If you don't know anything about the Isle of Man, then you don't know anything about motorcycles. As religious people have Vatican, Mecca and the Western Wall, bike enthusiasts have the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.
It's a place of petrolhead pilgrimage and respect, a sacred letter of courage and speed. And it's also the most hardcore event for both the audience and contenders. The famous TT is the most spectacular, most dangerous and the deadliest race in the world with a track that doesn't forgive mistakes.
Mind you, calling it a "track" is a bit pretentious. It's actually a bunch of public roads that are closed during the qualifying sessions and the race. Since 1911, this event is being held on a stage called Snaefell Mountain Course. The start is in the city centre of Douglas on the southeast side of the island. From there, the bikers are heading west, and in the city of Ramsei they turn around and head back to Douglas.
This 60.73 km long lap has more than 200 corners, and the altitude of the course rises from the sea level to 422 meters above the sea level. There are a lot of things on the stage that make the race more difficult: tight curvy roads surrounded with ditches, barbed wires, fences, telephone poles, houses, crowds of people...
So, an achievement is not just winning the race, but also finishing it in one piece. And this "one piece" refers to both the driver and his bike. A 9-time TT winner David Jefferies stated: "Anyone who decided to compete in the Isle of Man TT must face the fact that he might return home in a coffin."
And that's exactly what happened to him only 3 days after he made that statement. At a speed of over 250 km/h, he lost control in one of the corners and hit a concrete fence. Oddly, death seems to be a quite normal thing during these races. So far, 252 contenders have lost their lives, including the Manx GP amateur races which are a part of Isle of Festival of Motorcycling. The first fatal accident on Snaefell Course happened in 1911. What's very interesting is that between 1946 and 2016, only two seasons passed with no fatal crashes at all (the 1982 and 2001 seasons).
The deadliest one was the 1970 season, when 6 contenders died. Furthermore, throughout its history, this race took away the lives of 14 judges and audience members, increasing the total death toll to 266. But, how did this race even end up here, on a small island between the UK and Ireland?
Well, the island was never officially a part of the United Kingdom, and there were no tracks in UK for races to be held. So, British petrolheads decided to go to the island and make it their own racing ground...which was the only logical solution, right? With the help from the island's parliament, they organized the very first car race there in 1904. Two years later, the very first motorcycle race was held. But, it wasn't until 1907 when real men came with real bikes, and the TT event was organized as a part of those races.
Since then, the TT has been one of the must-see events for every petrolhead, and it's organized every year at the end of May and beginning of June. During the two weeks of this event, races are held in 7 categories: Superbike TT, Supersport TT, Superstock TT, Lightweight TT, Sidecar TT, Senior TT and TT Zero. In 1949, the Isle of Man TT became a part of Moto GP championship, but that stopped in 1976 because many bike manufacturers and drivers were complaining that it was too dangerous. But, many brilliant drivers gave their best on that stage, such as John Surtees, Ken Kavanagh and Mike Hailwood.
However, the biggest TT star was Joey Dunlop, who won this event 26 times between 1976 and until his death in 2000. Strangely, he didn't die on this dangerous track; his fatal crash happened in Tallinn, Estonia on a not-so-dangerous stage called Pirita-Kose-Kloostrimetsa. A memorial stone was erected there to respect this legend, but Isle of Man also made a statue of him sitting on his Honda. The statue is symbolically placed at the 26th corner of the stage, and Joey Dunlop's spirit still lives on.
His brother Robert was a 5-time TT winner, but sadly he died in 2008 at a race North West 200. However, one of Robert's sons, Michael, won the TT 16 times, and has even broken the ultimate course record, being the first biker to finish the race under 17 minutes. His time was 16 minutes and 53.929 seconds, meaning that his average speed was 215,59 km/h.
As you saw, this definitely is the deadliest race in the world, and some people say that this is the last proper racing event. Other races (F1, WRC, LeMans...) are getting safer and safer, and that's what makes the Isle of Man TT amazing. It's a place where real men laugh in the face of danger and fight with their machines to show who's the best. And that will (probably) never change, because the Isle of Man still has no national speed limits.