TT 2013 Revisited – Practice Week

In the absence of the IOM TT racing this year (2021), instead of looking forward as I would usually by now, I spent some time looking back. Since I moved to the Island in 1999, TT has been the highlight of my year. As the years pass by, I have experienced highs and lows, joy, excitement, friendship, camaraderie, team work and so many other great things. There have been terrible lows; times of fear, of worry, of disappointment and overwhelming sadness. Road racing is a cruel mistress – she has a hold over those who have committed to her that is really quite hard to explain, she is brilliant yet cruel… and very hard to walk away from.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

For many years, the fortnight was whirlwind of escaping work on time to watch practice, catching up with visiting friends, socialising, and of course the main event – the racing. My best mate of twenty years lived on the course, so it was usual to spend race days there. She was part of a big family, and they had pretty much adopted me as one of them. There were always visitors and the days were brilliant fun sat on her wall with the bikes just feet away, combined with access to clean toilets, cold beer and good food. Most years one of the visitors is her brother, who has a keen interest (obsession?!) in bikes and has often talked of his dream to race the TT in his sidecar. In 2013, it was finally time for his dream to become a reality…. During the fortnight, I decided to write a blog about the week and how it unfolded, and with no TT happening this year I have revisited my scribblings and I’d like to share them again to give you readers that may not have seen them before a view of the Isle of Man TT from a slightly different perspective. This first instalment is a summary of the first practice and is pretty much exactly as I wrote it 8 years ago…

I remember when we heard he’d entered his sidecar – a mixture of admiration (how amazing to get to do something you’ve always dreamed of) along with a twinge of fear. I’m sure I don’t need to explain that. The months have passed and now here we are….

I head to meet my buddy so we can all go to the Grandstand to see him off. When we get there, we find them getting the bike ready to go and be scrutineered. The tension is palpable – her brother is usually a pretty chilled and laid-back guy, but you can see that he is more edgy than usual. His partner is quieter than usual and best buddy is doing her best to keep busy. Having got there at 4ish, those couple of hours seem to go on forever. But then suddenly it’s 6pm and the last-minute preparation is in full flow. I’d expected to leave them and head up to sit in the Grandstand to watch, but there are enough team passes so I get to go into Parc Ferme and down pit lane to see them off. I’m excited as I’ve not been quite so close to the action ever before.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

It’s a bit like entering an inner sanctum, and I’m a little awestruck seeing so many faces that I recognise – McPint, Rutter, MD amongst others are milling about in readiness for the lightweights, old hands who have been here a million times before amongst the orange vests of the newcomers here for the very first time. A small gathering of journalists indicates there is somebody a lot of people are watching – Josh Brookes in his controversial leathers carrying the neon orange colouring over the top half. We make our way down pit lane and see the solo newcomers setting off on their controlled lap. The knot in my stomach is getting tighter as the boys get their lids on and get settled in the outfit. The roar of engines starting up around us, and that smell…. The knot has now sent a lump to my throat and I see the anxious faces of the partners and family, trying their best to act normal so as to keep the boys calm. And then they get the nod to move forwards….and they’re off…. We watch them launch onto the road and disappear off into the distance to St Ninians and for a minute we’re all silent. One of the girls surreptitiously wipes a tear from her eye and I say nothing but put my arm round her & hand her a tissue (I was a girl guide, always prepared!) We make our way back to Parc Ferme and wait.

It seems like an eternity. I am messaging everyone I can think of who may be out around the course to let us know when they see them go through. I get a message from Kirk Michael – they’ve passed there, and the girls look relieved. After what seems like forever the outfits start coming in and from our spot, we crane our necks as one after another pulls in. And then they are there. Huge sighs of relief all round – they’ve done their first lap on the most famous 37 and three quarter mile stretch of road there is. The lads park up, and everyone buzzes around them. How was it? How did it feel? How was the outfit, the visors, the flies, the light etc etc.. I am kind of on the fringe, and then something is needed from the awning. In a bid to feel useful I set off trotting back down there. A couple of hours ago it was buzzing on their paddock, but now it is like a ghost town. I wonder how the other teams have got on and think about how surreal this feels. I am suddenly part of a race team! I grab the bits I need and set off back up the way. It’s worth noting I haven’t run anywhere for about 20 years and vow it will be 20 years before I do it again!! As I get back to them, they’re starting to move the outfit down to its slot on pit lane in readiness for the next outing.

