Archive for June, 2013

So here we are with the final four choices in my personal hit parade of Twenty Top Memories from the commentary box over 18 TT/MGP meetings and 193 races.

4Fourth place goes to one of the moments thatAnstey make the job so exciting – when the time trial nature of the races really comes into its own and it’s too close to call as the riders head down from Cronk ny Mona on the last lap. It’s last year, 2012, and the first of the 600cc Supersport races. The race has settled into a duel between Cameron Donald on Wilson Craig’s Honda and Bruce Anstey on Clive Padgett’s Honda. There’s nothing to choose between them and I have my stopwatch at the ready as Cameron flashes across the line. Then the excitement builds as we count down the seconds until Bruce arrives – and as I stop the watch I declare in my unofficial view that the Kiwi has won it. He has – by 0.77 seconds. They’ve been racing for 150 miles and it comes down to a few yards, and ten hours of broadcasting that day boil down to a split second. Magic.

03These are my most memorable moments, not necessarilyOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the happiest, and this is one of the toughest situations I had to deal with – the crash involving six-time winner Nicky Crowe and twice-winner Mark Cox in the second Sidecar TT in 2009. It’s been a day of delays and I’ve been talking to the boys in the awning as we wait to see if racing will take place. Then we’re off, and the lads are first away. They pass the commentary point at Glen Helen but then the computer screen goes blank: no sign of them at the next transponder point, Ballaugh. Red flags appear. We hear Nicky and Mark have crashed at Ballacob on the approach to Ballaugh. After that, nothing in terms of reliable news. Rumours abound, among them the horrible report that the paramedics are treating one of them and leaving the other in the road, from which I have to assume that one is beyond help. It is truly awful and I am holding the fort as best I can, machines circulating the wrong way round the course back to the Grandstand, the fear gnawing away that before long I’m going to be told terrible news but saying nothing about any of the rumours. In the end racing is abandoned and we go off air. Eventually we hear that they are both in Nobles and both are badly injured – but alive. I remember that as much as the horrendous suspense that went before and that’s why the moment makes it up to No 3: the absolute relief and gratitude that they’d survived.

2Second spot is that man McGuinness again and another lap record. 16 John McGuinness. Pic by Dorothy LambertThe reason for this choice is simple. It’s the Superbike TT 2004 and my very first Radio TT commentary. First race, first lap, from a standing start McGuinness on the No 3 Yamaha rewrites the lap record. I recall standing looking at the timing screen, which was very unfamiliar then, wondering whether to believe it or not and anxious not to broadcast any false information. But it’s true: 17 minutes, 43.8 seconds. I’ve just commentated on the fastest lap in the then 97-year history of the TT Races. What a way to start! McGuinness’s average speed of 127.68mph slashes 3.2 seconds off the previous best set by David Jefferies two years earlier. I don’t know what shape John is in, but I’m shakin’ all over.

01Number one is not a TT moment at all, but the CraigManx Grand Prix. The Junior race in 2006. The first two riders to leave the line side by side are Yorkshire’s Craig Atkinson and Ireland’s Derek Brien. They get the tap on the shoulder at the same time, they depart at the same time. After three laps, with one circuit of the mountain to go, there are only seven-tenths of a second between them, Atkinson leading. This can never happen again – riders no longer start in pairs at either the MGP or TT. Past Ramsey and over Snaefell it is still nip and tuck, neither man able to make a decisive break. This is going to be closer than close. I lock my gaze onto the tarmac of Glencrutchery Road and the Honda of Atkinson and the Kawasaki of Brien scream into view, still cheek by jowel as if strapped by gaffer tape. This is no time to be waiting for the computer to process the information, I call it as I see it: Atkinson. Even though I’m watching at an angle and not dead in line, I’m sure Craig has won it. Then the computer has its say: Atkinson, by one hundredth of a second. One hundredth of a second!! Phew! And what drama! The adrenalin is still fizzing days later and that’s only the commentator!  Without doubt the most exciting moment I’ve known in live broadcasting, anywhere. And that’s why Craig Atkinson’s duel with the equally brilliant Derek Brien at the MGP 2006 is my number one Mountain Memory.

