Posts Tagged ‘IomTT’

Good day for the furtive fans

Posted: June 8, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Postponed races create a lot of problems, not least for fans listening off-island. You’ve sorted your schedule so you can be hardwired to the radio, laptop or smartphone, and you’ve signed up to family or other activities when there’s no racing. Then the winds reach gale force on the island, the Superbike TT is put back 24 hours, and come Sunday you join the ranks of the furtive fans.

The furtive fans are those of us who on the surface are putting in a normal day at work, doing the shopping, visiting family, or otherwise leading a routine existence – while below the surface we’re snatching ten minutes of commentary here, sneaking updates on the live timing there, glancing at Twitter as and when, any which way keeping across the latest as the race unfolds.

The trained observer can easily identify the furtive fan by the distant look in the eye, the constant fidgeting, and an inability to concentrate.

In the early days of Radio TT’s online broadcasting we used to get quite excited in the commentary box when someone emailed in to say they were listening from far-flung places. I remember TT fans contacting us from NASA in Houston and the British Antarctic Survey. It’s only now that I’m beginning to wonder what happened to that inter-stellar spacecraft that our man in Houston was tracking, and whether any emperor penguins fell through the ice near the south pole.

One way or another I kept up to speed with that very exciting Superbike race yesterday – although if anyone can explain to me how to get the live timing to display the splits between the leading riders I’d be very grateful. Completely baffled.

The postponement also created a huge challenge for Neil Duncanson and his team at North One, having to edit their one-hour highlights show in a fraction of the time they’d expected. They did a fantastic job, including dramatic onboard footage showing the spills of Gary Johnson and Michael Dunlop.

In the fuss about Michael, I don’t think anyone has shown enough concern for Scott Wilson, the rider who was involved in Michael’s crash. As the overtaking bike, it was Michael’s responsibility to avoid a collision. Scott’s TT is over and it is certainly not all his fault. He’s been a strong supporter of both the TT and the Manx GP for many years. Not only doesn’t he deserve to be laid up in Nobles with a broken collarbone, he doesn’t deserve to be overlooked as some sort of collateral damage either. (As an update to this, Ian Morris posted on the TT Talking Facebook page that Scott may have come off his bike a split second before Michael arrive, so I may be doing Michael an injustice.)

Well done Bruce – fantastic performance, and another brilliant achievement by Clive Padgett’s outfit. And how great to see Hutchy back at the sharp end after five very long years fighting back from serious injuries.

Now, how can I make sure I’m across everything that’s going to happen today? It’s time to get furtive again.

 

 

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The TT is an addiction. I’m in England, hopping from the radio to Twitter to iomtt.com, just in case I might miss something. And we’re still three days from the first race. I didn’t listen to Radio TT tonight for breaking news or sporting drama. I listened for the familiarity of it. The routine of practice coverage is the same. I know, we all know, what Chris Kinley is going to say, how he’s going to say it, and when. It’s brilliant. And we listen out for the things that are different – a new voice on the air, a new name on the grid, something different trackside. The small details of the new take their place among the century-old sweep of the established. Not many sporting events can offer anything like this.

Amid the atmosphere and the tapestry, there is, of course, news of one kind or another. Tonight, it was Anstey, picking up where he left off in 2014, fastest again. McGuinness was looking good. The sidecars got out for a practice session at last. I listened to Tim Glover’s round-up of the evening’s action, then got a phone call from Alan Knight, the photographer whose work lights up ‘TT Talking’. Alan had been out snapping at Quarterbridge and Braddan.

Five minutes after putting the phone down I took another habitual look at iomtt.com to see if the complete practice times were up yet. They weren’t, but instead there was that doomladen headline: ‘Statement issued on behalf of the ACU.’ We all know exactly what that means: there has been a fatality. And so it was. Franck Petricola, in his first TT, had been killed at Sulby.

This is the other side of that coin of familiarity. Shock, yes. Surprise, not at all. It’s the TT. It’s a genuine, real, ultra-physical challenge. My heart goes out to Franck’s family. But we’ll all be listening again tomorrow.

Spills and chills

Posted: May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
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One day in the mid-1990s I was filming with my BBC TV crew outside the Creg Ny Baa hotel. We were crouching down at the top of the escape road alongside a medic who knew everything there was to know about the TT. You could tell he knew everything because he spoke in a cool drawl like James Stewart and he wore an Aussie-style hat. “You can always tell if a rider’s gonna make the corner,” he informed us. “It’s not the speed, it’s the line.”  We nodded and carried out setting up the camera. “Look at this chap now,” he went on. “He’s got it. You can always tell. His line’s spot on.” At that moment there was that horrible sound of metal scraping on tarmac, a shout went up from the crowd, and our new best mate was grabbing his medical bag and running off to patch up the rider whose line, unfortunately, had landed him in the chicken wire outside the Creg’s saloon.

