It’s time to throw down times. Recon day is over. It’s now or never. The riders will not see these sections of the mountain again until race day.
Some of the rookie riders seem to still be learning the fastest lines, but the old veterans have it down pat and are hurling the bike around the tight switchbacks on Sector 2 of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, my favorite part of the course.
There are long fast straights, tight hairpin turns, and insane drop-offs in Sector 2, and it is also where the mountain gains the most elevation in the shortest period of time — not to mention the sunrises are the best up there. It is a magical thing to watch the sun come up over the horizon over the course of five minutes.
Pikes Peak is always magical. But when you get an amazing sunrise, combined with bikes pushing hard up the mountain, it makes for a fun morning.
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb is a grueling event to cover, and nothing is worse than walking off a plane, from more or less sea level, and heading to the highest part of the mountain for Practice 1.
Pikes Peak is unique. The organizers split the mountain into three sections — cars run two-thirds of the course , while bikes, ATVs and sidecars run the other third.
The bikes started at Devil’s Playground for our first practice, which puts us immediately at high altitude. It tests the bikes and our bodies to the limit. But thankfully, first practice is just about getting the bikes dialed in, and less about making fast times.
To finish first, first you have to finish. Reliability on this mountain will put cracks in even the most well laid out plans. Some riders were already pushing hard, and it was evident. Others were just getting the lay of the land.
Tomorrow we run the middle sector of the mountain. As a photographer, it is my personal favorite spot to shoot. But I’m not looking forward to another 2:15am alarm.
With Michael Dunlop’s second successive year taking the lion’s share of silverware at the TT, a changing of the guard appears to be taking place as a new generation of riders lay claim to the podium places on the famous Mountain Course.
Before any cries of ageism are thrown in my direction, the age of a rider bears no relation to whether they belong in the old or new guard. Experience around the course is what separates the old from the new.
With over 200 apexes to learn and countless lumps, bumps and cambers to memorise, it’s believed by many who have raced it, that the Mountain course takes years to truly learn, even with the advent of HD-quality on-board videos to study.
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.