When the calendar for the 2014 MotoGP season was announced one race immediately jumped out, Mugello.
This would probably not be for the reason that everyone would assume, after all Mugello is one of the most popular races on the calendar. It stood out as it was bang in the middle of the Isle of Man TT races.
While I really enjoy photographing MotoGP, my passion is, and always will be, the Isle of Man TT. In fact had it been any race other than Mugello, I may have decided to stay at home. But it wasn’t, so the decision was made, after all, how could I shoot a MotoGP season and not go to Mugello?
For what was to be the final day of this year’s TT races, I decided to stick to habit/tradition and shoot the Lightweight and Senior races from Ballaugh bridge, around 17 miles into the Mountain Course.
After passing through Kirk Michael and the famous Rhencullen jump, the riders quickly find themselves approaching the famous humpback bridge. With a variety of lines and methods of taking this unique obstacle, there are plenty of thrills for the gathered spectators.
From the measured approach of Bruce Anstey, who takes very little air and lands the front wheel down before the rear, to the balls out air time of Conor Cummins, Josh Brookes and newcomer Phil Crowe, there is such a difference in styles between the field.
For a photographer at Ballaugh, there are a couple of main challenges. The shadows created by the trees at the side of the bridge make it quite tricky to expose the bikes and background correctly because it can leave the dark tarmac looking washed-out and far too bright when the sun is stronger. This leaves you constantly altering the settings on your camera to keep the images as evenly lit as possible.
The second issue to deal with is keeping track of approaching riders – like most places on the course you can hear the screaming engines begin to ease off and shift through the gearbox, but when multiple riders approach it always helps to spot the order they are in to shoot the leaders or other specific riders. By following the top of approaching helmets through the hedges, you have a fighting chance to capture the right rider.
The day dawned bright and sunny for the final day of racing at TT 2014. The choice of location for the Lightweight TT was the legendary jump at Ballaugh Bridge, where I found fellow Asphalt & Rubber photographer Richard Mushet enjoying the early morning sunshine.
Once the Lightweight race was finished I jumped into the car and headed a mile or so down the road to the Ballacrye jump for the Senior TT.
I am told that on a superbike the riders take the jump flat out in 5th gear which would be in the region of 160mph. To see a superbike leap through the air at that speed only a few feet away is mind blowing.
After witnessing that, and 3 of the 6 laps Senior TT laps, I packed up and drove back to Douglas to make it just in time for the final podium celebrations of TT 2014.
Due to the weather, another postponed race yesterday (Wednesday), meant that I had the opportunity to shoot the second sidecar race and a couple of practice sessions from another location.
Looking for a place I hadn’t been to before, I thought that the backdrop of Kirkmichael village would make for a dramatic image that really shows off the spectacle of the Mountain course.
Accelerating through the village, between rows of houses only a yards away from the curb, the exhaust notes reverberate down the road, giving any spectators an aural treat that will raise the hairs on the back of their neck and arms.
A fairly straightforward place to shoot from, this public viewing point gave me a chance to play around with different ways to frame the riders and really try to convey the experience of watching the TT from the roadside.
For the last couple of years I had planned to go to the Glen Helen section, but it has never happened. This year I decided that I would finally get there, and that’s what I did for Wednesday’s racing.
Glen Helen is a technical tree lined section and is home to the first commentary point for Radio TT. On dull days it can be pretty dark due to the trees, so a camera with good performance in low light is important.
For these photos, I shot the Supersport race in the section just before the commentary point. I had planned to stay there for the sidecar race as well, and then move round the corner for the practice laps.
Sadly the Manx weather had other ideas and there was no more action after the Supersport race. The Sidecar race was postponed until Today, so I will need to decide on a new shooting location.
It was quite a wrench to the leave the Island in the middle of the TT to go to the Motogp at Mugello. In fact, I spent most of weekend moaning to anyone within ear shot that I wished I was back home at the Isle of Man.
You can therefore imagine my delight when I discovered that the Superstock race was delayed 24 hours until Tuesday afternoon. I had gambled that this might happen, and had left my car at the airport.
I had hoped to make it to the Glen Helen section, but after landing I realised I wasn’t going to be able to make it before the roads closed. Instead I headed to Ballacraine as it was easier to get to from the airport.
Ballacraine is a quick right hand corner with a large building on the exit. The building was once a pub made famous in the old Geroge Formby movie No Limits.
It’s not one of my favourite places to take pictures, but I was just glad to be there.
Before heading up to the Bungalow for today’s races, the weather looked fairly promising with only cloud cover, and no ominous darker clouds threatening rain.
Once I’d arrived it was a different story, with the low clouds covering the tram stop at the top of Snaefell – the island’s highest peak at over 2,000ft – threatening to roll down towards the circuit.
The Bungalow is one of the highest points on the course, as the riders exit the Verandah and continue on their way towards Kate’s Cottage. If you watched last year’s TT highlights you’ll recognise it as the point where Michael Dunlop’s CBR600RR made a damn good attempt to throw him off, leaving rubber on the road and forcing him to take a much wider line through the corner than usual.
Usually the backdrop to any image at the Bungalow is a lush, green hillside, but today it was mainly the low, rolling clouds. This makes the camera try to expose the whiteness of the clouds, leaving the bikes underexposed if you don’t work around it.
After yesterday’s eventful trek up to Kate’s Cottage, I returned to familiar (and solid) ground at the exit of Ballaugh village.
After jumping the famous Ballaugh Bridge, and planting both wheels firmly back on the tarmac, riders are faced with a right-hand kink past The Raven pub, then a left-hand curve towards the drag out towards Ballacrye and Quarry Bends.
As the riders flash past the driveways and front gates of the houses, people can be seen peering over the front walls and peeking out of bushes to get the best view of the racing.
Despite having to go over the bridge at a relatively sensible speeds, to avoid damaging the bike and its components, the riders are already well into triple-figures on the speedo, and shifting up the gearbox as they exit the village.
Like any viewing point in the numerous villages on the circuit, the sound of screaming engines reverberating between the buildings is just another unique feature of one of the greatest spectacles on the planet.
Once again, the weather played its part in my plans today. With a delayed Supersport race start due to low clouds and overnight rain, I decided against my plan of locations and revisited the Creg-ny-Baa and Kate’s cottage.
This was mainly because of the dark clouds that made me unsure if a full race would be completed today, never mind both of the two scheduled races.
With the dramatic backdrop of Onchan and Douglas bay, riders approach Kate’s after the quick Keppel Gate turn, on the descent from the Mountain summit. A fast left-hand turn at the cottage sends the riders on the long drag towards the Creg.
The walk to Kate’s from the Creg is a mix of gorse bushes (shorts were a bad choice today) and spongy, sodden marshland. The marsh almost claimed one of my walking boots when I found myself up to my knee in moss, mud, and slime on the walk back down, but thankfully, my gear remained dry.