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.
Debut victories by James Hillier and Dean Harrison, in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and John McGuinness’ pair of solitary trips to the top step of the podium in the same years appear to confirm this.
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.
Now the dust has begun to settle on this year’s Tourist Trophy, the obvious headlines are taking up most of the page space in the motorcycle press. Michael Dunlop’s quadruple wins, John McGuinness’ hand injury issues, Dave Molyneux’s 17th victory, and any potential speculation and hearsay that they believe print-worthy dominates the news.
After an interrupted week of practice, due to weather and on-course incidents, Michael Dunlop laid his intentions down for all to see by breaking McGuinness’ long-standing lap record on the first two laps of the race at 131.730mph and 131.810mph.
Riding the Superbike-spec BMW S1000RR that was deemed to be the unknown element in Dunlop’s fortnight-long campaign at the TT, Michael broke his rivals and silenced the doubters before he had even completed his first pit stop. These laps bettered the lap record that had stood since John McGuinness set the marker of 131.671 mph during the 2013 Senior race.
While much of the focus was on Michael’s cruise to victory over Guy Martin and Connor Cummins, Bruce Anstey was wrestling his way to the fastest-ever lap of the Mountain Course by bettering Dunlop’s freshly-set lap record by over three seconds.
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.
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.
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.
Thankfully it held off long enough to complete the TT Zero and second Supersport races, but had enveloped the surrounding area before the second sidecar race and some practice sessions could run.
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.
For the first real racing at the 2014 Isle of Man TT, I had to choose Creg-ny-Baa. It’s becoming a bit of a tradition for me now, as I’ve shot the Superbike TT race from there a few times now. As an added bonus, there aren’t any midges, which is a relief after Barregarrow’s flying bug population feasted on me last night!
One of the most recognisable and iconic sections of the course, the Creg (as it is usually mentioned) signals what is essentially the end of the descent from the top of the blindingly-quick mountain section.
It is fairly similar to a short circuit corner, which I usually try to avoid taking photos of at the TT, as corners like this, and those at the Gooseneck and Signpost, just don’t convey how spectacular the TT is to watch.
Despite my usual reasoning, the Creg has a few unique features, which include the backdrop of the Creg-ny-Baa pub when you’re on the inside of the corner, and Kate’s Cottage when shooting from the front of the pub.
Another great feature there are the rows of fans lining the grass at the side of the road who will wave, applaud, and cheer the riders as they pass, especially on the final lap when the leading rider has essentially wrapped-up victory.
For this evening’s session, I decided to shoot from a place on the course I’ve seen pictures from numerous times before, and always had an itch to shoot there myself one day.
Following the famous Cronk-y-Voddy straight, Barregarrow (pronounced “Beh-garrow” by the locals) is an infamous dip where machinery is pushed to the limit. Accelerating from the top of the section, down a hill most people wouldn’t want to cycle up, the bikes hit a small rise that momentarily jumps them and the rider into the air.
Par for the course on the Mountain circuit, until the bike lands and its suspension is fully compressed as the riders hit the bottom of the hill, which is also a fairly severe dip in the tarmac, which can be felt at anything above 30 mph.
This ensures plenty of scraped belly pans, spectacular images, and sometimes a few sparks, but never the dropping of revs, as the riders hit their apex and continue on their way to Kirk Michael village. All the obvious challenges of shooting a spot like this are present – the immense speeds and the fading light as the sessions progress.
The sidecar session especially, was fairly tricky due to the lowering evening sun. But, tonight had a more evil enemy than the technical aspects of using a camera, as I was eaten alive by the bloody midges, which have left me with blotchy red bites all over my arms and legs.
Returning to Lezayre for Thursday evening’s practice, with the promise of better weather than the previous night, there was still the threat of rain in the air when I arrived.
Lezayre is an eye-wateringly fast section of the circuit. It is on the run towards Ramsey, and is the most northernly section of the circuit.
Also known as the Conker Fields or “K” Tree, the riders wrestle with the bike as it rears it’s front end towards the heavens on a left-handed, fifth-gear kink. To give you an idea of the “K” Tree’s challenge, skip to 1:10 on this video to see Dan Kneen in full-flow through there.
Despite the rain holding off, tonight was another challenging session to shoot, as the ever-fading light under the trees made it increasingly difficult to track the riders with the autofocus on both of my camera bodies. Quite an issue when riders are travelling at speeds easily approaching 150 mph!
After a glorious Tuesday evening practice, the weather was looking decidedly gloomy before this evening’s session. Due to an abundance of cloud cover and impending showers, I can honestly say that my decision to shoot from Lezayre wasn’t the best idea I’ve had so far this TT.
Unfortunately the session was stopped, after most riders had only managed a solitary lap, due to an incident at the top of Barregarrow. Combined with the failing light and ever-heavier rain showers on the Northerly sections of the circuit (including myself at Lezayre) the Clerk of the Course cancelled all sessions this evening.
Due to a lack of racing action I will leave you all with a few sights from around the paddock today, and hopes for better weather (and light) for tomorrow’s practice.