Every year thousands of people from all round the world gather at the Isle of Man – situated between the coastlines of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, in the middle of the Irish Sea, to watch the most popular, exciting and dangerous of motorcycle races in the history of mankind – The Tourist Trophy. They come to watch some of the bravest and extremely determined men race infernal machines at lightning fast speeds of over 200 miles per hour.
Starting at the end of May each ear, these races see world famous riders and more than enthusiastic locals, competing with each other and against the gruelling thirty seven and three quarter miles of mountain course for the ultimate prize – winning the TT.
For many years, the most prestigious race in the world, the International Isle of Man TT race was a part of the Federation Internantionale de Motorcyclisme FIM Grand prix world championship during the period 1949-1976, before it was transferred to the United Kingdom after concerns of safety, and being run by the FIM as the British Grand Prix for the ’77 season. To preserve the racing status of the event, The Isle of man TT races were made a part of the TT Formula 1 championship from 1977 to 1990. However, from 1989 the racing event has been worked on and developed by the Isle of Man department of tourism and dubbed the Isle of Man TT Festival.
On the provisions of a parliamentary act, the race is run in a time trial format on public roads that are closed for the race’s purpose. The first race, held on 28th of May 1907, was called the International Auto-cycle Tourist Trophy. The event was organised for road legal touring motorcycles with exhaust mufflers, saddles, pedals and mudguards on a 10 lap – 15 miles 1470 yards to a lap, of the St John’s Short course.
The early 21st century saw the premier TT racing bikes completing the Snaefell Mountain course at average speeds exceeding 120mph. With a lap record of 130.354 mph, John McGuinness became the first ever rider to break the 130 mph limit on the Mountain circuit. The most successful rider however has been Joey Dunlop with 26 victories under his belt from 1977 to 2000. McGuinness follows right behind with 20 victories.
The Snaefell Mountain course is the oldest motorcycle racing circuit that is still in use. With the start marker in the town of Douglas on the Southeast coast, a wide sweep to the west and north as it enters the town of Ramsey, on the northeast coast and back to the start marker, each lap measures approximately 38 miles, and takes in over 200 bends and curves, climbing from sea level to altitudes of over 1,300 ft. All this makes the circuit, an epitome of the natural road course – all the roads used being public highways that are closed for the racing and practice sessions.
In addition to being the home of road racing, the Isle of man has so much more to offer tourists at any point of time in the year. Fondly referred to as the “Rock” by the locals, the Isle of man is roughly the same size as Ibiza and Singapore.
Spread out between the last week of May and the first week of June, the TT races, complete with picnicking crowds and other holidaying visitors flanking the circuit at all times remind one of similar community festivals that are part of another form of cycle racing – Le Tour de France.
With high speed runs on very narrow, twisting streets, roads and lanes and flanked on both sides by stone walls and buildings, TT races are some of the most dangerous road races in the world. 241 riders have lost their lives during the official practices and races on the Snaefell Mountain course over a period of 102 years ever since its commencement in 1907 to 2009, with the worst year being 1970 when six riders succumbed to the extreme racing conditions at the TT.
Some of the most popular racers that the TT has seen are Joey Dunlop with 26 wins, John McGuinness, with 21, Michael Dunlop, Steve Hislop and Phillip McCallen – all at 11 wins, Ian Hutchinson at 9, and Geoff Duke and Jim Redman with 7 each.
There are scores of other riders with single digit wins under their belt, and some like the young and popular Guy Martin who strive regardless of the dangers of this sport year after year, to achieve victory in what millions across the globe only dream of attending some day as a part of their bucket list – The most exciting, “heart in mouth” at every corner and turn, and the most prestigious event in the history of motorcycle racing – The Isle of Man, Tourist trophy.