ISLE OF MAN 2015 PREVIEW
Back in my formative years, the Isle of Man was a mythical place and the home of GP heroes who risked all conquering its tortuous track. Although my mates and I rode early Japanese 250s, we hankered after more expensive, but proper, British bikes and we fed our passion on the belated news from English magazines.
And as much as we enjoyed the new British music on the record player, the most popular LP was a sound track of the Isle of Man TT, and the banshee wail of Hailwood’s Honda six pitted against the deep bark of a Tom Arter G50 Matchless was played over and over.
The lure of the Isle of Man faded with time only to be rekindled by the television coverage ramping up over the last few years and five of us headed various ways to that magic Island in the Irish Sea.
THE REALITY OF THE IoM
What a shock it was to breast the wall at St Ninian’s School during practice. Nothing, not the television, nor on-board footage nor the written reports prepared us for the reality of these mad men on mad bikes transporting themselves at warp speed through the streets of Douglas.
It was frightening. We were hooked and after the races we all agreed to return last year, hang the expense.
Last year was said to be the biggest yet, with up to 60,000 descending onto the island by sea and air and thousands of bikes making their way by ferry. The interest was fueled by increased television coverage, introducing the likes of Guy Martin, John McGuinness and MT’s own Cam Donald to a wider audience.
There is of course more to the Isle of Man than the TT. It is steeped in history written on a backdrop of rolling hills and underlined by a spectacular coastline. Farms and fishing villages give it a peaceful ambience that’s shattered twice a year with the running of the TT and Manx races.
Nowhere else in the world has a race with such history and, sadly, with such a legacy of serious crashes. There have been an average of more than two fatalities a year and while our first visit was a rare year of no deaths, the island was last year back to its murderous self, with two families bearing the loss of loved racers.
There is a common perception that nowhere else would tolerate the dangers of the TT if it were proposed as a new venture. Every year there are calls for the race to be axed, and MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow caused a stir on social media during race week when he denigrated the TT and pulled out of a demonstration lap after the death of his friend, Karl Harris.
The track uses public roads but locals seem to tolerate the disruption of the racing as just something that has been part of their lives for more than 100 years. Surprisingly, many we encountered don’t have much interest in the racing.
Getting around the island can be very difficult without your own transport. It’s possible to get a bus or train to various places and between Douglas and Ramsay, which would give access to a number of popular viewing points.
We also took a train to the top of Snaefell mountain for panoramic views over the island and the mountain section of the course past The Bungalow.
Having transport opens up a world of quaint villages and lively pubs with a variety of beers and local food. There are usually two races a day, each a couple of hours long, as well as various practice sessions thrown in if the weather behaves.
And on that note, prepare for hours of nothing much happening.
As soon as the weather closes in on the mountain there can be seemingly eons of time before anything happens.
Despite what might seem the case through the long lens of television, spectating is not a free-for-all.
It’s possible to get much closer to the action than is the case here but safety is still a big issue.
As much as anything, death or serious injury to a member of the public can spell the end of racing and marshals and fellow spectators keep a close eye on wayward behavior.
So be careful where you park, as crossing a run-off area once the track is closed might make it a long walk to get back to your vehicle if you want to leave early for a new location.
A visit to the pits is a real treat as you can get up close to the action.
It’s a pleasant surprise to be able to park close and for free and then have access to the many tents and marquees of the race teams as they go about preparing the machines.
While not all the top riders are on hand all the time, many go out of their way to oblige followers by signing autographs and posing for photos.
It was great to see Cam Donald giving time even though he had problems with his Norton and whenever we encountered the ever-gracious Davo Johnson he was ready for a yarn.
For anyone with Castrol R in their system, the Island has a powerful hold.
It’s the oneness of delight among the spectators, the sound of Donald’s Norton at full noise, the drama unfolding from the PA as riders swap positions on the road.
It’s the vibe and history and the pure racing adrenalin that has soaked into every rock wall lining the track. My guess is we’ll be back.
Cam Donald is racing and is now a teammate of Bruce Anstey in the Padgett’s Honda team. In an unusual arrangement, Norton has released Cam to race in the Supersport class but Cam and Bruce will be confronting each other in the Superbike class with Bruce on a Honda and Cam campaigning the ART-engined Norton.
Anstey holds the outright lap record for the Mountain Circuit but it will be under pressure this year from renewed efforts by both BMW and Yamaha.
While all the racing is good, the focus will be on the Superbike and Senior races where the 20 top, seeded riders have all lapped at more than 127mph.
Number one is John McGuinness who has 21 TT victories under his belt. He rode with injuries last year but is fully fit for 2015 is absolutely a contender, according to Cam.
James Hillier, another member of the 131mph club, is number two on a Kawasaki.
Michael Dunlop is fresh from multiple victories in 2014 on a BMW but is debuting Yamaha’s new R1 for 2015. He’s number three. Michael Rutter is number four, closely followed by Anstey on the Padgett’s Honda. This is Bruce’s big chance for a Superbike victory – expect to see him give it everything.
There are three BMW riders in the top 10. There’s the Tyco pairing of William Dunlop and Guy Martin at six and eight respectively, split by Gary Johnson on a Kawasaki.
Completing the top 10 are Ian Hutchinson (Kawasaki) and local Conor Cummins who wants to do better than his third and second last year.
Cam carries the number 19 position in the top 20 but it will be a big ask for Norton to get its bike on the podium after only two years development.
Cam, however, is in with a real chance in the 600 Supersport races on the highly competitive Padgett’s Honda 600.