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We’re moving into the business end of my personal Top Twenty Mountain Course moments in my nine years as lead commentator at the TT and Manx Grand Prix. Up to now my hit parade has included the funny and the quirky as well as moments of sporting theatre. Today we are well and truly into the category of history-makers.

8In at Number Eight is the Godfather himself, John McGuinness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s the Senior TT in 2009 and a high-quality grid looks certain to provide us with some rapid speeds. Even so, the stat that my computer screen blinks out as McGuinness slows into pit lane at the end of lap two comes as a stunner: 131.578mph. “Ohhh, look at that!” I bellow into the mic, oblivious to the fact that no-one else can actually see it. “It’s one-three-one!”  The first 131mph lap ever and a wonderful, exhilarating moment for us all. Such is TT though: John is denied a victory chance when his chain snaps and Steve Plater takes the win.

7Same year, but the summer is burning out and this is a carolynndifferent kind of history but no less remarkable. I’m in my lofty perch watching the Ultra Lightweight race at the Manx Grand Prix. We’re wondering if Carolynn Sells can become the second woman on the podium after Maria Costello, after all she was well placed in 2008 before coming off at Windy Corner. It’s the midway point in the race and riders are coming in for the routine pit stop. Carolynn’s bright orange Yamaha FZR400 rockets into view – but does not slow down. She scorches past the pit wall, head down. What’s happening? A desperate blunder or a brilliant strategy? All is revealed soon enough. Brilliant strategy. The Paul Morrissey/Martin Bullock team has calculated their fuel consumption to the drop and without any pit stop Carolynn wins the race and I’m saluting the first woman ever (and still) to win a solo race around the Mountain Course. Afterwards we examine the stats again and work out that she would still have won even with a pit stop.

6The thought of any one rider winning five out of fiveHutchy TT races in a single year seems ridiculous but in 2010 Mission Impossible takes place before my very eyes. Just as remarkable, all races are won with the same manufacturer and the same team, Padgetts Honda. In a day of sometimes painful drama, in which Guy Martin survives a fireball at Ballagarey and Conor Cummins is seriously banged up at the Verandah, Ian Hutchinson emerges triumphant in the four-lap restarted Senior TT, leading from flag to flag with two 131 laps in the first two.  Hutchy, McGuinness and Conor all exceed 131 on the first lap. The race ends with Hutchy standing on the pegs as the Honda coasts across the line and into Ian’s own chapter of TT history.

05Number Five is another Magnificent McGuinness moment. johnWe’re at the Centenary TT in 2007 and the island has been simply spectacular all week with re-enactments, celebrity visitors, and terrific racing. One thing remains: we’re into the last race of the meeting, the Senior TT, and no-one has yet done a 130mph lap. Enter the Morecambe Missile. Lap Two, and here’s the HM Plant Honda Fireblade as the klaxon sounds to indicate a pit stop. Has it been done this time? It’s a real possibility. There’s the timing computer’s verdict. “It has been done! It HAS been done!!”  The engineers are frantically winding the volume down because my voice is busting the decibels at the top end.  130.354mph is the new record and John goes on to wrap up his 13th TT win with a new race record as well.

Tomorrow: Four to go. Which moments make the podium? Which is my all-time Number One? 

Today we move into the top ten of my personal Mountain Memories from the commentary box, but first we start with number 12.

12This is already a classic in Radio TT history –  the moment Chris KinleyRichard Britton sets off after his second pit stop in the Senior TT. The year is 2005 and our trackside commentator Chris Kinley spots a problem. “The chain’s come off the sprocket! The chain’s off the sprocket. Tell him someone. Tell him!” Drama, urgency, and also quite funny as Chris becomes more and more animated as the revs soar on Richard’s machine. Richard was lying second when he entered the pits but this incident ends his chances. Tragically Richard lost his life racing at Ballybunion in September that year, a great character and a real talent.

