Posts Tagged ‘Isle of Man TT’

It’s usually dangerous to draw too many conclusions from the NW200 about likely outcomes at the TT. Alastair Seeley’s dominance at the Causeway Coast is one reason. Seeley consistently mops up at the North West but doesn’t do the TT. Despite that, there are maybe some pointers to be found.

I don’t want to go any further though without saying that the most important thing is the wellbeing of the woman who was seriously injured in Saturday’s three-bike incident. I felt too many people were too quick to ‘move on’ from this desperate accident. ‘The helicopter got away, how soon can we get back to the racing?’ No, that’s not the right way to go. As I write, over 24 hours has passed and the woman is still on the critical list in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. I sincerely hope she makes a good recovery. The same thoughts go to Stephen Thompson, also rated critical having been involved in the same incident.

We can’t tip Seeley for success at the TT, but we can say that his Tyco/TAS team have got the BMW working well. If that level of preparation carries through to the team’s BMWs on the island, then their TT experts William Dunlop and Guy Martin should prosper. William has the edge on Guy at the moment and Guy will have to be properly focused on the island. His ‘boring boring’ rant was out of order and also out of character, more a sign of frustration than anything else. I’d love Guy to win in what he says will be his last TT – although he hinted in a BBC NI interview that he might have second thoughts. At the moment, I have to say I think he’ll do well to get on the podium, never mind win.

Michael Dunlop’s switch to Shaun Muir’s Yamaha team makes forecasting even more difficult. Much the same as Hutchy’s switch to Shaun’s outfit after his five-out-of-five on Clive Padgett’s Hondas, before injury intervened. Michael has done it all on Honda and BMW bikes – but Yamaha? Well, if I’ve learnt one thing, it is never to bet against M.Dunlop. He will be a major contender. So will John McGuinness and Conor Cummins on the Hondas. The North West confirmed Lee Johnston as a big player, winner of the Superstock on Saturday. And Hutchy looked pretty good too, thank goodness, third in the Superstock and second in the Superbike, both on Paul Bird’s Kawasakis. The weekend also reminded us that Bruce Anstey is very much in the frame.

It’s impossible this year to come up with a single overwhelming favourite so it looks like we’re set for a massively exciting TT with the victories being shared around a bit more than in recent years.

I hope Guy turns up with his mojo in good working order. And I do hope Michael doesn’t go for a repeat of a silly little stunt at the start of proceedings on Saturday when he seemed to be goading the excellent BBC reporter Stephen Watson into giving a gratuitous plug to Michael’s sponsors. Stephen dealt with it well, but come on Michael. If Stephen had fallen for your little trick he’d have been in big trouble with his bosses. If anyone had tried to make me do something which is a disciplinary offence, if not a sackable one, when I was at the BBC I’d have thought long and hard before giving him any live TV exposure again.

Update: BBC TV interview with NW200 Race Director Mervyn Whyte, May 18th 2015









One question always pops up in my mind when the NW200 comes around – given that the NW has been shown live on BBC TV for several years now,  how long till the TT is also televised LIVE? It’s something I’ve been discussing with the man in charge of the TV operation at the TT, North One’s Neil Duncanson.

The NW200, coverage produced by Greenlight for BBC NI,  is always compelling viewing. Admittedly, sometimes that’s because the pictures go down and we can enjoy the commentators squirming! That of course is one reason why we are still some way from seeing the same live output at the TT. Reliability issues have to be solved. But having said that, the races are shown live and that puts the NW some way ahead of the TT.

NW200The Greenlight team place several fixed cameras on the ground around the start/finish section from Metropole to York Corner. These generate dramatic shots but for most of the 9-mile lap the bikes are out of vision, so the key is the helicopter. The chopper allows live shots to be seen the whole way round the course, and (most of the time) the signal back from the chopper to the OB trucks is reliable enough.

At the TT, they’d need to do the same – but it isn’t so easy. Choppers may struggle to keep pace with the leading bikes across the mountain, and producers would have to think about deploying more than one chopper because at the TT, unlike the NW, the leader of the race could be back in sixth or seventh position on the road. There used to be an argument that a TV helicopter was unrealistic because it wouldn’t be allowed to fly in poor visibility. But these days, races don’t go ahead in poor visibility because the emergency choppers have to be able to operate. So that objection has gone away – but there are still a lot of hurdles to clear.

I’ve had a fascinating conversation with Neil Duncanson, who shed a lot of light on exactly where we are with this debate.  North One is the company which produces all the coverage of the TT for ITV4 and other outlets. Neil told me that this whole question of live TV coverage is very high on the agenda, especially as plans for a TT World Series continue.

