The Isle of Man TT is widely acknowledged as the most demanding motorcycle road race on earth for both rider and machine. For a motorsport photographer the 37.75 mile course offers a wealth of opportunities as well as a unique challenge.
The opportunities are obvious: stunning scenery, spectacular jumps and spectators literally within arms-reach of the riders as they blast through towns and villages.
It goes without saying that capturing a sharp image of a 200bhp motorcycle can be tricky even when they are not moving particularly quickly. In my opinion, the difficulty level at the TT is greater due to the sheer speed the bikes are travelling at.
The key to successfully photographing the TT has nothing to do with technical ability or gear, it is, as with most things in life, down to experience – although a bit of location planning and local knowledge doesn’t hurt either.
Now the dust has settled on another TT, a look back over the numerous pages of lap times and race results can only tell us so much. With so many incredible stories to be told it is difficult to choose one for this article.
From the blatantly obvious, such as; Dunlop’s incredible four wins, McGuinness’ new outright lap record or Ian Lougher rounding out his career on the Mountain course, which spanned four decades, tallying nine wins plus an additional nineteen podiums.
To the equally awe-inspiring, like; David Johnson’s impressive return to the island on privateer machinery, Dave Madsen-Mygdal completing his 100th TT race, and the first ever Chinese competitor at the TT, the likeable Cheung Wai-On.
Above all these, one team’s story caught my eye – the Buckeye Current team from the Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, whose Honda CBR1000RR-based electric motorcycle was tackling the Mountain course.
Consisting of a number of students from various science and engineering programs, the team’s RW-2 bike was the sole American entry from an educational institute and was pitting itself against three other teams from similar institutes and six non-collegiate teams from across the globe.
The more time I spend photographing MotoGP, the more fascinating the riders become. In the past few years I’ve come to believe that, while superior physical differences (their reflexes and fine motor skills) are significant, it’s the mental differences that are the most interesting.
I suppose anyone who has ridden a motorcycle even a bit beyond one’s comfort zone can appreciate some part of the physical aspect of riding a racing bike. For most of us, even the speed of racers in local events is impressive compared to our street riding.
By the time we consider Grand Prix riders, their level of performance is so high that I suspect most of us have very little idea how challenging it is to move a motorcycle around a track that deftly.
While the skills with throttle, brakes, and balance are on a level similar to the best athletes in other sports, I think that what really sets motorcycle racers apart is their ability to overcome fear.
After three increasingly impressive performances in the first three solo races at this year’s Isle Of Man TT, the Michael Dunlop we have been watching tackle the Mountain Course this week seems to be signalling a clear message of intent to the rest of the road racing field.
Following in the footsteps of his father Robert and his uncle Joey, who achieved a combined record of 31 wins and 54 podiums at the TT, and an astronomical amount of wins on road circuits across the world, Michael had already won three races on the island before this year’s event.
Despite this already impressive record on the Island, his frustration (and clear intent) was always apparent when it came to the Superbike class, as his two wins in Supersport and one in the Superstock class might have been perceived as “easier” wins by more cynical men than myself.