11I saw quite a lot of Carl Fogarty in the 1990s when I iomtt patchwas BBC NW’s sports correspondent and Foggy was moving on from the TT to become four-time WSB champion. So here in 2008 it’s a real buzz to describe Foggy’s take-off as he leads off a parade lap to mark 50 years of Ducati. Never one to shirk the spotlight when he’s on a motorbike Foggy instantly pulls the most extravagant of wheelies and sashays down Glencrutchery Road.  Star quality.

10Into the Top Ten now and we’re in the year 2009 watching the secondIsle-of-Man-TT-Logo-386x217 Supersport TT, and in particular we are watching a 21-year-old with a famous name. Michael Dunlop is competing in only his third TT and has never been on the podium, but on this day he puts in a final lap of 125.077 mph to win the race on his Streetsweep/Marlow Construction Yamaha R6. It’s just over a year since his dad Robert died and Michael is wearing a helmet bearing tributes to both Robert and his uncle Joey. The start of something big.

9Final entry for today is what used to be called a ‘double A-side’ imagesin the days of 45 rpm singles.  Two hits for the price of one. Every now and then a rider runs out of gas or hits some other problem right at the end of  race and has to push the machine several hundred yards to the finish. When there’s a podium place at stake it is incredibly dramatic and this is what happens in the Manx GP Lightweight Classic 2011 as Maria Costello is spotted pushing the 250cc Bob Jackson Suzuki T20. She makes it to the line to clinch third place, and become the first woman to achieve two podium places on the Mountain Course. Even more dramatic as we fast-forward to 2012 and Chris Palmer has a real task on his hands, pushing the 500cc Ripley Land Matchless G50. He’s still in the hunt for a place on the rostrum but it’s a warm day and a heavy load. The crowd cheer him on and he just reaches the finish before collapsing on the tarmac. No lasting damage, and he has third place as his reward.

TOMORROW:  number eight to number five and John McGuinness enters the charts!

Moving up the charts of my Top Twenty Mountain Moments in the commentary box above Glencrutchery Road and today we get into the top 15. Starting at:

16The year is 2011 and at the end of the first Sidecar TT I’m OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwatching the computer to see if the winner Klaus Klaffenbock has broken Dave Molyneux’s race record. I’m pretty sure he hasn’t but at the same moment my timekeeper Norman Quayle holds up a scribbled note between forefinger and thumb. It says ‘a new race record.’  I’m speaking live on air and the message completely throws me because I don’t believe it – but Norman doesn’t get his facts wrong. I’m still wondering how to deal with this when he puts the message down in front of me. As he does so his thumb reveals the word ‘Not’ which he had written at the start of the message! Comedy gold.

 

15.svgNumber 15 is not a moment in the actual commentary box closerbut in a virtual commentary box. It’s early in 2011 and I’m watching TT action, holding a microphone and wearing headphones in the Goldcrest studios in London, dubbing commentary onto the soundtrack of the sensational movie TT3D: Closer to the Edge. That was a terrific experience in itself and gave me an early insight into the quality of the movie. The film by CineManx made an even bigger star of Guy Martin, promoted the TT to a new audience, and did more to explain the motivations of high-risk sports competitors than any other film I’ve seen.

 

 

14.svgNicky Crowe and Dan Sayle setting a new sidecar lap record in 2007 19 view from boxwhich still stands today. It’s lap two and the lads scorch past my position in 19 minutes and 24.24 seconds at an average speed of 116.667 mph. The race has already been dramatic with a 15-minute delay caused by a dog being loose on the course and unhappily the drama continues when Nicky and Dan have to retire at Union Mills with a blown engine. Disappointing outcome but the quality of their achievement has stood the test of time.

 

 

13Sidecars again, and Dan Sayle again, this time in the chair for Dave Molyneux. iomtt patchIt’s 2005 and the guys are clearly going to win. As they come into view with the chequered flag poised, I’m going into overdrive to salute another brilliant drive. But hang on! The outfit is slowing right down. It’s travelling at a fraction of normal speed. Dan is hanging over the wheel looking worried. Will they make it to the line? Will they now be caught on corrected time? They make it and they win, but it certainly isn’t the usual kind of finale.  Yet, even with the slow-down Moly smashes the 20-minute lap for the third time and breaches the hour mark for the race.