Michael Dunlop 2nd 600 Kirkmicheal

Michael Dunlop 2013. photo: Alan Knight

He told me: “Ask any major broadcaster of sport and they will tell you that only live coverage is important, whether it’s football, rugby, the Olympic Games or Formula 1. In these days of modern media saturation and digestion, the world wants its events served up live and will pay handsomely for the privilege. There is no doubt that the TT would be an amazing live TV product and the reason it hasn’t happened yet is simply a combination of technology and money. Unlike the NW200 or Ulster or indeed any circuit race, the TT is 37+ miles of twisting public roads that roll through towns, villages, countryside and over mountains. The cost of planting enough course cameras, flying enough helicopters and creating the tech to beam live on-board images from the bikes is extremely prohibitive cost-wise and for a single event it has proven the main barrier to progress. But as time has moved on the tech is improving and getting cheaper. however, it’s still not cheap enough just yet and the issue of getting on-board pictures live from the bikes (which motorsport fans are so used to now) is still a costly stretch, but it simply needs a catalyst to help get things moving.”

That’s a terrific insight into the thought-processes going on at the moment. As Neil says, it isn’t just a matter of getting pictures out. It’s the style and quality of pictures that people want and Neil’s clear feeling is that the wider audience won’t settle for anything less. Viewers of sport are now accustomed to live shots from the helmets of horse-racing jcokeys, from F1 cars and even from cricket stumps. The business of sports TV has leapt forward from being simple information to becoming rich entertainment, and if the TT is going to make an impression in that market, it has to get it right from the start.

So where will the catalyst come from? Neil says: “Clearly the IoM government and tax payers do not have the money to invest in such things, so it will be up to broadcasters, producers and possibly future promoters to foot the bill. If a World Series was to become a reality the cost of this coverage could be amortised over a number of global events and over a number of years. I believe this is the most likely end game, but ultimately the IoM government will decide at the end of the year whether they want to proceed with it. Until then quality live coverage of the TT is still just out of reach. Of course elements of live coverage could be produced now – ie pieces of the course, some hele tele and no on boards – but our view has always been that the event is too important and precious to waste poor coverage on it. As the old cliche goes, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. I dearly hope we will get that opportunity in the near future and if it happens, boy will it be something special”.

That sounds exciting, but it’s significant that Neil says the ball is in the court of the IoM Government.

Another factor is the ever-increasing spread of the smartphone. 4G has arrived on the island within the last month (not sure why it took so long when 3G has been there for several years) and these speeds would allow TT fans to access live TV pictures and commentary around the course. That of course would be a new rival for Manx Radio – but we’re not there yet. The smartphone audience on the island will be important, but the real numbers are those to be found worldwide. As Neil adds: ‘The real factor is an increasing demand for high quality live Motorsport coverage and the ability for specialist sport networks to pay high rights fees for it in an ever increasingly competitive world. The TT has an enviable brand and pedigree and in recent years has seen something of a renaissance in terms of the racing and global awareness. The quality of the riders, the closeness of the racing and the increase in teams and manufacturers (all part of this upward TT curve) have made our job at North One a lot easier in terms of making the TV look good.”

It’s all a long way from the days when I would film short segments of a race, record a voiceover at the end of the tape, then rush the tapes to Ronaldsway to be placed in a Manxpack and flown on Manx Airlines back to the BBC in Manchester, then for a VT editor to match my voiceover with the correct pictures and scramble it onto air in the nick of time before 7pm!

So where does that leave the notion of live TV from the TT? Waiting on the IoM Govt’s decision on a World Series, in Neil’s view. So that’s one to lookmout for with even more anticipation towards the end of the year.

charlie lambert 2015                                                                       Copyright_symbol_2


Destiny is spoken about a lot in sport. Mostly, the notion doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny. But with the Dunlop dynasty, it’s real. Destiny is in the DNA and today we saw its fulfilment yet again.

Michael’s vistory in the Superbike TT was simply sensational. He took control of the race from lap one in the way we usually associate with the maestro himself, John McGuinness. After that, he built up his advantage with the remorseless power of Muhammad Ali at his peak in a different sport. Michael was in a class of his own today.

Michael leads Cam Donald at Doran's Bend. photo: Alan Knight

Michael leads Cam Donald at Doran’s Bend. photo: Alan Knight

I love watching Michael Dunlop ride a motorbike. He is not just a competitor, he is a racer. He is a raw battler, a rider who burns with winning ambition. Whatever the weather, whatever the track conditions, Michael is up for a race.  And he goes for it with every part of his being. Heart and soul as well as head.

Five years ago I was on the Causeway Coast to see Michael win a most emotional victory at the NW200, less than 48 hours after the death of his dad, Robert, in practice for the same event.

Both Michael, then 20, and elder brother William were entered to ridethe 250cc race but both said they would withdraw after the accident. Then they changed their minds, only for William’s bike to break down before the start. Michael then took part in an amazing battle with Christian Elkins and John McGuinness before snatching the lead on the last lap and holding on to win.  If anyone ever doubted what a sporting victory can mean to a family, this raised the bar to a new level.

Today we were in that special Dunlop universe again. Honda marked the 30th anniversary of Joey’s first TT win for them by kitting out John McGuinness in replica bike, helmet and leathers. Wonder why they didn’t bestow the honour on Joey’s nephew? Wonder if Michael wondered the same thing? Whatever, Michael rode with the determination of a man who was going to leave nothing in the tank in his zeal to put the Dunlop name on top of the podium.

