Riders combine courage with breathtaking skills
The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, or TT, runs annually on 37.7 miles of closed public roads that twist and wind through towns and villages and open countryside, presenting enormous challenges to competitors who lap at average speeds as high as 135mph. There are over 200 turns to memorise and negotiate, ranging from tight hairpin-bends to the hair-raising curves of the Verandah section, that sweeps around a Snaefell mountainside slope. The names of corners and other features of the TT course are synonymous with legendary riders and magic moments in motorcycle-racing history. There's Ballagarey, Bray Hill, Creg-ny-Baa, Cronk-y-Voddy, Greeba Dip, Sarah's Cottage, Union Mills, Ballacrye and Ginger Hall, to name just some.
Top speeds reach 200 mph. Delays to practice, qualifying and racing are often caused by mist on the course reducing visibility, or heavy rain. Trees, dry-stone walls, telegraph poles, lamp-posts and the gable-ends of buildings are accepted for the hazards they are, and that's that.
British riders outnumber those from other countries. Leaders of the pack are Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness. But McGuinness was a non-runner at this year's TT – just as he was last year, through injuries sustained in an earlier race – and Hutchinson, although racing, was nursing injury. So Michael Dunlop, seen at left with his 2018-spec BMW, emerged as this year's clear favourite.
BMW-borne, airborne, Ian Hutchinson is captured above at Ballaugh Bridge, en route to winning last year's Superbike TT race. A Honda rider this year, he could not live with the leaders in his current state of fitness. It heralded a shake-up, as an on-form Dean Harrison took one win and Peter Hickman two. Neither rider had won a TT race before this year, and Hickman smashed the outright lap record into the bargain.
Conor Cummins wasn't far behind. Born and raised on the Isle of Man, 2018 looked as if it could be his breakthrough year, but a maiden win alluded him. Cummins is pictured below hurling through the Rhencullen section of the circuit during Qualifying for this year's event.
Questions inevitably arise as to who’ll be next to join the pantheon of all-time British TT greats – taking their place alongside Stanley Woods, Geoff Duke, Bob McIntyre, Mike Hailwood, Joey Dunlop, Steve Hislop and John McGuinness. The name of Michael Dunlop is on many people's lips. But Ian Hutchinson might well have notched-up far more TT victories, had he not been sidelined for three years by injuries that would have spelled the end of any reasonable competitor’s career. Having been told initially that he would never walk again, let alone ride, he endured a staggering 30 operations and lost the fibula in his left leg – with amputation a distinct possibility at one stage – to rejoin the winner's circle in fine style.
The gritty Yorkshireman’s fightback characterises the way TT champions go racing. Last year, ‘Hutchy' exceeded the late, great Mike Hailwood’s career tally of 14 TT wins, by taking his tally to 16. Michael Dunlop now has 18 TT wins to his credit.
There's action wherever you look at the TT. Ross Noble and Reef provided off-track entertainment at this year's event. For full results, visit the Isle of Man TT website: www.iomtt.com
Images Courtesy of Isle of Man TT organisation, reproduced with copyright-holders' permission