Talking of horrible sounds, one that I’ll never forget came in my first year as Manx Radio commentator. I was staying at the Hilton, although it might have been called the Palace then, or maybe the Stakis….. My room overlooked the car park at the back. I was working away on my preparation, head down, when there was the sound of metal splintering and the most horrendous howl-cum-scream that I’ve ever heard. I rushed to the window and there was a car which had obviously reversed into a baby buggy, with the baby in it. There was more shouting and screaming and it emerged that dad had backed up the car, not realising that the buggy was parked right behind the rear bumper. The mum was distraught, hotel staff raced out, an ambulance came, and the babe was rushed off for treatment. I heard later that he, or she, can’t remember which now, was ok. But it was a terrible incident which could have been absolutely tragic.

Another episode which chills the blood, looking back, was when I was in a car being driven by a cameraman to the airport. Somewhere after the Mount Murray a biker pulled right out in front of us at 90 degrees. We smashed  into him, he flew up over the windscreen and the roof, and my instant thought was that he had to be seriously injured, if not dead. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see him picking himself up. Incredibly, he was unhurt and was full of apologies.

It’s an extreme place, the Isle of Man, especially at TT time. As the precinct lootenant used to say in that brilliant series Hill Street Blues, “be careful out there”.

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.

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? 

It is of course about engines and shocks and swingarms and brakes and tyres and pitstops. But it’s also about concentration. That special quality which most of us would like to have more of, especially when the going gets tough. The ability to place the mind in a zone that brooks no interference, no distraction, no deviation from a single goal. To trade not just on hope but on belief. To make the mind more than a receptor and filter of information, more than a decision-maker, but to make it a significant source of advantage in itself. This, I believe, is what is setting Michael Dunlop apart this week.

Irresistible force: Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael today. photo: Alan Knight

Irresistible force: Michael Dunlop at Kirk Michael today. photo: Alan Knight

Watching him race to his fourth win in four races today, I was stunned by the man’s ability to keep up the pace for so long, knowing that fractions of a second counted, to keep hitting apex after apex, to run that Honda so smoothly on such an outrageous course, to deal with setbacks like a lock-up at the Bungalow and meeting traffic in Ramsey. It doesn’t matter how good a bike is, it’s the rider who makes the difference at this level. I know Hutchy won five out of five three years ago, and I saw Joey, McCallen, Hizzy and Foggy all race on the island, but I believe we are now seeing the greatest individual display of road racing. Michael is not just beating the course, he is beating brilliant riders who themselves are at the top of their game. McGuinness set a new outright lap record and today Anstey beat the old Supersport record, yet each was eclipsed by Dunlop M.

Sportsmen and women with outstanding powers of concentration tend not to be thought of as motorbike racers. Cricket fans will remember Bill Lawry, the most obstinate of opening bats for Australia. Ed Moses, the American 400 metre hurdler, would lie flat on the track before a race to compose himself in the zone. He was unbeaten in over nine years. Nick Faldo won his six major golf titles by thinking his way round the course as much as playing it. Michael has now produced this unique level of concentration on three separate days, four separate races, and 18 laps of 37.75 miles each, at an average speed in the region of 130mph.

One day to go. Whatever you have planned, cancel it. Do not miss the Senior TT on the Isle of Man this year.

 

 

Tomorrow gives us the fifth running of the TT for electric bikes, now the TT Zero but originally the TTX, won by Rob Barber for Team Agni, using Cedric Lynch’s innovative engineering, in 2009. The electric machines are developing well in quality if not in quantity. The American Motoczysz team has taken over from Agni as leaders of the pack but they will have their work cut out tomorrow with the Japanese Mugen Shinden team in top form with John McGuinness likely to hit the 110mph mark.

One innovation which did not stand the test of time was the Billown TT. It was five years ago that the southern course played host to TT racing as the organisers tried to come up with a format that retained two-stroke racing under the TT imprint.  The races for 250 and 125 bikes were staged the day after the Senior and I remember they produced some brilliant racing. There was an added sense of occasion, something different from the usual post-TT day at Billown. Appropriately, the first 125 TT at Billown was won by the last winner of a 125 TT on the Mountain Course, Chris Palmer. Ian Lougher won the Lightweight, his eighth TT win. There was plenty of debate about how valid it was to give these races full TT status, but then, plenty of TT races have been held on courses other than the Mountain Course. And to put the debate into another context, how many TTs were Chris and Ian denied by the abolition of two-stroke racing around the mountain? The Billown TT only lasted two years but the Southern 100 Club certainly rose to the occasion and gave us an indelible contribution to TT history.

Coming back up to date, Cameron Donald’s beard is attracting as much comment as his riding  – each is as spectacular as the other. Cam is on his way to taking over from former sidecar racer,  Irishman Pete Farrelly, as the owner of the best beard in my time at the TT. Pete cultivated a near waist-length creature which looked like it needed feeding at least twice a day. I asked him once how he coped with all that under his helmet? “I plait it and throw it over my shoulder,” he said with a beam.

I remember also asking Pete the reason for the name of his team, Reptile Racing? “I’m a tiler.”

Can’t argue with his logic.