There is no greater challenge than mastering the Mountain Course at the Isle of Man TT. It is 37 miles of mental gymnastics where any hesitation or uncertainty is punished.
Riders spend years learning their trade, and the biggest challenge is not to rush it. If it takes you two, three, or five years to learn the course and feel comfortable pushing to your limit, that’s the time it takes.
Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record of 133.962 mph leaves the 134 mph barrier firmly in sight for the top riders, and don’t be surprised to see that shattered this year.
The top riders all have a photographic memories when it comes to the course and can recall the tiniest of details that go into making a perfect lap.
The lap starts at The Grandstand and when Peter Hickman was asked about his favourite sections of the course, the Englishman smiled “It’s all about The Grandstand! When you start until when you come back it’s unbelievable. I love the whole lap. It’s not like anything else in the world.”
Having raced in British Superbikes for years, and been a victor at the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix, and at the Macau Grand Prix, that’s high praise from Hickman.
There are some sections of the lap that are crucial and none more so than The Grandstand.
It leads directly into the opening section of the lap and the famous Bray Hill. Reference points are crucial for riders through this section, and there are plenty to see. Riders switch from traffic lights to tall trees to kerbs through the bumps and hollows of this section.
The bike bottoms out at the bottom of Bray Hill at over 150mph, but there’s no time to think about that as the track rises towards the exit and Ago’s Leap, where the riders have to control the wheelie along the straight towards the first big stop of the lap at Quarter Bridge.
Slow in and fast out is the mantra of the Isle of Man TT. Your exit is more important than you’re entry and corner speed because of the long straights that follow and Union Mills is no exception.
The bike jumps through the bridge before the long left-hander alongside the petrol station where the bike slides past spectators in a stunning section of the track. The exit of this section leads riders towards Ballagarey.
Otherwise known as Ballascary, it lives up to it’s billing as a super-fast right-hander in fifth gear. This is the most important corner on the entire circuit because it sets your speed for the next two miles.
Having the confidence to set the bike on its side and ride through this section is a real challenge, but talking to riders this is one of the most rewarding sections because of the run that follows towards Crosby and Greeba Castle.
“I love the run from Greeba Castle all the way through to Ballycraine, because you’re closed in and running through the trees,” is how Dean Harrison describes it, and with Gorse Lea, it also offers some of the best viewing experiences of the TT.
It’s also one of the most rewarding corners for riders because of the speed through the right-hander. Under the trees it’s hard to pick out your turn-in point but once you do it unlocks a lot of lap time.
The opening sector of the lap ends at Glen Helen. The track is fast and flowing, but it’s also bumpy and off-camber making it very easy to lose the front.
From the opening sector of the lap, riders than need to find good drive towards Lambfell and the Cronk-y-Voddy straight. It’s the first time in minutes that the rider actually has a chance to relax and force themselves to breathe.
For John McGuinness, he says that it’s a crucial section to try and wiggle his fingers and toes to get the blood flowing. Over a six-lap Superbike race, this could make all the difference.
From the Cronk down towards Handleys sees riders head towards McGuinness’ own corner. From that the run towards Barregarrow is thrilling.
A three-part section of track, riders come through a crest and then run downhill towards a 130mph jump, where they will be on their pegs to avoid loading the bike up on compression, because immediately they pitch into a fast left-hander at Barregarrow Bottom.
It’s a spectacular section of the track to watch because it requires total commitment; if you drive through the corner the bike stays stable, but if you ease off it’s easy to catch the bumps. This requires total confidence in yourself and the bike.
The run towards and through Kirkmichael is fast and flowing, as you dance through the shop fronts of the village. From there, the jump of Rhencullen awaits.
It’s a bumpy section of the track, where riders are fighting the physics of manhandling their machine. Once through Rhencullen, the run to Ballaugh is the next thing on the rider’s mind. The humpback bridge offers an ideal photo opportunity, but it’s also where time can be lost.
Once the bike is back on the ground, it’s all about accelerating towards the jump at Ballacrye. It’s fast through the left-hander leading to the jump and the riders will hit this at 160mph in a thrilling section towards Quarry Bends.
This is a section where Steve Hislop was incredible in the early nineties, and this is one of the most iconic sections of the lap.
The Sulby Straight, and the speed trap, follows quickly and having a good exit is crucial because, like at Ballygarey your exit speed dictates your speed all the way to Sulby Bridge.
It’s easy to get sucked into the right-hander onto the bridge and Ginger Hall. This is the bumpiest section of the lap, with the speed building all the way along Sulby Straight and the following section.
Under the trees from Ginger Hall is a challenge for every rider, and it’s all about maintaining momentum for as long as possible for the run towards Ramsey. Through the Conkerfields and the Milntown jump, the speeds are immense.
Into Ramsey, the riders head down towards Parliament Square, the slow first-gear right-hander that leads you towards the hairpin and the start of the mountain.
It’s easy to lose time through Ramsey, with a series of off-camber and bumpy corners. Under the trees of the Ramsey Hairpin, riders get out of the hairpin and start their initial climb towards the mountain.
The run towards the Gooseneck is easy to lose time on, but once you come through the slow right-hander, it’s all about maintaining your momentum for the fabled mountain.
The start of the mountain climb sees riders reach the 26th milestone, and this section is bumpy and takes experience to master.
Guthries is the most important corner of the mountain section. The white-walled double right-hander sets your speed for the next mile, and exiting it cleanly is the name of the game.
The triple left-hander leading into Guthries is eying a needle, and with the camber falling away through the right-handers, it’s easy to lose the front.
Tucking yourself into the bubble, it offers another opportunity to try and relax. The Mountain Mile offers an opportunity to relax before the run towards to the finish line.
The Veranda is a quadruple right-hander that riders need experience to learn. It’s all about carrying momentum through the Veranda before running across the tram lines at the Bungalow.
From here, the riders head towards Hailwood’s Rise and Brandywell. This section is as fast and flowing as any other on the Mountain Course, and as always it’s about being able to maintain your momentum and driving through the corners.
Once you come through Kate’s Cottage, the run towards The Grandstand truly starts again, with riders scratching through the Creg-ny-Baa pub. From there riders head through a super-fast right-hander, where it’s easy to lose speed.
Experience counts in every section of the TT course – this is no different. While Signpost, Bedpost, and The Nook may not have the same thrilling nature as other corners, they are just as important.
Once through this section you’re back underneath the trees at the end of the lap, and it’s easy to push too hard and cost yourself time because the track conditions can be very different in the shade.
It’s easy to miss your markers and run into too hot. Governor’s Bridge is the final corner, but exiting it is crucial because it sets your speed to the line and Bray Hill where it all starts again!
Ready to piece it all together? Come take a ride on Michael Dunlop’s record-setting 133.962 mph run, and see how much you remember.
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