John McGuinness in Joey replica gear today. photo: Alan Knight

John McGuinness in Joey replica gear today. photo: Alan Knight

What a race. McGuinness confirmed his star status too. Many sportsmen would have backed off after picking up a penalty like that 60-second penalty and settled just for bringing the bike home, but John’s response, to set a new outright lap record, was simply breathtaking. And Josh Brookes proved he wasn’t just on the island for the publicity with a barely-believable lap of 127.726mph.

I’ve run out of adjectives. What a race. What a winner. What a dynasty.

Sensational debut. Josh Brookes on the Tyco Suzuki. photo: Alan Knight

Sensational debut. Josh Brookes on the Tyco Suzuki. photo: Alan Knight

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Isle of Man TT heads into 2013 in the best place it’s been since the 1960s.

If we look back to the 1960s the TT was well established as a world championship round with the angst of the 1970s yet to arrive; MV was a massive manufacturer with Honda emerging as a world force on the strength of its TT performances; the decade began with Surtees still ruling the roost and went on to showcase top riders like Hailwood, Agostini, Read and Redman, all in their prime. Now we again have a TT which is right up there with the top worldwide motorsport events. The state of play is not an exact parallel of the 1960s, but the buzz of the TT now is very similar to that of 50 years ago. It is worldwide, it is superlative quality, it is as heroic as ever, and it is a terrific visitor attraction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few things have come together to convince me that this is the case. One is the ongoing investment by Honda, and the creation of the Honda TT Legends team around John McGuinness, now embarking on its third season. Honda are as shrewd as they come, they know they have an amazing product in the Fireblade, and the way to keep rubbing it in is to keep putting it out there where it really matters. Reliability sells and when we see  McGuinness jumping on pretty much the same bike year after year and winning, we get the message. Honda’s season-long involvement in the World Endurance Championship reinforces the point and also keeps McGuinness dialled in along with other TT specialists.

Which leads me to another point. You don’t have to be a one-track-minded Isle of Man zealot to be a TT racer. A few years ago, leading up to the centenary, it looked like the TT was becoming a race for TT riders and no-one else. Now it is no longer unusual for established short-circuit racers to cross the Irish Sea, although I admit that Josh Brookes’ signing caused my eyebrows to shoot up. This is a man at the very top of the BSB scene. But he’ll find plenty of familiar faces in the paddock. Klaus Klaffenbock and more recently Tim Reeves and the Birchalls have had the same impact in the sidecar races.

These guys want to race on the island because the rewards are so special. Not just financially, although the top riders do pretty well these days. But the course is magnificent, with the risks managed as well as they can be and with Gary Thompson a sensitive clerk of the course. The supporters are phenomenal, as knowledgeable and enthusiastic an army as you’ll find in world sport anywhere, never mind motor sport. And the expansion of the internet makes it an event of truly global significance, followed live pretty much everywhere. The big names who are flown in by blue-chip sponsors every year wouldn’t turn up for anything less – look who we’ve seen in the last couple of years: Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Mark Webber, and more, and more.

The TT is also an event which rewards endeavour. The more you put in, as spectator as well as competitor, the more you get out. If you want a passing relationship with the races, fine – you’ll enjoy them. But there is so much to discover, so much to experience, that fans who’ve been travelling for decades still find something new. That accounts for the incredible age range among the TT galleries. As Dr Johnson (that’s Samuel, not Gary) should have said, ‘he who is tired of the TT is tired of life.’

So 2013 brings us a TT which has been building its popularity steadily since the fabulous TT DVDrelaunch which was the centenary in 2007. The movie Closer to the Edge delivered another massive dollop of stardust, and the multiplicity of TV channels these days allows the action to be screened during the festival itself. And just as the audience is opening up, guess what: we happen to be favoured with an amazing array of riders who have both personality and talent in abundance, and a willingness to put themselves out and about in the public eye. Equally, the team owners are up to the mark. I’d love to see Wilson Craig win a TT this year, he’s a great character who puts a lot into the sport. Shaun Muir has somehow come up with new sponsors in Milwaukee with the budget to run two Yamaha riders, Hector and Philip Neill of Tyco Suzuki juggle road racing and circuit racing with terrific commitment and great good humour, Clive Padgett sends out a winning Honda every year. Neil Tuxworth’s Honda Legends squad remain the guys to beat.

Meanwhile, the TT organisation is not standing still, and this is one of the most encouraging points of all. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe electric bikes are not the most dramatic to commentate on but their arrival over the last few years has been a huge bonus for the event; this sort of high-pressure development is exactly what the TT should be encouraging. The affordable super-twins, pioneered by the Manx GP, is another positive development and I believe the Classic TT, to be unveiled in August, will prove another rich thread in the increasingly colourful tapestry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s a healthy picture. But, inevitably, not without threats. The TT is always susceptible to threats. Cost of insurance is probably among the most menacing at the moment. Maintaining minimum marshalling numbers is another. Wet weather is a third. But overall, these are good times. Let ’em roll in 2013.

TT 2013 runs from May 25 – June 7. All the info is at

Classic TT runs from August 23-26. Info here 

Manx Grand Prix is from August 17-30 Info here 

and even more IoM road racing on the Billown course here