Yes, it rained for the better part of two weeks. Until it didn’t. And then all hell broke loose on the Mountain Course. The pubs, hotels, and campsites emptied, the Parc Fermé lit up, and qualifying and racing got underway as an unusual and stirring race fortnight on the Isle of Man drew to a fitting climax.
Race officials jammed five races and Senior TT qualifying in to Thursday, with the Senior moved forward to early Friday morning, in a NASA- like quest to get the mission off in a narrow window of benign atmospheric conditions.
Peter Hickman became the rare rider to win two TT races in a day, with Superstock and Supersport victories. Ben and Tom Birchall made it ten TT wins in the sidecars, winning both 2019 tilts. And, in a dramatic finale, Dean Harrison won the Senior TT with the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider grabbing the lead on the fifth lap of six, as Hickman nursed his illin’ BMW to second, with Manx native Conor Cummins taking third.
In the misty midst, TT Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson said “This has been the worst TT I’ve ever experienced in terms of weather. I have never known it like this, ever.” But his coalition of the willing, including the unpaid volunteer 1500- strong ‘Orange Army’ of the IOMTT Marshals, pulled off what would be unimaginable in any other place.
Thousands of people, with distinct roles, a virtual motorcycle formicarium, fanned out from Marshal deployment, to road closing, to paddock, to scrutineering, to a frenetic parc fermé, to start line, to hot race course, to pits, to finish line, to champagne-soaked trophy presentations, to press conferences, and back again, over 15 hours on Thursday, with nary an incident.
And the riders who ran in all four two-wheeled races and Senior TT qualifying on this unprecedented day? They raced on the most demanding course in the world for nearly 340 miles, at speeds up to 190 MPH.
Then, 15 minutes after the last competitor crossed the finish line, the public roads opened, and the fine people of the Isle of Man went about their business as if nothing happened.
It was mind boggling, and a thing of beauty, and was worth every day of cold, mist, and rain.
Now let’s talk about the TT Zero, the ‘electric’ TT. In my unpopular opinion, this race best represents the original spirit of the IOM TT. Why? Back in 1907, the inaugural ‘International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy’ was run to display the technological advancements of a fledgling industry striving to show consumers that motorcycles were more than just toys, showing advancement and increasing utility of motorcycles through competition.
112 years later, with the inevitable electric motorcycle market before us, the Mugen Honda machines piloted by Michael Rutter and John McGuinness reached speeds that were unthinkable only a few years back. American rider Mark Miller won the inaugural TT Zero in 2010 on a MotoCzysz with a lap speed of 96.82mph, with the electric machines kept on a leash to conserve energy for the climb up and over Snaefell. On Thursday, Rutter’s Mugen, at 176 mph through the Sulby Speed Trap, with a lap speed of 121.91 mph, was faster than the petrol powered Supersport machines that raced that same day. They have arrived.
At the other end of the paddock was Duffy Motorsports. In marked contrast to the $1.5 Million Mugen machines, Duffy fielded hopped- up Zero and Brammo street bikes, with Shaun Anderson and Mike Norbury astride them. Ryan Duffy, an engineer with a passion for all things sustainable, bootstraps the entire effort on his dime. The Duffy bikes achieved considerably less impressive lap times, but showed how grit and innovation can lead to breakthroughs. Their unique spin? A solar- powered race bike charging van developed by Manchester UK -based KAST Energy.
KAST Managing Director Kes Scott told me, “The TT Zero should be an emissions free race but most bikes are being charged from diesel generators…that isn’t very 2019, is it? We wanted to prove the flexibility and reliability of renewable and low carbon technologies by providing a true zero emissions race powered by sun, whilst in situ at the paddock. This is the first time it’s been done – we proved the concept and will back next year bigger and better.” Indeed, there were two UK universities fielding teams this year, and this is where the real grassroots excitement and energy is coming from. Now, let’s shoot for a two lap TT Zero.
So, with all the weather issues and race rescheduling, did we manage to have some fun this year? Of course! The Ginger Hall provides an excellent vantage point, complimented by great local cask ale and food, and many interesting characters hanging about. This year I met German couple Dieter and Anke Mertens, former F2 sidecar racers who travel Europe incessantly in their homemade sidecar outfit based on a wrecked Wasp MX chassis powered by a Yamaha TDM 900 engine, featuring a 62- tooth rear sprocket for stump pulling. This was their 10th TT visit, and their infectious laughter and smiles indicates they have many miles ahead of them.
Back up at the TT Grandstand area, I checked out the sweet CCM motorcycles on display. These bespoke thumpers are gorgeous, and Motorcycle.com readers must petition the Brit outfit to import them to us. I met Kev Smith of Liverpool. He bought an old burger van out of a ditch in Arizona, and now has a thriving coffee van in a primo spot, where he proffers a bespoke three bean combo espresso with what he calls a ‘New York hit.’ After a week of pounding doubles, I can attest to that description.
The TT paddock is unlike any other. Race teams are open and available, offering merch for sale, answering questions, and with riders often up for a picture or chat. Or even a beer at the Trackside Bar. Young Jacob Lowe of Manchester UK, who, in his first TT, just so happened to meet up with Hickman in front of his awning fresh off his Supersport victory.
I ran into leading privateer Shaun Anderson, who placed 12th in the Senior TT, neck and neck with the bold- faced names, and asked why he does this… self-funding his TT endeavor to the tune of over $15k each year, taking huge risks and burning precious vacation time from his job at KTM. He said “Well, if you asked 100 hobby golfers if they could spend two full weeks at Pebble Beach playing against the 100 best pros in the world, and be able to get good enough over time to place in the top 20, I bet 99 of them would spend $15,000 on that. The other one is probably an arsehole.” He’s so right.
After some spirited riding across the south of the island, aboard our Suzuki V-Strom 650s, Honda Africa Twin, and a Triumph Street Scrambler, with stops in Niarbyl and Port Erin, we spent a few hours at Peel Day. A respite from the cacophony of the TT, the annual gathering brings together various entertainments, food trucks, and motorcycle exhibitions in this beach town. Still -damp motorcyclists thronged the place. The IOM police showed off their Ducati Panigale V4 chase bike. We ate delicious Manx ice cream overlooking Peel Castle, built in the 11th century by the Vikings under the rule of King Magnus Barefoot. My sense is that Magnus would be pleased with what happens each June, a thousand years later, on this wonderful island nation.
Stay tuned for my last report later this week, which will be a D-I-Y ‘how-to’ on travel, accommodations and enjoying road racing and other delights on the Isle of Man.