There is quite simply no other motor racing event like it. Over 37 miles of closed roads, postcard villages and towns, plus a truly awe-inspiring blast over the top of Snaefell mountain – The Isle of Man TT never fails to inspire, thrill and terrify all lovers of motorbike racing.
No other annual motorsport event running today can boast a longer history – its first edition was held in 1907, only ceasing for the duration of the two world wars. The course has remained unchanged from its 1911 configuration, when motorbikes raced for the first time. As such, the TT provides the same daunting challenge to the competitors who take to the start line each year. Taking the riders west, and then north along relatively flat country roads, the circuit winds its way from Douglas to Ramsey, then throwing the riders sharply south and over the Snaefell and Creg-ny-Baa moutains, before winding back to the start/finish line over Bray Hill. The spectators flock in their thousands each year to the island. Whether lining the streets in Douglas and Ramsey, or camping alongside the Snaefell pass, everyone is spoilt for choice with prime vantage points to catch a glimpse of these heroes.
As ever, the first week of the TT is reserved for practice and qualifying, in preparation of the second week’s races. This year, there are nine races consisting of seven different category. Below is an overview of each class which will contest the 2016 edition.
Superbikes – Saturday 4th June, 11ooBST
The most powerful of the categories to take to the mountain course. The Superbike race traditionally opens the racing week, and this year is no exception. This is also the most prestigious class, where the race winner is guaranteed to be immortalised in TT folklore. It is from this category, that riders such as Joey Dunlop, Mike Hailwood, Dave Molyneux, Steve Hislop, John McGuinness etc.
The bikes used are the pinnacle of motor engineering, with cutting edge technology to produce the maximum power for straight line speed, with levels of aerodynamics one would expect of a front running MotoGP team. The stress both man and machine are subject to cannot be underestimated. The cliches of riding to the limit and being on a cliff-edge are never more true of those who race the TT. With such highly strung machines, pushed to their extremes of capability, the margins between glory and disaster are terrifyingly small. Add in the narrow confines of the mountain course, with its severely limited run-off roads, and the margin for rider error dwindles further. There can be no doubt that whoever wins the race on Saturday 4th June, that he will be among the most skillful and courageous riders of the sport.
Superstocks – Monday 6th June, 1345BST
If money was no issue, one would be able to purchase a superstock machine from any high-end motorbike dealer. Quite simply put, these bikes are the ‘road legal’ brothers of the Superbike class. Capable of matching the premier class in terms of straightline speed, the stocks are more of a physical challenge for the riders through the numerous medium and high speed corners, which make the TT so demanding. The superstocks class is also where fans of racing series, British Superbikes, are most likely to spot their heroes in action. Although there is no actual law or regulation preventing circuit riders from entering the premier race, the stocks provide a slightly more forgiving ride for those who are not road-specialists. In recent years, Australian rider, Josh Brookes has defied this old tradition by making his TT debut aboard a Superbike in 2013, returning with strong performances from both classes.
It is common to see a number of the Superbike racers try and redeem their week with a push for glory here. As such, the racing is close, and – in places – desperate, with riders prepared to risk everything on the thoroughbred machines. Add in the wealth of talent from young challengers bridging the gap from Supersports, this race promises to deliver its perennial TT classic.
Supersports – Race 1, Monday 6th June, 1045BST, Race 2, Wednesday 8th June, 1045BST
For years regarded as the ‘intermediate’ class at the TT, the Supersports have become headline attractions in recent years. Partly due to providing a platform for extremely talented riders to compete – but without the budget Superbikes or Stocks require – partly due to the characters of seasoned road-specialists. Guy Martin fans, this is the category to watch. Despite having never won a TT race, there is no denying the commitment and passion (not to mention the high quality riding) that the amiable Lincolnshire man brings to the event.
The bikes themselves are more restricted than their Superbike and Stock brothers. Limited to a maximum displacement of 800cc. Whilst their overall top speed potential is reduced, the machines are in their element through the medium-speed sections, such as the run from Laurel Bank to Cronk-y-Voddy and from Keppel Gate to Governor’s Bridge. For those who appreciate elegance and precision of riding, as much as intense racing, then this is the category for you.
Sidecars – Race 1, Saturday 4th June, 1400BST. Race 2, Friday 10th June, 1015BST
Arguably the most spectacular sight at each edition of the TT. The sidecar races are the ultimate test of teamwork and trust between pilot and co-pilot. Piloted predominantly on similarly specification machines to the Supersports (albeit positioned far lower to the ground), these hybrids are the most unstable of the classes through the corners. If you’ve never seen a sidecar race before, the vehicle relies on perfect coordination between the two competitors on board. As the pilot steers into a corner, the co-pilot uses his body weight to provide ballast – and therefore stability – to the car. On the straights, aerodynamic efficiency is vital to obtaining maximum speed. Due to considerable mass of bodywork, and of course two people on board, it is common practice for both pilots to duck as low as possible in the cockpit and ‘tray’ – as a Bobsleigh crew would during a downhill run at the Winter Olympics. Often adorned with bold and characterful liveries, the Sidecars never fail to serve up colourful and exciting racing.
TT-Zero – Wednesday 8th June, 1045BST
Once the regarded novelty item, now a highly competitive event which showcases the highest levels of pioneering, in the form of eco-friendly motorbikes. Powered solely by electricity, the Zeros were first introduced to the TT back in 2010. Contested over just a solitary lap, riders push these uniquely sounding machines to the limit. No chance to recover, no excuses for slow pitstops, One lap, be all and end all. During its limited history, the race has grown in popularity, attracted not just fans but also legends of the TT, such as multiple winner John McGuinness, who have jumped at the chance to demonstrate the full potential of these hybrid machines.
Lightweight Bikes – Wednesday 8th June, 1345BST
Limited to a mere 650cc in comparison with the other fuel-powered machines, the lightweight class perhaps best embodies the original spirit of the TT: A man and his bike against the clock. The rules surrounding eligibility to race one of these bikes are few. Aside from the displacement limit, the bikes must have been produced for legal use on public roads, and must consist of a four-stroke engine with a twin-cylinder exhaust. In the interests of safety, the productionage of any competing bike must be no more than 12 years before the competition. In this case, any motorbike produced from 2004 to present day is eligible. Despite the racing in recent years not being as close, in comparison to other classes, for a sheer nostalgic and traditional nod to the soul of this race, the Lightweight class is always well supported.
Senior TT – Friday 10th June, 1245BST
The blue-riband race which traditionally brings the curtain down on the TT each year. This class is open to any Superbike of up to 1200cc (for 2 cylinder exhausts) and 1000cc (3 and 4 cylinders). Superstock machines are also eligible to compete, and are allowed to share the same regulations as the 2-cylinder superbikes. This is the class which has been dominated in recent years by John McGuinness, who has amassed seven TT victories in this race. Due to the significant power increase permitted by the regulations, this is the class for fans of pure speed. This is the race where the outright circuit record will be broken, with multiple winners McGuinness and Michael Dunlop both stating their confidence that this year will see the first sub-16 minute lap. For that to happen, a rider would have to complete a lap at an average speed of 133mph.
So there you have it. Seven categories competing over nine exhilarating races for the most prestigious prizes in road motorcycling, and the most technical and challenging course in the World. Let the Isle of Man TT 2016 begin!