and taken to the sun-dappled roads on my trusty Suzuki V-Strom 650, its annual fettling performed by Jason Griffiths Motorcycles, and paid a visit to Port Erin. While thousands of people and bikes are heading towards the island in the days ahead, the early part of Practice Week (Qualifying Week to the progressives) is just about my favorite time here.

Green Lane riding above Port Erin, Isle of Man.

Meeting up with Manx friends, enjoying a seaside ice cream cone or three, and having unfettered access to the empty B roads and green lanes that crisscross this beautiful and ancient place, make for a fine glide path into the frenzy to follow. While the races are the reason to be here, after 16 years of coming over (I’m still 484 years away from being accepted as a local), getting out and about on the Isle of Man on motorbike, foot, or historic railway makes the fortnight unlike any other motorsports event.

Ben Birchall and Kevin Rousseau, sidecar team.

While I was unable to partake this year due to scheduling conflicts (how dare my daughter choose to graduate Law School just before the TT!), I can’t emphasize enough how wonderful the Pre-TT Classic Road Races are. Nine mass-start races are held on the 4.25-mile Billown Course around Castletown, where everything from 250 singles to Classic Superbikes and Sidecars are run. The bikes, the seasoned riders and fans, the olfactory blessings of Castrol R, and the old- school atmosphere make for a totally different experience to the 21st Century TT. This event, and the Southern 100 held on the same course each July, are the crucibles of nostalgic road racing memories and experiences for many, many Isle of Man TT veterans. If you’re planning a trip to the TT, you might start with the Pre-TT Classic.

John McGuinness still turning 130 MPH laps at 52 years of age

I ride in a spirited manner over the Round Table on the A36 through Foxdale and other small burgs to the TT Paddock and adjacent Fan Zone. The Fan Zone is a recent development, which brings together entertainment, food and drink, a sprawling bar, a grandstand, merch, live TT coverage on huge screens, and a stage for post-race podium chat shows and TT prize presentations. It is great, and it is free, just like the TT Races, with thousands of fans and families enjoying days and nights out. It is also a bit controversial, as it draws people away from local businesses, and the old guard finds it to be too ‘commercial,’ the burgers too expensive, and the ‘bucket listers’ who are having a wonderful time not ‘real TT fans.’

TT Fan Park has become a center of gravity for the TT Races.

This sentiment forms the basis of a wide-ranging conversation I have with Paul Phillips, Head of Motorsport at the Isle of Man Department for Enterprise. He’s a Manxman, and the guy, with his team, that has been running the TT for 17 years. It is not a job for the squeamish.

We discuss the push and pull of progress and nostalgia on this miraculous event.

“The TT Mountain circuit is the same as it was over 100 years ago, and the experience still blows you away. That is what we have to protect while increasing investment the income derived from corporate sources rather than the public. For such a vulnerable event in terms of risk, cost, local and global economics, and other factors, we cannot be tied to how things were done back in a very different world,” says Phillips. “When you look at the troubles of the Irish Road Races for example, we’ve done all we can to avoid being trapped by outmoded business and safety practices. The sustainability of the TT for decades to come is the driver of the work we are doing here, and this requires difficult decisions, not all of them popular, but based on research, data, benchmarking of other motorsports events, and expertise.”

We discuss the increasing hassle and cost of getting to the TT, particularly for US visitors, who now comprise the number two cohort behind the UK. This is a global event now. Accommodation and travel are the chokeholds, and I’ve seen this firsthand. The newer, expanded race schedule has fewer off days, and puts more pressure on race teams, Marshals, and staff, with difficult contingencies for the mercurial Manx weather. It was the first big schedule adjustment in decades, not broadly popular on-island, and the jury is still out.

“The old schedule was formed when fans stayed for the entire fortnight. That’s not the case today,” says Phillips. “More visitors seek packaged options for spectating and touring, and a shorter stay. We lose thousands of potential visitors each year due to non-availability for air and rooms. This now gives us two full long race weekends, three if you count the Pre-TT Classic, and more options for travelers. We were the only major motorsports event with our premier race held on a Friday. While we know we have work to do to make sure the riders, teams and race staff are not over-stretched, more racing on weekends is good for visitors and fans around the world watching racing live on TT+.”

Jamie Coward Using all the road and more.

And the TT+ live streaming service, plus enhanced brand partnerships and sponsorship, is how Phillips and his team plan for a sustainable revenue stream, with access for viewers globally while keeping the racing free on the island and reducing the cost of the event to the Manx government and taxpayers. Do the math on, say, 1 million global subscribers at $29 (a screaming bargain) and you can see how the TT itself can be funded. Oh, and then there is the new Channing Tatum/Brad Pitt deal to produce a docuseries, The Greatest Show on Earth, and planned feature film. Hollywood is on the way, and that is causing both excitement and fear. Philips called the TT a sleeping giant, and my sense is it has started to get up, yawn, stretch, and look for a big cuppa Starbucks.

Davey Todd- his stock is on the rise in 2024.

As Practice Week (there, I said it) unfolds, the weather is less cooperative than last year’s Bermuda-like conditions. But the big boys are still at the top of the qualifying times, and more laps mean dialed in bikes and riders, and more rubber on the course. Speeds continued to climb and Davey Todd has emerged as the prime usurper of the Hickman/Dunlop/ Harrison podium squatters. Todd blistered a qualifying lap of 133.942 mph on the Superbike, his quickest ever lap around the Mountain Course, and not half bad for practice! Michael Dunlop led in the Superstocks with a 132.135 mph on the MD Racing Honda and the Supersport at 127.649 mph on his Yamaha. In those wonderful, wailing sidecars Manx men Ryan and Callum Crowe hit an impressive 119.191 mph.

Over 12,000 motorcycles will arrive via ferry for the 2024 TT. Many will follow the Lap of Honor on Monday June 3.

On a cool, blustery, but dry day, my friends and I hopped on our bikes, and took to some of our favorite viewing spots for practice sessions. Braddan Church, with a sprawling lawn full of chairs, an excellent view of the bikes accelerating out of the roundabout, and delightful treats prepared by the church volunteers, all for a 5 Quid donation, is a great all-day spot. Bray Hill never ceases to take your breath away. And the Creg-ny-Baa pub balcony is iconic. We hit them all in a single day, All have had people like us stand or sit there for over 100 years and be mesmerized by the most amazing spectacle in motorsports. Some of the trappings have changed, the price of tea has gone up, and some of the mayhem (of the visitors, not the riders!) has been tamped down, but the essence of the TT remains, and those of us there today will be nostalgic for it someday.

While it is easy to fret for its future, or moan over how much better it was in the past, being present is the best way to appreciate this most unique event.

The racing is about to begin, and I’ll be out and about the Mountain Course, the Paddock, and the roads and towns of the Isle of Man this week and will report back soon.

“It isn't necessary to imagine the world ending in fire or ice. There are two other possibilities: one is paperwork, and the other is nostalgia.” —Frank Zappa

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Andrew Capone
Andrew Capone

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2 of 4 comments
  • Tom Kosmalski Tom Kosmalski on Jun 08, 2024

    Great stuff. Thank you for these articles, Andrew!

  • SRMark SRMark on Jun 10, 2024

    I hate the death toll at this place. The pain and suffering of relatives should have put an end to this race decades ago.

    • Marty Marty on Jun 10, 2024

      Why on earth would you try and legislate? These brave souls choose to risk their lives. They make decisions for themselves and their families. They don't need bureaucrats telling them what to do.