The Isle of Man TT, the pinnacle of world road racing, is well underway (despite the best efforts of the weather), with the best road racers in the world battling it out for one of motorsport’s most prestigious prizes. With thousands of biking fans from around the world flocking to a small island in the middle of the Irish sea, we take a look at just what makes the TT so special.
It might be a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea with a population of just 85,000 people but for two weeks in May and June, all the Isle of Man is the centre of the motorcycling world.
First held in 1907, The International Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race has become a huge part of Manx culture. It is without doubt the island’s biggest tourist event, generating around £19m for the Manx economy, and puts the tiny island well and truly on the global map.
The cream of the world’s riders take to the Snaefell Mountain Course to take part in time trials across a host of racing categories. The roads that form part of the course are closed to the public each year by an act of Tynwald (the Manx parliament); such is the event’s importance to the island. The Mountain Course is just 37 miles and, with more than 200 turns and bends, it has been the stage for some intense and thrilling competition over the years.
The inaugural TT event was in 1907 when the International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy was awarded to a man named Charlie Collier. Collier, despite the somewhat more primitive technology, managed to finish the 150-mile race in 4 hours and 8 minutes.
The rising popularity of the Manx TT – aside from the wartime interruptions to the event – led to its addition in 1949 to the official FIM World Championship calendar. Counting as the United Kingdom round, at one point it hosted all five classes of race from 50 to 500cc.
However, the issue of safety has long dogged the TT. Various safety groups have attempted to have the event banned, given the 239 fatalities on the Mountain Course in both the TT and Manx GP. The notoriety of the course led to initial calls in the 70s for the race to be pulled from the official FIM calendar; which eventually happened in 1976 after a mass boycott left few notable GP riders willing to take on the risk.
Despite the concerns however, riders and fans continue to flock to the Isle of Man every year. The thrill and the buzz that comes with riders hurtling across the Island at 200mph, quite simply, can’t be bettered.
The Isle of Man TT is a course that has made – and broken – many a pro rider. While the mere thought of tackling the Mountain Course is enough to shatter the confidence of some, others have taken on the challenge and etched their name in TT folklore. Here are just a few of those legends.
Legends of the TT
The all-time leader on the scoreboard with 26 TT triumphs to his name, Joey Dunlop is the most celebrated rider on the Isle of Man. Between 1976 and 2000 he clocked up 26 wins for almost every class of bike in which he raced. Even in his final competitive year at the turn of the millennium, he managed to complete a hat-trick of hat-tricks by winning three different races in the same year on three occasions, following up his sterling efforts of 1988 and 1985.
Joey is sadly no longer with us; during a bid for yet another hat-trick during an event in Estonia in 2000 he lost control in the wet weather and crashed into some trees. He is remembered even more fondly for his tireless charity work than as a racer, and is continually honoured by the annual presentation of the Joey Dunlop Cup to the overall race winner at the TT.
With 19 race wins and 36 podium finishes from the 16 TTs he has contested, John McGuiness holds a special place in IOMTT history. Going into the 2013 event McGuiness has three different trophies to defend from the rest of the pack; as well as the current lap record which he set during the Senior TT in 2009 after lowering the outright record four times on his own during the 2006 event and once more in 2007.
When the Manx TT was an official stopping point on the Grand Prix calendar, it was largely regarded as the biggest GP event of the year. All-time GP race winner Giacomo Agostini was one of the greats, wowing the crowds with ten TT wins on eight visits to the island.
However, Agostini’s affinity with the TT ended with the death of his friend Gilberto Parlotti during the 1972 event, with the Italian announcing that he would never race on this dangerous course again. The Isle of Man event was eventually pulled from the schedule following mass boycotts by fellow riders.
Despite a series of unfortunate injuries which have lessened his impact of late, the Yorkshireman made his mark on TT history in 2010 by winning all five solo races in which he competed. The ‘clean sweep’ had never been achieved before; this ensured his place in TT history. A further three wins and seven more podium finishes also make for a very impressive CV at the Isle of Man event.