This time they are not restricted, and the tension is building again. The pit lane is buzzing, lots of clusters of people gathered around each outfit, riders perched on walls with headphones in shutting out the hustle and bustle and getting in the zone. Engines starting up & shutting off, the outfits and leathers an explosion of colour in the evening sunshine. This time everyone in our little group seems calmer but it is still an anxious wait. I look up to the grandstand – it’s packed with people, probably helped by the fact it is a beautiful evening on the rock with clear skies and glorious sunshine. Engines are being started and the guys are moving into position ready to go. They get the tap on the shoulder and they’re off again. I remember the TT App and start following the feed to see their names pop up….they’re through Ballaugh, Ramsey, Bungalow, Cronk ny Mona and then they whizz past us at the Grandstand and they’re off again. We tell ourselves that’s a good sign – if they went round again the first can’t have been that bad!!

As the faster, more experienced guys start to arrive back we keep our eye on the app to get clues. It feels like an age and as people arrive back the buzz gets quieter as people leave pit lane and parc ferme and head back to their bases. The people next to us get a call to say their team has run out of fuel. A travelling marshal sets off to start the sweeps of the course. There’s no sign yet but we’re told the last two outfits are still circulating. The clock ticks closer to 9pm, and the app catches back up with itself and shows them at Cronk ny Mona….The spanner & the drivers son are on pit wall, I’m with the drivers partner at the end of the return lane. Son shouts back to us that they’re here and there’s that feeling of relief again. I suddenly realise the sun has dropped and its getting very chilly. This time it’s smiles all round and we make our way back to base with a spring in our step.

IOM TT – Picture courtesy of Keith Quirk

Best buddy has been down a while and done what she does best and got the brews on and as we warm our hands we hear about the experience the boys have just had. The evening draws to a close as the sun sets on first practice and we head home. This time next week, subject to weather, qualifying and a big chunk of luck they’ll have done their first race.

But for tonight, we’re happy they’re home safe

Maria Costello: “There is a path to a career in motorcycle racing for women”

A familiar name in the world of road racing, and one of the leading figures for women in motorsport – Maria Costello has become the first woman to be named president of the TT Riders Association, in the organisation’s 67-year history.

Maria took some time out to answer my questions, ranging from her new role to her racing career and more.

Maria Costello, the new president of the TT Racers Association (image: CostelloRacing)

EH: Congratulations on your appointment as President of the TT Riders Association. For the benefit of our readers, what does the organisation do and what does your role as president involve?

MC: My role is to assist them in raising their profile, encourage riders and ‘Friends of the TTRA’ to become members and support them in any
way that help them achieve their goals. You can find out more from their
Website: http://ttra.co.uk

EH: How did you become interested in motorcycle racing – and motorsport in general?

MC: It began when I left school and started working as a Trainee Veterinary Nurse and needed to get from home (which was in a village in the middle of nowhere) and get to work in Northampton and I got a Honda Melody scooter. Not the coolest of machines but I loved the freedom it gave me. Then friends of the family suggested I get a motorbike and I quite fancied their son and he took me round the motorbike dealers but ultimately I fell in love with a Yamaha TZR125 and that was my first proper motorbike. Then one day on my way to work I got knocked off by a car driver with dodgy eyesight. I was injured and my motorbikes was broken but I recovered and the compensation money from the insurance company bought my first race bike and the rest is history. You can read more about it in my book: ‘Maria Costello – Queen of the Bikers’.

