With two years of racing canceled due to COVID, the lead up to the 2022 Isle of Man TT was fraught with concern over… well, everything. The Isle of Man is a speck of a country in the middle of the Irish Sea, with only 88,000 residents, that somehow girds up and welcomes 40,000 visitors, 13,000 bikes and an army of riders, teams, volunteer Marshals and support personnel for a two-week festival around the incredible Mountain Course.
The Mountain Course is 37¾ miles in length, carved out of public roads, lined by hedges, stone walls, homes, pubs, and fields full of farm animals that occasionally wander onto the roads during racing to check on what the fuss is all about. After two weeks of incredible highs and lows, and mercurial weather, I can report that while the concern was warranted, the TT lives on. The damn thing somehow still works.
The races were dominated by Peter Hickman, who became just the fourth rider to win four races in a week, after his victory in Saturday’s delayed 6-lap Milwaukee Senior TT Race. It was Hicky’s second Senior TT win and ninth in total, and he led from pillar to post on his FHO Racing BMW M1000RR, 16.9 seconds over DAO Racing Kawasaki pilot Dean Harrison. Manxman Conor Cummins on his Honda took third after an epic fight with Davey Todd, his Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles teammate.
Michael Dunlop took the other two solo races in the Supersport class, making it 21 TT wins for him, and the Birchall Brothers won both sidecar races, which were marred by tragedy as two serious incidents took the lives of three sidecar competitors, Roger Stockton and his son and passenger Bradley, and Cesar Chantal, with his passenger Olivier Lavorel remaining in critical condition. Two solo riders also lost their lives in racing incidents. Welsh rider Mark Purslow was killed in qualifying, and much-loved in the paddock 52 year-old Davy Morgan in Sunday’s Supersport race. While race organizers installed a comprehensive new Safety Management System, with changes to the organizational structure, course oversight, marshaling, medical support, accident response, and equipment – with lap speeds regularly over 130 MPH, the TT remains unforgiving.
American riders Brandon Cretu, a TT veteran back after a six-year hiatus, and Chris Sarbora, a newcomer, took on the Mountain Course this year. Brandon turned in his personal best lap of 124.04 mph on the Penz13 / Totem AI / HEL Performance Honda CBR1000RR-R SP in the Superbike race. Chris finished 25th and 28th in the two Supersport Races upon his Moto-hub.co.uk Kawasaki ZX-6R. With US TT veteran Mark Miller pulling radio and TV commentator duty, and many more visitors from the US this year than ever before, it’s no longer as unusual to hear an American accent as it was when I first came in ’08 and was considered a bit of a novelty.
As is usual, my mates and I spent the fortnight touring the island, choosing among the various and sundry race watch locations, and partaking in activities that make the Isle of Man unique. Thanks to Trail Riding Isle of Man, based in Peel, several of us took to the hills on Honda CRF250 and Beta 200 trail machines, enjoying an 80-mile loop of heretofore (for us) unexplored parts of this gorgeous place, taking on some green lanes, farm roads, and rocky goat paths that criss-cross the island. Really special.
As for race watching, in order to fully grasp the magnitude of the TT, one must get away from the main grandstand and start/ finish line. Head for the church and farm pop-up hospitality zones, and temporary grandstands that have increased in number over the years. Head to one of the trackside pubs before the roads close for a day of ‘craic’ and Manx Bitter. Or just park your keister on any number of hedges in remote locations. But definitely get out and about. Public transport via bus, taxi and rail makes it a doddle.
Landlord Ben Sowrey of the venerable Ginger Hall Hotel provided a new, enhanced race watch option this year, with a chance to hang with and hear the wonderful, salty stories of legendary racer, broadcaster, prankster, and raconteur Steve Parrish. ‘Stavros’ competed at the highest levels of motorcycle racing, across Grand Prix and the TT, and was the 1977 500cc teammate to champion Barry Sheene, finishing fifth himself. I recommend his excellent bio, My Life as a Racer.
Parrish weighed in on all sorts of TT lore, and when I asked him what has changed most since he raced here, he said, “No doubt, the reliability of the bikes. The two strokes were beasts, and really temperamental. We spent almost as much time sat on the side of the road as the spectators. But we do miss the sound, even if the residents don’t, especially when we had 5am practice sessions back in the day!”
The Ginge on its own is one of the best spots to watch the races, but hop on a bike, and from there the backroads lead you up to the Bungalow on the top of Snaefell, and over and down to Sulby Straight, two other wonderful vantage points with stunning speed at hand. A stellar day at the TT.