As the first rider ever to model the one-piece riding outfit, you might be forgiven for thinking that Geoff Duke’s contribution to riding was purely sartorial – but this TT legend was instrumental in making the Isle of Man TT into the global phenomenon of racing that it is today. Not only was the 6-time race winner honoured with an OBE for his services to motorsport, but a pivotal part of the current TT course is named in his honour.
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy Race is one of the most iconic and popular events in the motorbike fan’s calendar, with thousands making the pilgrimage to this otherwise peaceful island every year. But what is it exactly that brings in the crowds and keeps people coming back every time?
Ten Reasons why fans flock to the TT
The jam-packed programme of evnts means you’ll be spoilt for choice at the Isle of Man TT. From Superbikes to Sidecars, time-controlled laps to races taken at full pelt, there are different things to see and do every day – you’ll be amazed how much variety you can pack into two weeks.
The Festival Atmosphere
The Isle of Man TT runs for two weeks and the whole thing is a non-stop party for motorsport enthusiasts. The amazing spectacles and great entertainment put everyone in a great mood, making the event a lot of fun for riders and spectators alike. Once you get the bug, you’ll be coming back every year for more of this fantastic festival of biking.
As an added bonus, the TT has admirably resisted the excessive corporate influence that is often criticised at modern motorsport events. Whilst it’s still not a cheap trip, it does at least feel somewhat more like biking in its rawest form.
Despite the Isle of Man TT track being labelled as the most dangerous in the world, it doesn’t stop people having a go. ‘Mad Sunday’ sees the course opened up to members of the public who want to test their bikes and themselves on one of the world’s most famous and challenging circuits. The event has its critics but for those lucky enough to sample the thrills, Mad Sunday is the stand-out day in the TT calendar.
Most of the 39 spectator areas are free, meaning you can enjoy the action whatever your budget. However, grandstand and fan-zone tickets can be had for as little as £5, depending on the day.
The Thrills and Chills
The Mountain Course is one of the most challenging in the world, with over 37 miles of treacherous track featuring hairpin bends, jumps, stone walls and plenty of other hazards to keep even the most experienced rider on their toes. With speeds during the race reaching over 200mph, it’s not for the faint-hearted – and it makes for a truly fantastic spectacle.
The Unique Setting
Come for the races, stay for the natural beauty of the Isle of Man. In between the races and other entertainment, there’s a chance to explore the scenery of the island – the perfect, calming antidote to all the adrenaline and excitement. It’s also incredibly easy to get to if you’re travelling for the UK and Ireland, with regular ferries available from the West coast of the UK and Dublin.
The Isle of Man TT Race was established over 100 years ago, and as such it has a rich and varied heritage. Every year legends are born and new records are set – and no one wants to miss out on witnessing a little bit of that history in the making. If you fancy owning a piece of that history, why not check out the auction, which takes place every year?
Ask most riders about what brings them to the TT and they’ll say one thing – the adrenalin rush. The dangerous track has claimed more than a few lives during the course of its history and there have been periodic attempts to shut down the event. All the scandal definitely increases the fervour around the event, and hasn’t stopped the crowds arriving in droves.
World Class Riders
The challenging track, the infamy of the race and the chance to make history brings the best road racers in the world to this event every year. If you want to see world class racing and experience the best of the best, the Isle of Man TT is the place to go.
Bushy’s Beer Tent
Last, but certainly not least, a trip to the Isle of Man TT wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Bushy’s Beer Tent. Every evening, Bushy’s serves locally-brewed Manx ales and puts on a show with some live music – it’s not to be missed!
The focal point for the entire TT festival is the infamous Snaefell Mountain Course. This street course, which is closed every year to the public by an act of parliament for the duration of each festival, is one of the oldest motorcycle circuits still in use.
The Mountain Course
The 37.73 miles of tarmac covers the city of Douglas, small villages and some of the most dramatic country scenery in the British Isles and, with more than 200 corners on the circuit, it is the ultimate test of man and two wheeled machine.
