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Life at the limit: Get set for TT 2019

Apr 012019

At the end of May each year, just as the summer sun starts to heat up, business as usual resumes for a handful of motorcycle racers.

That is to say, business as usual at 200mph, on the Isle of Man. On public roads. Dodging stone walls, kerbs, and just about any other street furniture you can think of. Make no mistake about it; this is no ordinary race.

The annual Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - TT for short - are held over a fortnight between May and June, and since their inception in 1907 have represented the absolute pinnacle of motorcycle road racing; and an unique test of rider and machine.

Whereas most circuits are around three miles (4.8km) long and comprise between 10 to 20 corners, the TT’s Snaefell Mountain Course is somewhat different. A single lap of the TT course spans 37.73 miles (60.7km), and has 219 corners.

Nine-time motorcycle World Champion Valentino Rossi visited the Island during race week of the 2009 TT, and witnessed 23 time Isle of Man winner, John McGuinness, break the then outright lap record, as well as win TT 09’s opening Superbike race.

Take a second to think about that.

 

That’s the equivalent to racing from London to Liverpool, or Paris to Brussels, or even New York to Washington, on leafy tree lined back roads in under two hours, including two pitstops.

 

Talking to the press before leaving the Isle of Man, Rossi summed up his experience: “I did a lap of the Isle of Man on a bike, and now I understand why people love this. Because it’s f**king awesome – it’s unbelievable. But unfortunately, it’s too dangerous. Sometimes, riders are crazy. The Isle of Man is very difficult. If you make a mistake, maybe it’s the last mistake.”

While even a decade ago the TT might be an otherworldly experience to circuit racing royalty such as Rossi, race-winner McGuinness himself takes a different view: “We’re not crazy, or have a death wish, or anything stupid like that. We race the TT because we want to. I want to push myself and the bike as hard as I can, and come back safely.

 

“The TT still captivates me, even after so many years of racing. There’s always something that makes it exciting; the lap-times, the weather, the speed, the people - it’s completely unique. It’s business as usual at 200mph; but that’s what we do. It’s it’s a way of life… it’s a specialised job, and there are only a few of us that can do it… and do it well.

 

“I used to catch the ferry over to the Isle of Man when I was younger, just to sit on the grass and watch the bikes fly past - it was a dream to be on the start line then. I still feel that pure excitement now. It’s going to be very special again this year - not just because I feel like it’s crunch time after my injury. When I was bouncing down the track at the North West 200, in 2017, I thought I was going to die. Everything I’ve worked for is gone. I was smashed to bits, but now I’m healed and there’s nobody more hungry than me to come back and do my job.”

 

There is no doubt that McGuinness is eager to throw his leg over the chrome liveried Norton Superbike awaiting him in May, and prove to all that he is back to his best in earnest; he’ll face tough competition though.

As the youngest member of a motorcycle racing dynasty, which includes the most successful rider in TT history - Michael’s uncle - the late Joey Dunlop - who scored 26 wins throughout his career; the Dunlop surname and the TT are synonymous.

 

Arguably a TT without a Dunlop would be nigh-on unthinkable to fans; despite almost becoming a reality this year. Michael’s uncle Joey, his father Robert, and most recently his brother William have all died due to accidents in road racing - although none took place at the TT.

 

Following the tragic death of his older brother William, last July at a race meeting in Ireland, the 29-year old had taken an indefinite break from racing. He packed up, went home and didn’t climb back on a bike for the rest of the year. Understandably he had put his and his family’s well being first.

 

Then after a long period of radio silence, the news broke in March that Michael would be returning to the Isle of Man TT this season; with BMW factory backing and his tight-nit MD Racing outfit by his side. However the return to racing had not been taken lightly.

“I took a while to decide whether I would come back,” explained Michael. “We’re not sure yet what the plan for is for after the North West and the TT, it is getting harder for me to justify doing all the road races anymore, but the TT is the one I couldn’t not do. For me there’s no race that’s bigger, and my season depends on it. I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think I could win it. It’s been a difficult time, so I’ve kept my head down and had a bit of time away, which has been peaceful. That’s a rare thing.

 

“Now it’s another year and a new bike, so for me the challenge is always a good thing. There’s always something at the TT that you want to improve and work on so it’s hard to list one thing that makes the year special. You can plan and plan towards the TT but because the fortnight and the TT course is so hardcore, everything has to work for you on the day. When you're out on the road; its just you and the bike, but the rest of the time there are a hundred and one things to juggle.”

What’s more TT 2019 is set to do it all again, so hold on tight.

 

From the fan’s point of view McGuinness’ and Dunlop’s stories are a small sample of the unique qualities that make the TT so special, and moreover the reason why 40,000+ people flock to the small island in the Irish Sea come TT fortnight.

 

However from the other side - behind the visor - it’s business as usual at 200mph…

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