The 2022 Isle of Man TT races will take place after a two-year break. We explain the origin, history and evolution of Isle of Man TT racing, as well as the Indians who dared to race in the Mecca of the motorcycling world.
The Isle of Man TT (Tourist Trophy) – is enough to excite and send shivers down the spines of the most elite professional motorcycle racers. Considered one of, if not the most dangerous motorsport event in the world, the Isle of Man TT attracts thousands of spectators and hundreds of competitors every year. Some do it to retain their championship, some do it for the experience, while others just want the adrenaline that racing provides.
While Europe knows about the Isle of Man TT races, some across the Americas know it too, but in India few are aware of it. So what is the Isle of Man TT Race and why is it so popular? Let’s explain.
Isle of Man TT – The Origin
There is a saying that goes: The first motorcycle race began when the second motorcycle was built! The origin of TT racing dates back over 100 years. In 1903, when the Motor Car Act was introduced limiting UK speed limits to 20 mph, or 32 km/h, the secretary of the Automobile Car Club of Great Britain and Ireland, Sir Julian Orde, approached authorities in the Isle of Man – located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland – to seek permission to race vehicles. It was granted.
The first race, contrary to what most think, was with cars and not motorcycles. The first person to win the very first race in 1904 on the Isle of Man was Clifford Earl, in a Napier automobile, completing five laps in 7 hours 26.5 minutes. The following year, Clifford Earl won again, in a Napier, doing six laps in 6 hours and 6 minutes.
The first motorcycle race was held in 1907 with 25 riders competing in a 10 lap race around the St John’s course, which was around 25km long. The course contained fast turns, hairpin turns and long straights. The format was one week of training, followed by a week of racing, which is the format to this day.
The very first person to win motorcycle racing that year was Charlie Collier on his Macheless, however, it was a controversial win since Collier had pedals on his motorcycle which gave him a fuel efficiency advantage over to others. For the following year, new rules were introduced, the ban on pedals being one of them. Collier took 4 hours and 8 minutes to complete the race, averaging 61.5 km/h.
Until 1911 the race was held on the St John’s course, then moved to the much longer Snaefell Mountain course, or simply known as the Mountain Course. The change in course also brought about changes in the class of motorcycles as they were divided into Junior TT class (350 cc motorcycles) and Senior TT class (500 cc motorcycles).
The original mountain course was 60.1 km long and later in 1920 the course was slightly adjusted to its current length of 60.7 km. The course includes an 11 km climb, the highest point being 422 meters above sea level and more than 200 turns on each lap. A rider must complete 6 laps around the course against the clock and the fastest wins.
An interesting aspect to note about the Isle of Man TT races is that the event takes place on closed public roads for both weeks. Being regular roads, there are no special tarmac or runoff areas, instead competitors race on uneven roads that have bumps. This dramatically increases the dangerous aspect, earning it the name most dangerous in motorsport.
The Isle of Man TT is the pinnacle of road racing and has been held every year since 1907, with the exception of the World Wars era. In recent times it was canceled in 2001 during an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the UK, and in 2012 the Senior TT race was canceled due to bad weather. Also, in 2020 and 2021, the races were canceled due to the Covid pandemic.
Today, several big names in the two-wheeler industry are racing, with bikes ranging from 600cc to 1000cc with Honda leading the way with the most wins to their credit. When you look at the riders, Joey Dunlop leads the list with 26 wins in various categories, followed by John McGuinness and Joey’s nephew Michael Dunlop with 23 and 19 wins respectively.
The current fastest lap record is held by Peter Hickman in a BMW. He completed the 60.7 km lap in 16 minutes 42 seconds, completing 6 laps in 1 hour 43 minutes and 8 seconds, with an average speed of 212 km/h. This is a significant development over Collier’s 4 hour and 8 minute.
The Isle of Man TT races, from the very beginning, have been a time trial format where competitors will start individually at 10 second intervals. The 2022 season, which will run from May 28, will have 8 categories, including the famous sidecar races and the Senior TT.
Yes! Where’s the fun without a passenger? In 1923 sidecars first raced at the TT in a 3 lap race around the Mountain Course. Watching the Sidecars race is unnerving for many, as the rider is tucked into the bike and the passenger hangs off to the side to counterbalance the vehicle at breakneck speeds around the corners.
In 1926, the Sidecar category was officially abandoned due to lack of entries. However, in 1954 it was reintroduced with motorcycles not exceeding 500cc engine capacity, and this gradually changed to 1000cc motorcycles in 1975. Later, in 1990, stricter standards were introduced, where motorcycle capacities were capped at 350 cc. for two-strokes and up to 600 cc for four-stroke motorcycles.
Indians at TT
Similar to how CS Santosh opened the doors of Dakar Rally for India, two Indians dared to participate in the race and one of them, Car India & Bike India Editor Aspi Bhathena, became the only Indian to successfully complete the race. . However, it was not without incident, as on his second attempt he had an incident which led to doctors amputating one of his fingers. As he quoted in one of his interviews with an online magazine, “I donated half of my little finger to the Isle of Man.”