Of those 200 corners, around 60 have been named after some true legends of the TT event. Many of these corners have been named in tribute to fallen riders, whilst others are named to honour some of the names that have really lit up this tiny island.
Once such corner is Edges Corner, between Cronk-ny-Mona and Ballanard Road, which was the first corner to be named after a competitor in 1920. Safety changes have since seen this corner removed from the modern day route.
Brandish Corner between Creg-ny-Baa and Hillberry corner, was named after Walter Brandish who, when overtaking a rider, crashed into the right-hand gutter during a practice for the 1923 race and broke his leg.
Such is the fame of the TT course, many of the corners are known well outside motorcycling circles.
Birkin’s Bend, on the A3 primary road, was named after a rider who was practising for a race when, tragically, he crashed whilst manoeuvring to avoid a fish van. Following the accident, the course was closed to the public for all practice events.
Handley’s Corner, between the 11th and 12th milestone of the circuit, was named after a competitor in the 1932 Senior TT race who crashed during the first lap and suffered a back injury that caused him to retire.
Guthrie’s Memorial denotes an ‘S’ bend along the mountain road, which was renamed in 1939 after a memorial to Jimmie Guthrie was built following his death in the 1937 German Grand Prix.
But despite some fearsome corners and bends, the riders who take on the Snaefell continue to push the boundaries of what is thought possible. The current lap record, set by John McGuinness in 2009, stands at 17:12.30, working out as an average speed of 131.578mph. Unofficially, the record top speed clocked in the speed traps is a staggering 206mph, set by New Zealander Bruce Anstey.
If you’ve sampled a taster of what the Isle of Man TT event holds – whether through browsing our guide or checking out some of the many videos online – and want to experience the thrills and spills of the event for yourself, here’s a quick guide to make sure you can get the full TT treatment.
Get to the TT
Travelling to the Isle of Man
From the UK mainland and both southern and Northern Ireland, you basically have two affordable options to travel to the Isle of Man: take the ferry or travel by air.
From Liverpool or Heysham in England, or Dublin or Belfast you can take one of the ferry services which operates between all four pick-up points and Douglas on the Isle of Man. During TT season you also have the option to take the ‘fast’ option – the Manannan craft. Travel times vary depending on which port you leave and which boat you take, but it’s recommended that you clear a whole morning’s schedule in order not to be caught out. There’s plenty to see and do on the ferries alone with shops and bars – and even a luxury lounge if you don’t mind splashing out a bit more.
If you don’t have the sea legs and fancy a shorter trip, Ronaldsway airport, about six miles from Douglas, is served by British Airways, Citywing, Easyjet and Flybe from the UK and Aer Lingus from Dublin.
From Dublin, the flight is around 45 minutes and a similar flight time is to be expected from Liverpool and Manchester. Flights from London take around 80 minutes.
First of all it’s highly recommended that you book accommodation well in advance, with supply of accommodation low and demand very high. With the TT’s worldwide appeal, rooms book up well in advance. Your best bet would be to check out what’s on offer at the Isle of Man tourism website.
You can consider the Homestay scheme, which sees local residents put spare rooms up for rent during the festival. It’s a great way to get cut-price accommodation and meet some of the welcoming locals who will be more than happy to share their knowledge of the island. The scheme is also government approved, with only approved properties allowed into the scheme.
There’s also the option to bring over a caravan on the ferry but do check with the operator well in advance.
While you’ll have those road closures to contend with for the duration of the event, the Isle of Man has worked on improving its infrastructure during these peak periods to such an extent that it’s easy to get around even on the most congested days.
Buses operate around all of the major towns; purchase a Saver ticket for unlimited journeys every day or even for the week and you’ll get the most out of the scenery on a budget. On Friday and Saturday nights the buses run even longer, allowing you to get the most out of the nightlife.
There are also trams and trains, which you can use together for cheaper by picking up a Heritage Explorer ticket; available at all manned stations. The ticket also allows access to all Manx National Heritage sites, meaning that history buffs will get a big kick out of the trip too.