Posts Tagged ‘TT races’

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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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.

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 www.iomtt.com

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