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Isle of Man Past & Present

By Sean Alexander, May. 31, 2004

By: Rick Menapace

History Past: The Origins Of The TT.

History Present: Pirellis Domination Of Recent TTs.

HISTORY PAST - THE BEGINNING: The Isle of Man. Just the mention of the words brings images of what is arguably the worlds most popular road race, with a history harkening back to the days when all road races were run on public roads, to the days of leather helmets, ribbed tires, megaphone exhausts. And iron men. The days before the corporate sanitation and safety of closed-course, purpose-built race tracks. A time when the corner workers were miners and farmers, and then boy scouts. An event that, except for a few notable exceptions like Joey Dunlop, Mike Hailwood, Steve Hislop, and most recently, David Jeffries, is run by racers whose names most Americans arent familiar with. An event were drawn to because of its uniqueness, its setting, its heritage. Its danger. The danger that has cost the lives of more than a few racers, including, most recently, Jeffries, the newest TT hero and multi-record holder who died tragically in practice for the 2003 event. An event that spawned a bike name as famous as the place itself, the famed Norton Manx, the 500cc thumper named after the islands inhabitants and their particular dialect of the Gaelic (Celtic) language, now largely extinct, called Manx. Pretty impressive stuff for a small island just 33 miles long tip to tip, in the middle of the Irish Sea, surrounded by England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

The Isle of Man motorcycle races began as an offshoot of the automobile racing that had moved to the island because the British Parliament had prohibited racing on that countrys roads. It began when a venue was needed so the fledgling British automobile industry and its enthusiasts could have roads for the development of the English machines to hold trials to contest the annual international race between nations that had begun in 1900, created, oddly enough, by an American named James Gordon Bennett.
In 1904, the King of England gave his consent for the Isle of Man to hold automobile racing on its public roads after a proposition put forth by the Isles governing body. A year later, the idea was put forth that the maybe the Isle of Man would also be a great place to test and further the development of motorcycles because, although the first commercially viable British motorcycle first appeared in 1901, motorcycles were already outselling cars by 1902.

The bike companies wasted no time taking advantage of their new-found opportunity. England immediately challenged France to a motor-cycle race, and the first bike trials on the Isle of Man occurred in the first year of their approval, 1905, to choose the best British team to face the French. The date chosen was May 31.

1905 also saw the addition of the first all-British race to be run along with the international Gordon Bennett Trial, as it was known. Sir Julian Orde, the Englishman who had first brought the racing proposal to the Isle of Mans governor, saw his new event as one for touring cars, with a new prize to be called the Tourist Trophy. And so began the Isle of Man TT.

The first motorcycle TT was held in 1907, with two classes that were determined by, of all things, fuel consumption. One class was for single-cylinder bikes that averaged 90 mpg, the other for multi-cylinder bikes that averaged 75 mpg. On May 28, 19 bikes lined up for the beginning of that first Isle of Man Motorcycle TT. The smart money was divided between the arch rivals Triumph and Matchless. A Matchless won the singles race; a Norton, the multi. That first year also included the first competitors from the Continent: two German NSUs.

A year later, 36 entrants lined up, Triumph beat Matchless, and a Belgian bike finished third. In 1909, another foreign bike finished second, just under four minutes behind the winner. It came from America. It was an Indian. Also that year, the King decided he didnt like car racing, and so the automobile TTs ended, leaving the Manx roads - and history - to motorcycles.

HISTORY PRESENT PIRELLIS DOMINATION OF THE LAST TWO TTs: As history has shown, the Isle of Man isnt just about speed, but endurance as well, a real-world proving ground of what works and what doesnt.

Last year, Pirelli riders won all six TTs they entered, captured 16 of the 18 podium positions, and took a staggering 54 of the 60 total Top-10 places available in those six TTs.
And Pirellis 2003 success came hot on the heels of its near record-breaking domination of the 2002 Isle of Man competition in which Pirelli-mounted riders not only won all six major TTs, but swept the podiums in all of them: the Senior TT, Formula 1 TT, 600cc Production TT, 1,000cc Production TT, 600cc Junior TT, and 400cc Lightweight TT. Pirelli racers also shattered no fewer than three IOM lap records in 2002: Jeffries, the then-reigning TT master, crushed his own Senior TT lap record by 21.6 seconds and his outright lap record by over 5 seconds. In the 600cc Production TT, Jeffries then-TAS Suzuki teammate, Ian Lougher set a new class lap record of 120.25 mph.

Looking forward to the beginning of the 2004 event beginning this weekend, June 5 and running through the 11th, Pirelli is again looking to turn fresh pages in the record books. Eddie Roberts, Pirellis International Race Manager, took a moment from his manic race schedule, to confirm that all the top teams and riders will again be present and racing on Pirellis latest generation of slicks and Supercorsa DOT radials. Among them are the TAS Suzuki team of Adrian Archibald, winner of last years Formula One and Senior TTs, and Bruce Anstey, who gave Triumph its first modern-era win in the 2003 Junior 600; IOM veteran Ian Lougher who took three seconds and a third last year in addition to two wins and three second places in 02; Richard Britton, who finished second in last years Lightweight 400, and fourth in the Production 1000; John McGuinness, who combined a win in the 2003 Lightweight 400 with a second place in the Senior TT and a third in Formula One; and Jason Griffiths who had two fourth-place finishes in Formula One and the Senior TT. To name a few, as Roberts put it.

Its the Isle of Man. Theres nothing else like it.
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