EH: You have had considerable success at the Isle of Man TT – a regular top 15 race finisher in all entered classes as well, the accolade of being the fastest woman ever around the mountain course as well as a podium finisher at the Classic TT.  Very much a place that’s a sort of home-from-home for you. What does it take – both mentally and physically – to successfully compete at the world’s toughest race?

MC: Determination, preparation, respect, support and more determination.

EH: In addition to the TT, you’ve also been a regular competitor at other leading international
events – such as the Northwest 200 and the Ulster Grand Prix. What attracts you to
the road races?

MC: Road racing has become my home and I feel very fortunate to compete
on real roads. It’s where I get the greatest feeling on two wheels.

Maria Costello in action at the Leathemstown Road Race meeting. (Pic. Gary Hamilton Images)

EH: Its well known that you’re an ambassador for organisations such as “Dare To Be Different” programme. There are undoubtedly many talented women racers around, but what do you think are the main problems that are preventing them from achieving their motorsport ambitions, and what can be done to open up the sport more to them?

MC: Society and the way we perceive is largely the problem as young girls have not been considered for two wheels motorsports at a young enough age. We know the best in the world started from a super young age and that’s what needs to happen for young girls. Things are changing and I think it’s important to highlight what women can and are achieving to show that there is a path to a career in motorcycle racing for women. Role models are important and they need to be visible to the youngsters that could be the future of the sport male or female.

EH: Following on from the previous question, what is your opinion on the new ‘women only’ car racing series that’s starting up in 2019?

MC: It’s not necessary. Women can compete on equal terms and should be supported as equals.

EH: Finally, what advice can you give for all the young (and not so young)
aspiring racers out there?

MC: Just do it, it was the best thing I ever did and although I’ve broken 24 bones, it’s still the best! Follow your dreams!

Superstock TT: Peter Hickman Seals Thrilling TT Triumph

The wait for a maiden TT victory finally ended this afternoon for Lincolnshire rider Peter Hickman, as he held off Michael Dunlop over four pulsating laps of racing.

As has been the case with the previous two contested races, Conor Cummins (Padgetts Honda) was the first rider to set off down Bray Hill, and once again was soon overhauled by the rampaging trio of Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki), Michael Dunlop (MD Racing BMW) and Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW). This time however, there was nothing Cummins could do to even offer any resistance, as his Honda began losing power over the first ascent of Snaefell. The Manxman ground to a halt at Governor’s Bridge, his fortunes this week so far in tatters.

The trio matched each other almost exactly over the opening lap and were in a league of their own – distancing the overall fourth placed contender, Dave Johnson (Gulf BMW) by over 15 seconds. By the end of the race, the gap from the top three to the rest would be an enormous 1 minute and 21 seconds.

As the riders thundered over Ballaugh Bridge, Dean Harrison was dropping back behind Dunlop and Hickman – almost certainly testament to the efforts he’d put in to his Superbike and Supersport challenges. Although unable to contest for the top spot this time, the Yorkshireman never let the leading duo out of his sights, and securing third place and his third podium of the week.

Hickman and Dunlop were left to duke it out for what will surely go down as one of the greatest TT races since the turn of the millennium. Having entered and then left the pit lane together, following their one and only stop, the pair traded fastest sector times from the Grandstand to the Bungalow. Dunlop braved it out on the descent, pulling out a small margin of 1.8 seconds by the time they passed Cronk-ny-Mona. The smallest of advantages to the Ulsterman heading into the final lap.

Hickman responded by taking a full second off Dunlop by the time the bikes thundered through the trees at Glen Helen. The gap was down to just 0.5 seconds by the time the pair made the turn at Douglas Road Corner and blasted into Kirk Michael.  Dunlop hit back and again had almost a full second over his rival, as they rounded the Ramsey hairpin for the final time. Hickman clawed a few tenths back as he wound up the Gooseneck. Dunlop pulled out a couple of tenths as he shot through Verandah. Nothing between them. Hickman kept the throttle pinned as he passed Kate’s cottage and tore off towards Creg-Ny-Baa.