 

 

Tomorrow: into the Top Ten!

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I announced that I’d be revealing my Top Ten moments in the commentary box during my Radio TT years. The good thing about making up your own chart show is that you can change the rules. After giving this a bit more thought and factoring in the Manx Grand Prix as well as the TT, I couldn’t whittle it down to just 10 moments. So it’s become my Top Twenty.

Cue the fanfare and here we go…  20

At number 20 we go to 2008 and the start of the Superbike TT. P1010066 TowerThe seconds tick down to the 12 noon start but bike number one, belonging to Guy Martin, is not there.  Ten seconds to go and still no bike. The starter’s flag drops and nothing happens. Suddenly Guy appears and the Hydrex Honda roars off, but already the flag is dropping for the second starter, Conor Cummins. Conor appears from behind the archway and shoots off. Third off is John McGuinness who just about makes his allotted slot but doesn’t have time to bring the bike to a standstill; it’s virtually a rolling start.  Fortunately things settle down after that and the riders get away in good order.  It turns out that Guy has been in the toilet.

 

 

19At number 19, one of those crazy behind-the-scenes moments. mavisIt’s the start of Monday racing at the 2010 TT and I’m giving it full bore in the final seconds when there’s a horrible thump right behind me. I glance round and there is Mavis Brown, face down on the floor, having tripped over a cable and gone headlong. I’m not used to women throwing themselves at my feet….

 

 

 

18Next up it’s 2011 and the second Sidecar TT. One of the moments that makes the TT special. robin1Robin Daykin, aged 74, and his wife Annette, 60, get a finish. Robin has recovered from a broken neck and a broken back and is suffering from cancer. He’s returning to the Mountain Course for the first time since racing a solo in 1957. His celebrations at finishing match John Holden’s at winning.

Robin passed away last December, a great man. R.I.P.

 

 

 

17These are all my personal memories and this one is a real buzz. murrayIt’s 2011 again. There is a wonderful parade lap for the centenary of the Mountain Course. Murray Walker has agreed to provide commentary as the bikes leave the line and for me to say ‘and now it’s over to Murray Walker’  feels like supplying the pass for Geoff Hurst to score in the World Cup Final.

 

 

TOMORROW: the next four in my MOUNTAIN MOMENTS TOP TWENTY.

We’ve been here before. Last race of the TT, another win for John McGuinness, and a crash in which spectators have been hurt. Thank goodness yesterday’s incident on Bray Hill was nowhere near as bad as the 2007 tragedy which cost the lives of Marc Ramsbotham and spectators Dean Jacob and Greg Kenzig, and left marshals Hillary Musson and Janice Philips seriously injured.

Michael Rutter and Michael Dunlop tour back after the red flag. photo: Alan Knight

Michael Rutter and Michael Dunlop tour back after the red flag. photo: Alan Knight

Of all the threats to the TT, and there are many, I’ve always thought that fatalities and serious injuries to spectators were the most potent. The organisers have done a lot since 2007 but there are limits as to what they can do given the nature of the event. Watching the TT can be hazardous as well as riding in it. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way of more spectator sports than motorbike road racing. Even watching a golf tournament can be dangerous if a ball hits you at full chat.

All my good wishes go to those who were hurt: get well soon.

I think there’s a natural defensive response from many TT fans when we get an incident like yesterday’s. “Oh no, let’s hope the media don’t get hold of this, they will cane us again.”

My view is that it is not only inevitable, but also right and proper that the media should report things like this. Eleven people taken to hospital while watching a bike race? That is a story in anyone’s language. What is interesting though is that the coverage I’ve seen has been reasonably balanced, whereas in the past that would not often be the case. BBC NW news last night had pictures of the crash scene and interviews with two eyewitnesses but also reported that McGuinness won the race. Granada used a series of stills from the scene and then a clip of McGuinness talking about his win. So it wasn’t all about the downside of the TT, the upside was reflected too.

I’m not saying all the coverage has been like that because I haven’t seen it all. But at least the TV coverage was, to me, responsible and fair.

