Isle of Man TT starts May 27
Here’s how one aficionado portrays the thrill and excitement, speed and power of the annual Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) motorcycle races: “It’s an experience that words almost cannot describe,” says Matt Huddleston, an Isle of Man-based businessman.
His island home, he goes on to say, is “a quiet, rural place to live 50 weeks of the year. But for two weeks out of the year, it explodes into color, noise and excitement. Unless you’ve stood by the roadside and had these bikes coming past you, at nearly 200 mph, almost within touching distance, you feel the power as they go past you in your chest and the sound — it’s just phenomenal!”
First held in May 1907, the Isle of Man TT Races are still going strong 109 years later, attracting world-class motorcyclists, motorcycling enthusiasts and thrill-seekers to the island located in the middle of the Irish Sea for two weeks every year.
The first week of the TT is devoted to practice and qualification races, leading up to the second week of actual competition. Race Week events are held on alternate days, beginning on Saturday and taking place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the ultimate day of the races, known as Senior Race Day, and so entrenched in the Isle of Man culture that it is a public holiday. The final day of the festival features the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company National Solo Races.
What makes the TT time-trial series of races particularly exhilarating is that the 37.75-mile Mountain Course covers narrow roads surrounded by hedgerows, from sea level to 1,200 feet up a mountain, and around more than 200 corners and hairpin curves, past telephone booths and stone walls. A race involves multiple laps up and down, and all around the bumpy, winding course. Top drivers reach speeds approaching 200 mph on the Mountain Course, which was first used in the TT in 1911.
“The battering they’re constantly taking on these bikes is just incredible,” says Huddleston of the riders. “It’s as much an endurance event as anything.”
Motorcyclists return year after year to compete, and top riders become local celebrities. The TT is equally addictive for observers, like Huddleston.
“For about the last 10 years, the TT has been like a pilgrimage for me,” says Huddleston, a native of England who now lives on the Isle. “I take the week off for the racing every single year. It’s a part of my calendar; it’s part of life. I’ll be trackside, listening in on the radio to the coverage, following everything that happens.”
Public roads are closed for the race, and observers position themselves along the route to soak in the noise and visual excitement. “Sometimes there will be a weather delay, and you’ll sit there for hours,” Huddleston relates.
“I’ve sat there for four or five hours,” he says, “and they’ve cancelled the race. But that’s just part of the way it happens. You’ll still be sat there, you’ll start talking to the guys next to you, you’ll find out where they’ve come from, where they’re staying, and people will swap notes about the best place to watch the next time. It’s never boring!”
Asked what tips he would offer a first-time visitor, Huddleston recommends a trip to the Paddock area in the island capital of Douglas, home of the grandstand. “The Paddock area is almost entirely ‘open access’, so you can go down there and see the bikes being prepared, you can meet the riders, even the very top guys. It’s not like a Formula 1 thing where everything is behind closed doors,” he explains. “You can get up really close.”
Then, he suggests, have a chat with a local to get an idea of a great place or two to watch from. “There are thousands of watching places you can find. Just find yourself a hedgeside, and wait for it to happen. It’ll blow your socks off!”
How to get to the Isle of Man
The Isle of Man is located in the middle of the Irish Sea between England, Scotland and Ireland. It can be reached by air or sea. To book transportation to and from the island for the Isle of Man TT, reserve your places as soon as possible.
Ferries: Isle of Man Steam Packet offers sailings to the island from Liverpool and Heysham in northwest England; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and Dublin, Republic of Ireland.
Airlines: Aer Lingus, British Airways, CityWing, easyJet, Flybe
Where to stay for the Isle of Man TT
Traditional hotels are in short supply on the Isle of Man, and the few there are will have been booked up well in advance of the TT. However, many home owners on the island open their homes to visitors during the TT and also during the island’s Motorcycling Festival in August under an Isle of Man government Homestay program.
A private company, Regency Travel, runs Homestay on behalf of the Isle of Man government to match visitors up either with a local family who opens their home on a bed-and-breakfast basis or with a rental house or apartment to stay in.
All Homestay properties have been assessed to ensure they meet fire and safety standards.
Other accommodation options include the “Lazy Camper” pre-erected tents, the Snoozebox Portable Hotel and campgrounds where visitors bring along their own camping gear.
Get up close and personal to the TT - as a marshal
Want to be part of the TT Races and play a very important role? Want to be more than a bystander?
Volunteer marshals are always needed to help on the course during the races to ensure the safety of riders and race observers. Every piece of the course must be seen by a marshal, and marshals must stand in sight of each other. During their duty periods, the orange vest-wearing marshals have the powers and privileges of a police constable.
Potential marshals can volunteer from the age of 16, although signed parental or guardian consent is needed up to the age of 18. The minimum training requirement is to watch a provided DVD, “Introduction to Marshaling.”
No alcohol is allowed before or during their duty periods, and marshals cannot use cameras. For more information about becoming a marshal, visit Isle of Man TT Marshals Association LTD, send them an email or call +44 (0)1624- 618191.