Dunlop crossed the line first with a finishing time of 1 hour, 8 minutes and 54 seconds. Thirty agonisingly long seconds later, Hickman’s bike fired out of Governor’s Bridge and roared across the line at the Grandstand. The Brit had done it by 4 seconds. He has wins in British Superbikes to his name, on the roads he’s the master of the Dundrod circuit (which hosts the Ulster Grand Prix). Today, he can add the Isle of Man TT to his CV.

There were, understandably, highly emotional scenes in the winners’ enclosure. Hickman having to stop himself on more than one occasion as he was interviewed by Manx Radio. Who could blame him for being unable to completely fight back the tears? He had put everything into that race, and today Lady Mona had smiled upon him.

Despite not being on the podium, Dave Johnson’s race was no less eventful that the podium finishers. He was involved in a fierce battle of his own with James Hillier (Quattro Plant JG-Speedfit Kawasaki) before he finally secured fourth place.

Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW) and Martin Jessop (Riders Motorcycles BMW) both had solid races, coming home in P6 and P7 respectively. However there was an excellent scrap between Sam West (PRL-Worthington BMW) and Ivan Lintin (Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki) over eighth place. The two, although finishing almost a minute apart on the road, they were inseparable throughout the race on corrected time. West took the honours, finishing ahead by 2 seconds. Around a 150 mile race, it simply does not get any closer.

Rounding out the top ten, and increasingly becoming a sensation in his own right, is TT newcomer Davey Todd (Burrows Engineering Suzuki). The former National Superstock 600 race winner has made the transition to real road racing seamlessly during the meeting. He finished just 3 minutes off the leaders’ times. Remember the name, as it won’t be long until he steps up onto the podium.

The riders will now take stock, and with the majority having contested two gruelling races today, will rest up ahead of the resumption of racing on Wednesday. Whether Lightweight class, Supersport or Superbike – it is going to have to take something truly extraordinary to top this race today.

Supersport TT Race 1: Double For Dunlop As More Records Tumble

Michael Dunlop (MD Racing Honda) made it two wins out of two this week on the island, as he claimed his seventeenth victory around the TT course.

Whilst Saturday’s triumph had come aboard the 1000cc Superbikes, this morning’s race was contested on the smaller 600cc machines. Smaller in engine size, and slower in lap time – just as fiercely contested.

Desperate to make amends following his retirement last time out, Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawaski) once again set the early pace. The ‘Bradford Bullet’ taking the lead, on corrected time, at the first time check at Glen Helen. The Yorkshireman broke the record from the Grandstand to Ballaugh (from the standing start) and for all money like he was on course to smash yet another circuit record.

Dunlop had other ideas.

Clawing his rival back in over the mountain road, the Ulsterman closed in on his rival and claimed the lead of the race for his own as he passed the checkpoint at The Bungalow.  Not content with just the race lead, the 29-year old blasted out the Supersport lap record, next time around, with an astonishing average speed of 129.197 mph (17 minutes and 31 seconds). Harrison was not far behind – the gap between the leaders was a mere 4 seconds as the pair entered the pit lane for their one and only stop of the race.  Crucially, Dunlop was the only rider of the top ten to opt for a new rear tyre. A decision which would prove

With the knowledge that he would not run out of grip over the remainder of the 150 mile race, Dunlop began to turn the screw on his rivals. Although not threatening his new lap record – in fairness, he did not need to – he slowly closed down on Harrison until they were together on the road. A quick glance from Harrison over his shoulder on the approach to Ballaugh, and he saw the Northern Irishman bearing down on him. Try as he did to reduce Dunlop’s lead – he tried so hard he knocked the transponder off his machine as he brushed the wall at Guthries – he could not be shaken off.