Having access to a small fleet of bikes, including a Triumph Tiger 900 GT Pro, Yamaha Tenere 700, and Suzuki V-Strom 650, all of which are ideal for the mix of island’s roads and lanes, we blasted around the miles and miles of almost empty B and C roads we’ve come to know by heart after more than a decade of discovery; roads that are ignored by most of the visitors who seem to endlessly go round the now speed-restricted main roads. We watched qualifying and races from The Black Dub, Creg-ny-Baa, Bray Hill, Signpost Corner, Ballacraine, and a few other locations this year, each of which provide dramatically different viewpoints. None more dramatic than Cronk-y-Voddy, though.
Cronk-y-Voddy is not for the squeamish. While the farm at the top attracts large crowds and stands above the course, we ventured for the holy grail of spots. All it took was for us late-middle-age-and-beyond blokes to slide down into a muddy verge below the road, take a slow trudge through at least a quarter-mile of brambles, thickets, moss covered rocks and logs, and then climb up on hands and knees and balance on a two-foot wide grassy berm blanketed with wood nettles. There, the bikes pass at 170+ MPH within a few feet of your gaping mouths. Simultaneously priceless and free, this is not for the ‘rattle your jewelry’ crowd, and no VIP bracelet is needed. I’ll have some video shortly.Watch for an update on MO.
One significant and noticeable change to the TT fortnight this year was the increase in entertainment afforded visitors and locals alike. The expanded ‘Fan Zone’ at Nobles Park allowed for race watching, awards presentations, autograph sessions, and press conferences in a beer-garden setting by day, and DJ sets at night for the younger crowd. Bushy’s TT Village at the Villa Marina teemed every night with food trucks, beer and bands, bands, bands. A pop-up music festival saw the likes of Nile Rodgers, The Darkness, Madness, and other name acts play on the seafront promenade. And of course, we attended the annual show by the fine Isle of Man-based Pink Floyd tribute band Pigs on the Wing.
I am regularly asked about how to go about getting to the TT and the best ways of experiencing the event. There are myriad resources available, like Visit Isle of Man, the IOM government portal (www.visitisleofman.com) and packaged tours are becoming more prevalent, and can be found at the official TT site IOMTTRaces.com.
Next year will see significant changes in the TT race scheduling, with two more days of racing spread out over the fortnight, allowing for more capacity and shorter stays, but potentially more challenging trip planning. Flights and accommodations are always tight, and one must start planning a year ahead.
The thing is, you must allow for the TT to breathe. This isn’t a MotoGP weekend. Don’t check off a ‘bucket list’ item and show up for three days at the grandstand. The island itself offers such a wealth of beauty, nuance, and things to do outside the racing that it behooves you to invest at least 10 days plus travel if you can. Hotels sold out? Don’t dig camping? Well, the people of the Isle of Man literally open their homes to visitors, via the Homestay program.
I ride through the ancient village of Cregneash to the spectacular Sound Café at the southern tip of the island, with a view of the Calf of Man wildlife sanctuary, gaping chasms, and the surrounding waters. It is a must visit and is rammed with bikes on this beautiful non-race day.
I encountered Simon and Helen Wood of Douglas. Homestay hosts themselves, they were gutted by the cancellation of the last two TTs, and per Helen, “The TT brings a buzz and vibrancy to our island that we’ve so missed.” Simon, owner of a fine Honda VFR750 (‘a carbed one’ he pointed out emphatically) added that ‘We’ve made great friends over the years via sharing our home, and by meeting people from all around the world, and it is great to have the buzz back this year. We wish everyone good weather and a safe visit.”
So, the weather wasn’t great this year…it was OK, but generally cool, damp, and windy. But on the safety front, I have a particularly personal story. Two weeks into my trip, I faced a non- motorbike related, totally unexpected, and relatively serious health issue that required two visits to the emergency room and imaging departments at Noble’s Hospital. I filled out a form about the size of the order checklist at a sushi bar. I was not asked for any Insurance, or local ID. I was not triaged into an alien holding pen. The staff, the facilities, the doctors, all were first rate. A doctor and technician came in on the Bank Holiday explicitly to treat me. I was diagnosed, treated, prescribed ,and released, and the price for everything…all the tests, including a CT scan, was zero. For a prescription which would run $500-$1500 in the US, I was charged less than $5. I’ll leave the debate about the American healthcare system for others, but the Isle of Man NHS impressed me greatly, and made me love and respect this place more than ever. Just give me a nice small shack near Ned Devine’s. Roll on TT 2023!
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