What’s the Isle of Man TT all about?

Photos: IOMTT, unless otherwise credited

Hey everybody! The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy kicked off last weekend, with qualifying this week and racing next week, but we know that not everyone is up to speed on this event. So what’s it all about? Who goes? Who races? What bikes do they race?  Why do some motorcyclists get all worked up about it, while others think it should be ended?

Lucky for you, CMG’s trained monkeys keenest minds have put together all the information you need so you know why you should care about this year’s TT.

What is the Isle of Man TT?

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (frequently abbreviated to the IOMTT. or just the TT) is a series of motorcycle races that runs every year on the Isle of Man, a British dependency in the Irish Sea that’s about one-tenth of the size of Prince Edward Island. The races have run almost every year since 1907, usually in the spring. It’s a time trial event: the racers are on the course at the same time, but have staggered starts to make things run smoothly. The racing takes place on public roads.

Wait — did you just say “public roads”?

Yeah, the TT runs on the Snaefell Mountain Circuit, a 60.72-km series of public roads that starts in Douglas, the island’s biggest town, then runs through small towns, farmland and mountainside before returning to Douglas. Depending on the event (remember, this is a series of races), the racers might do as many as six laps of this circuit.

Naturally, the roads are closed to traffic for this event. That’s not to say it’s nice and safe. Many sections of the TT run through tight streets with absolutely no run-off. Screw up your corner, and you’re going to hit a stone fence or a storefront.

Guy Martin, seen here at the 2015 Senior TT event, worked as a diesel mechanic to pay the bills throughout his racing career.
Who races at the TT?

So for a race this dangerous, surely only the most elite riders show up — MotoGP aces and the like?

Uh, no. The TT used to actually be part of the GP schedule, but they stopped going there in 1976 because the racers decided it was too dangerous. Marc Marquez hasn’t raced there, and Valentino Rossi says racers have to be crazy to do the TT.

Instead of big-shot, big-money international stars, the heroes at the TT tend to be working-class stiffs, guys like Ivan Lintin, who’s a firefighter when he isn’t burning rubber, or Guy Martin, who’s a diesel transit mechanic. The majority of the racers have day jobs, although the fastest guys have a year-round focus on roadracing.

The stars of the IOMTT are the superbikes, but electric bikes, supersports, sidecars and even more entry-level sport bikes like Kawasaki 650 twins are raced there as well, in the Supertwins class. Here’s Ryan Farquhar aboard a Supertwin way back in 2012.
What bikes race at the TT?

Multiple classes race at the Tourist Trophy, including electric bikes, superbikes (1000 cc), supersports (600 cc), sidecars, and “Lightweight” sport bikes (typically twin-cylinders up to 650 cc). Some bikes are allowed in more than one event (you might see the same machine in Superbike and Senior TT events).

The majority of the motorcycles at the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy are based on production machines, similar to what you’d see at World Superbike or similar events. If there’s a Honda entry, it’s going to be based on a CBR600RR or CBR1000RR or similar. You do see prototypes and one-offs raced, most frequently by smaller companies like Norton, or electric motorcycle outfits like Team Mugen.

The Mugen team has long dominated the electric racing at the Isle of Man.
Who watches the TT?

Motorcyclists worldwide get excited about the TT, tuning in to radio, television or webcasts to watch the action. About 40,000 race fans make the trip to the Isle of Man to watch the races in person; you can get there by air or sea, and one of the longest-running complaints at the TT is the ferry fares on the Steam Packet line (a.k.a. “Steam Racket”). A lot of hard-core motorcyclists make it a yearly pilgrimage, mostly from the UK, but from Europe and other continents as well. It’s not a cheap visit, but many of these fans have made the trip a lifelong passion. For others, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch the world’s most notorious roadraces.

James Hillier puts in a test lap at the Isle of Man aboard a Kawasaki H2R. The combination of fast bikes and tight roads makes the TT a very dangerous proposition.
Why is it notorious?

People die at the Isle of Man TT. There were three rider fatalities last year. If you add up all the racing-related deaths on the Mountain Circuit, some people reckon the total number of fatalities as high as 270 since the races began more than 100 years ago, including racers, spectators and course workers.

For some, that makes the races too dangerous to continue, even if everyone attending likes the idea. For others, it comes down to a matter of personal decisions. You can see some thoughts on the issue here.

John McGuinness is usually the man to beat at the IOMTT, although he’s taking this year off, and is likely considering retirement due to injuries.
How do you qualify for the TT?

If you want to race the IOMTT, the best way to do so is to first enter the Manx GP, which is a series of races run on the same course later in the summer. The Manx GP provides a less intense racing experience, and is often aimed at helping riders learn how to race at the TT event.

If you can post times in the Manx GP that qualify you for the TT, then you’ve also got to get an International Non-Championship Race Licence from the FIM. The best way to get that licence is to earn it by proving yourself in local racing, through series like CSBK or high-level club events.

Once you’ve got that FIM licence and you’ve got the qualifying times, there are still other regulatory hoops to jump through. It’s easier by far to handle these if you’re already familiar with the European street racing scene, particularly the Irish series of races (events like the North West 200), as the same people attend many of these events.

Get all your licences and qualifying times lined up, and you’ll still have to save the money to get you and your bike and equipment over to the TT. In other words, if you really want to do this event, start saving now.

Ex-pat racing star Dan Kruger (seen here on-track at another event) was one of Canada’s more recent entries at the Isle of Man TT. Photo: Dan Kruger
Are any Canadians racing at the TT?

We haven’t heard of any Canadians at this year’s Isle of Man TT, but in recent years Darren James and Dan Kruger have attended. Historically, Canadians had some success in the early years of the TT, with Irish-Canadian Alec Bennett earning five wins there in the 1920s. Michelle Duff saw a little less success there, but was still close to the front with four podiums. And Canadian ex-pat Mark Gardiner penned a great book about his experiences working his way to the IOMTT, titled Riding Man.

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