Behind the leading duo, came a thrilling battle for the final place on the podium. Peter Hickman (Trooper Triumph) and James Hillier (Quattro-Plant Kawasaki) traded personal best lap times throughout the entire race, culminating in a thrilling dice over the final climb of Snaefell mountain. From Glen Helen to Ramsey, it was Hillier who had the advantage, inching out a couple of seconds to his rival. Hickman, however, was in a different league from the Goosneck to the Grandstand.  The British Superbike race winner blasted the fastest crossing of the mountain road, ensuring that it was he who rounded out the podium. Like Harrison, Hickman was a non-finisher in Staurday’s Superbike TT race, he will be delighted to have finished in third place today.

Further back, Josh Brookes (McAms Yamaha) entertained the spectators by climbing up from tenth into P6 on the final lap – setting his personal best time in the process. It was another strong result from the 34-year old Australian, backing up his top ten finish aboard the Norton SG6 on Saturday. Such was his pace on the final lap, he managed to finish 8 seconds clear of his nearest rival Gary Johnson (RAF Regular and Reserves Triumph). Rounding out the top ten were Lee Johnston (Padgetts Honda), James Cowton (McAdoo Kawasaki) and Ivan Lintin (Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki).

It was another difficult race for Ian Hutchinson (Padgetts Honda). The 14x TT race winner continues to struggle with his injury problems, and could only manage to finish in P16. The 38-year old has effectively written off this year’s races from a performance perspective. Instead, the Bingley-based rider is focusing on clocking up the miles, in preparation for next season.

Superbike TT – Records Shattered As Dunlop Takes Emotional Victory.

Michael Dunlop during the Superbike TT race – image Gary Howlett.

Michael Dunlop (Tyco BMW) completed his sixteenth victory today at the Isle of Man TT, setting a new race record around the famous mountain course.

The build up to the race had been overshadowed by the devastating news on Wednesday night, when the news broke that fellow Tyco-BMW rider Dan Kneen had been tragically killed in a crash during practice. An extremely popular rider, both with fellow competitors and fans, Dan Kneen will be sorely missed. His younger brother (Ryan) paid a simple yet heartfelt tribute during the final qualifying session on Friday, riding a single lap wearing his brother’s helmet. With the blessings of the Kneen family, today’s race would go ahead as planned.

Today, it was the turn of Michael Dunlop to make his tribute.

Setting off from sixth in line the Ulsterman was forced to push from the start, as Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) tore off at the front with a blistering pace. The Yorkshireman, from a standing start, shattered the lap record, scorching a phenomenal 134.432 mph average speed – which translates around the 37.74 mile mountain course into a time of 16 minutes and 50.384 seconds.  After the opening lap, Harrison had the overall lead of the race, and a healthy 11 seconds’ advantage over second-placed Dunlop. The two riders pushed themselves and their bikes to the very limit, as by the second descent of the mountain, they were already passing backmarkers.

By the first round of pit stops at the end of Lap 2, Harrison’s lead (courtesy of another 134 mph lap) had grown to 17 seconds. New slicks, a full tank of fuel, and Dunlop began his charge. The time splits around the course at Glen Helen, Ballaugh, Ramsey and up at The Bungalow consistently showed that the 15x TT race winner was closing the gap. By the time the leaders had dived down Bray Hill for the fourth time, there was only 9 seconds between the pair. Harrison had to respond, and at Ballaugh he’d done enough to ensure the gap remained the same.

Disaster struck the British rider on the Sulby straight when the bike gave up the ghost. He retired the bike at the crossroads, where it later transpired that the clutch had completely burnt out. Frustration all round for himself and the team, but make no mistake, he’ll have the chance to settle the score during Friday’s Senior TT.

Dean Harrison smashed a new lap record. But victory just wasn’t meant to be. (Image. Tracey Killey)

Dunlop was now clear at the front to romp away to victory. Following a smooth final pit stop, he did exactly that. Such was the consistency and the speed from the 29-year old, that he had built up an insurmountable lead of 52 seconds to his nearest rival, Conor Cummins (Padgetts Honda) in second place. However, being a time trial and the competitors starting at intervals, the pair would conclude the race together on the road. Dunlop was content to allow the Manxman to lead on the final lap, until the final blast down the Glencrutchery Road. Today, nobody was going to stop Michael Dunlop from finishing first.

