The Isle of Man TT defies all odds when it comes to what the average motorsport fanatic determines as the norm. Its danger is its charm, people say, and that has always been true of all motorsports. But never has the idea of competing directly in the face of unparalleled danger applied so much to a race or a singular event like this.
Once a year, twenty motorcyclists take to the mountainous mountain roads, lined with pavements and constructions of the small island in the Irish Sea to receive the ultimate thrill of the motorcycle racing season.
A brief history lesson in the Isle of Man TT
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy consists of a week of practice sessions preceding a full week of hard racing around the 37.3 mile (60.72 km) Snaefell mountain course. However, it was not always such a long tour, with the first TT on the island held in 1907 on St John’s “short” course of 15 miles over 10 grueling laps. 1911 saw the change to the course still used to this day – a course that features an incredible 1,300 feet of elevation above sea level and no less than 219 turns.
It became part of the FIM Moto Grand Prix World Championship (now called MotoGP) in 1949, continuing in that role until 1976. Appearing in various championship guises since then, the TT has consistently drawn criticism for the inherent danger that pilots and spectators are. put every year. On a purely competitive level, it’s often said that motorsport’s fiercest adversary is the stopwatch – it’s what makes time trials so unique. Treat it like a rally stage, just several times longer and much faster.
The Isle of Man TT is a race tinged with tragedy
The infamous mountain course once held world championship status, hosting the British Grand Prix until 1977. The decision was made after a growing driver and manufacturer boycott threatened the viability of the course. event – a boycott that only began to gain momentum after Italian Gilberto Parlotti lost his life in the TT in 1972, prompting his friend Giacomo Agostini to decide never to race on the Isle of man.
Parlotti was the 99th rider to lose his life during the Isle of Man TT week. A total of 265 people have died since the Snaefell race was established in 1911.
Since the Grand Prix has moved from the Isle of Man to the British mainland, a rider is no longer required to race in the TT in order to preserve their championship hopes. Instead, every contestant since 1977 has done so voluntarily while perpetually battling the preeminent mental conflict of self-preservation.
Freak crashes are always a real threat to those in attendance, and it’s never been more prevalent than in 2018, when Steve Mercer was seriously injured in a head-on crash with a racing car driving into the head of a convoy of police cars on their way to a fatal crash involving Dan Kneen further down the course. Mercer had been told by marshals to drive in the wrong direction to return to the pits during the red flag period for the first crash.
Improve Isle of Man TT
Security has, albeit quietly, improved at an increasing rate on the Isle of Man. Any form of riding in wet conditions has been banned by race organizers for most of this century, and LED flag warning signs have been installed in some places – much like the ones one seen on race tracks specially classified by the FIA. The number of allowed entries has also been reduced to only absolute professionals.
But on a track of this magnitude and length, lined with concrete walls, trees, houses, huge drops and no significant safety barriers to speak of, the number of extraneous and uncontrollable variables is gigantic.
Every year, something new, unprecedented and downright unpredictable puts this particular gathering on the security radar. This time it was a video of a soccer ball rolling around the circuit that went viral on social media. Bikes at over 130 mph narrowly avoiding the deadly obstacle that could have easily caused a serious crash. No form of safety measure succeeded in slowing down the incoming runners, it was purely luck on this occasion that prevented the unthinkable from happening again.
The 2022 event was tragically marred by the devastating deaths of five riders, two of whom remain in serious conditions in hospital. It rightly opened the box of questions about the moral and ethical integrity of embarking on such an extreme, dangerous and arguably deadly race without blinking an eye. The fact that this year was the first time in the race’s 115-year history that it was broadcast live therefore does not go to the race’s favor in terms of how it is perceived by the world at large. Print and social media took turns pulling pieces of the already bereaved and damaged arsenal from the event.
Still, the danger aspect is what die-hard fans have come to terms with, meaning it almost operates in its own separate motor racing outpost. An outpost in which those who love it would never change it for the world, and those who watch in disbelief demand change.
The Isle of Man TT is by far the most absurd, preposterous and ridiculous race of the modern era of motorsport – a far cry from any other motorsport or sporting event.