Media coverage of the TT in general is still very inconsistent. It drives me round the bend to read papers like the Daily Telegraph which has a huge amount of sport and find no results or reports. The Lancashire Evening Post, John’s local paper, carried just two paragraphs at the bottom of the page on his outright lap record. But there has been some good stuff elsewhere. The Daily Express had an excellent piece by Richard Hammond on Dave Madsen-Mygdal. The Daily Star has carried great reports by Dave Fern, with pictures. Click here for an example. Today’s Guardian website, while reporting the Bray Hill accident, also has a slideshow of pictures by photographer Chris Thomond who has been on the island for the last few days.

McGuinness at the Verandah. Hillier behind, 20th TT win in front. photo: Alan Knight

McGuinness at the Verandah. Hillier behind, 20th TT win in front. photo: Alan Knight

I’m pleased McGuinness won the Senior. He deserves his 20 titles. He has been the benchmark for excellence for years, combined with natural modesty and a genuine down-to-earth nature. Compare John to over-paid prats like Balotelli and Suarez and you find a different species of human being.

I was also chuffed to see Conor back on the podium having seen at first hand some of the suffering he went through while in hospital in Liverpool after his big crash in 2010.

Around this time I usually make my unofficial award to the person who has made a massive contribution to the event without necessarily winning much. This year it goes not to a competitor but to the clerk of the course, Gary Thompson. Top job in difficult circumstances taking the entire fortnight into consideration.

It’s also time for a couple of personal thank-yous: to Alan Knight for his brilliant photos, and to Gillian and Ned Bowers for their wonderful generosity.

Here are some more of Alan’s shots from yesterday, plus a couple from Billown when the rains came down pre-TT. And coming up soon: my top 10 moments as TT commentator. Can you guess which ones they’ll be??

Conor taking third place in the Lightweight TT

Conor taking third place in the Lightweight TT

James Hillier winningthe Lightweight

James Hillier winning the Lightweight

Michael leads Bruce in the Senior

Michael leads Bruce in the Senior

Arthur Browning in the Pre TT Classic at Cross Four Ways watched by commentator Roy Moore

Arthur Browning in the Pre TT Classic at Cross Four Ways watched by commentator Roy Moore

Remember practice week? Wet track at Billown

Remember practice week? Wet track at Billown

I thought my TT blog would take a bit of a downturn now that I’m not doing the radio gig, but in fact it has been doing better than ever. Daily views this year are higher than any previous year with a peak on the best day so far of nearly 2000. That is really encouraging and it shows that there is room for a blog which offers an independent view of the event, even though I am honestly not sure how much more I will be posting once this year’s races are put to bed.

glass bikeI’ve always tried to discuss the event in its wider context, looking at everything from the racing to the politics to the personalities and the off-beat activities that the TT and MGP often seem to attract. Like the glass motorbike which I spotted in the window of the excellent Sayle Gallery on Douglas prom the other day. It’s the work of Nikola Nikolov who sees it as a representation of both the fragility and the indestructible nature of the motorbike rider.

Not that I’ve done much wandering around Douglas this year. I wasn’t able to stay on the island for the whole fortnight and I’ve been following the races like everyone else, via the online radio and the excellent live timing system. On Monday afternoon I was monitoring the Superstock race from my office at the University of Central Lancashire, listening on headphones with the live timing on the PC. Suddenly my colleague who shares the office said: “Charlie, why are you growling at your computer?!” I tried to explain but didn’t get far. If I’d said,  “I don’t understand what is going on at the hairpin” she would have been ringing security to send in the men in white coats.

I’ve actually enjoyed listening to the races. The excitement has been fantastic and the pace of the action just carries you away. But I must admit it has been a bit up and down at times. That Monday was the lowest point, for some reason that day I felt really down and missing everything and everyone.

I’ve said all along I have no complaints about being stood down from the role of TT commentator. It’s life and these things happen to many freelances. But as Dorothy pointed out on Monday evening, “Most people will think it’s just another job.”

It  was never that.

 

Here are some shots of the Ramsey Sprint by Alan Knight

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