It is fair to say that the pace from Harrison and Dunlop had blown the rest of the competition out into the Irish Sea. James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) completed the podium, finishing 21 seconds behind Cummins. It had been a solid week during practice for the Englishman, and today’s result sets both he and the team up for the rest of race week. Behind him, David Johnson (Gulf BMW) and Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW) rounded out the top five. Lee Johnston (Honda TT Legends) came home in P6 – the first runner on a Fireblade, and the only rider from the factory team to go the distance.

There was a tremendous scrap for the final places inside the top ten between Martin Jessopp (RidersMotorcycles-BMW), Ivan Lintin (Kawasaki), Philip Crowe (BMW) and Josh Brookes (Norton SG6). The quartet continuously swapped places with other – both in the overall standings and on track – during the closing stages of the race.  Jessopp and Lintin in particular took centre stage on the final lap as the two traded their best sector times over the mountain road, from Ramsey Hairpin to the highest part of the course at Brandywell corner. In the end, just 2 seconds separated the pair at the finish line. As close as you like after 226 grueling miles of racing.

Such is the physical and demanding nature of the course, both for man and machine, the race of attrition inevitably claimed some high profile names. Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) was dealt the cruellest hand, being forced to retire the bike at the end of the opening lap. In a cheeky tweet to his followers, the Lincolnshireman was at a loss to explain what had happened to his beloved ‘Beryl’.  He’ll be back on Monday in the first Supersport TT race, as he attempts to tame the mountain course.

It was also difficult day for multiple TT race winner, Ian Hutchinson (Honda TT Legends). The ‘Bingley Bullet’, as he is known, is clearly still not 100% fit following his crash during last year’s Senior TT race. After lap three, and languishing down well outside the top ten, enough was enough and his race came to an end at Governor’s Bridge. Monday’s Supersport race should at least be kinder on his body.

The day belonged to Michael Dunlop and the Tyco BMW team. The race win was the perfect tribute to Dan Kneen and his family. Speaking to Manx Radio TT in victory lane, the now 16x TT race winner thanked the team for the bike, and dedicated this race to his teammate:

‘I Just wanted to do that for Dan. Hopefully that’s for the family.’ 

BREAKING: Brookes Replaces McGuinness at Jackson Racing in Supersport TT Bow

Josh Brookes has joined Jackson Racing Honda for the 2017 Isle of Man TT, in place of the injured John McGuinness following the Morecambe Missile’s crash at the NW200.

Former BSB champion Brookes has already been announced as a competitor on the Norton in the Superbike class at the TT and also as a rider for Ryan Farquhar’s KMR team in the Supertwins race.

The Australian first rode the 37 mile ‘Mountain’ course back in 2013 for TAS Tyco Suzuki, with a best result of 10th place. At the time, he was the fastest ever newcomer, setting a lap time of 127.726. Only Peter Hickman went quicker on his debut.

Brookes returned with the Shaun Muir Milwaukee Yamaha team for 2014, achieving a best result of 7th in the Senior TT which closed the week. He also achieved a 10th in the first Superbike outing.

Having had two years away, Josh said that he will be looking to “rekindle the memories” of the TT, but insisted to me in an exclusive interview that a 2nd BSB title is still top of the list and that a Senior TT wouldn’t be higher on the priority list.

There was talks of Brookes’ return to the road racing scene being slightly sooner, when the Anvil Yamaha Team he rides for in the BSB championship were contemplating the NW200 but the talks remained just that. Brookes and the Norton he will also be riding at the TT received backing to go to the NW200, with only insurance and homologation rules preventing such things.

The effervescent Australian is 4th in the British Superbike championship, just 9 points ahead of Shane Byrne who occupies 7th; the Londoner just 1 place outside the all-important showdown positions.

The TT will start on the 27th of May, finishing on the 9th of June.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

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