The sweeping safety changes introduced to the 2022 Isle of Man TT are an attempt not only to make the event safer for riders, but to secure its long-term future.
The changes aim to disrupt a traditionally risk-averse culture that pervades road racing, according to TT boss Paul Phillips, who spearheaded the changes during the historic event’s two-year absence thanks to the COVID pandemic. .
Perhaps the change that has caught the most attention so far is a reduction in the number of grids, with the number of starters for each race reduced to 50 riders. The changes also go beyond that, with the introduction of a new GPS tracking and timing system, the introduction of warm-up laps on race days and higher safety equipment standards also coming in. in force.
However, while these may be the most visible updates to a race that is notorious for being dangerous, it’s not one specific action that will make the biggest difference, according to Phillips.
Instead, it’s the sea change in how the TT approaches risk after decades of treating serious injury and death as an almost accepted element that he believes will change the future course of racing – even if he already faces some opposition from conservative voices.
“Of course, there will always be some resistance,” the Manx native told The Race, “especially when it comes to safety and risk management. You see people saying, ‘They don’t have need to do all this because runners know the risks”.
“This culture that exists around our sport is not something I can subscribe to. There are avoidable risks and risks that can be managed, and that doesn’t change the essence of what it is. the TT and the inherent risk that is part of the attraction, however, this means that we are a sustainable and responsible organization.
“We’ve seen some backlash around some of this stuff, but it’s often without logic. But there have also been very good feedbacks on many of them. You see people asking, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ and I agree with them. The biggest has been people who are unhappy with the numbers on the grid, but in reality it’s only a small reduction. It’s about 10 runners.
“The changes around safety and risk management are an attempt to not only secure the long-term future of our event, but also to disrupt the culture of motorcycle road racing a bit, which normalizes can -too often be unnecessary risks.You can keep all the traditions and values of it, but we have access to real world-class talent in some areas, and you can use that talent around medicine, mental health or of risk management and be proud of it.”
And while not everyone may have bought into the plan yet, one thing is clear about his motivations for implementing it ahead of this year’s race: Phillips sees the new changes as a fundamentally necessary step to ensure that the TT remains a viable event in the longer term. term, especially as it launches a new streaming and live streaming service designed to massively increase both viewership and visibility.
“It makes it much more defensible,” he insisted. “There is something in our central government for motorsport that talks about a defensible level of safety, and I think when it was written it was talking about being defensible in court, which is true; but I think there is more to it.
“There is a nuance. If something happens while we are delivering our event and it ends up in court, it will go to its natural conclusion. But I think the defensible level of security should be in the court of public opinion.
“If public opinion turns against the TT, it could stop it, as we almost saw in 2003 or 2004. It wasn’t the courts, it was the people who were asking if it was doable. So being seen as a modern, responsible and forward-thinking organization is really important in terms of the longer-term sustainability of the event.
Yet while he and his team, a department of the Isle of Man government, might push to make the event as safe as possible, he is also under no illusions about one thing: that is road racing, and safety will never be on par with circuit-based series such as MotoGP.
“It’s always going to be super dangerous when the flag goes down,” Phillips conceded, “because we’re racing motorcycles at high speeds on a public road and nothing’s ever going to change that – but there are things we can do about it. happen. while removing some of the unnecessary risk. If we can do it, then we are bound to do it.
“Sitting around us are all these people who could either be defenders or a threat, a critic, and when they look at it in the cold light of day when they didn’t grow up with it, when they don’t know it in the same level of detail, it just might sound crazy.
“The way we want to position ourselves going forward is not just about talking, it’s about walking. We want people to be able to look at it and understand that yes, it’s very risky, but why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it, and who they are responsible for.