Column: Road racing's 'Rolls-Royce'
Yes, I know we have “road-racing” here in South Africa seven days a week, but the real stuff is happening 10 000 km away right now on a tiny island called the Isle of Man off the coast of mainland UK.
TT Fortnight has to be the greatest motorcycle event on this planet. It’s where privateers and factory teams rub shoulders to see who’s the quickest in various classes over a 37-mile (60km) circuit that boasts more than 210 bends, the occasional hump-back bridge, traversing through town squares and villages, tortuous hairpins and of course the very fast, famed, mountain section — all taken flat out, of course! This week has been practice week — next week it’s the real thing.
As I write this report I’m tuned in to Manx Radio broadcasting from the start line in Douglas, the capital of the island and South African rider Hudson Kennaugh from Durbs has just managed a 156 km/h lap on his second day of practice. Joburg rider Clinton Pienaar lapped at 169 km/h. “It’s to learn the course and make sure you remember exactly where you are at a given time,” remarked Kennaugh.
SA presence since the 30s
The oldest South African name I can find is rider Joe Sarkis, who, back in the 1930s helped put the Rudge motorcycle company on the map. There’s been a few other local lads down the years, John Read from Richards Bay about 10 years ago springs to mind; and no I haven’t forgotten our very own six-time world champion Jim Redman astride his Honda.
You might be surprised to know that the IOM TT was first raced back in 1907. The course was just 10-miles long and two races were run: one for twins and one for singles. Rider Rem Fowler on a Norton that utilised a Peugeot motor was the singles winner, while Charlie Collier of Matchless fame took first spot with his factory twin at an average speed of 61 km/h.
Once again this year competitors have come from all over the world to race ‘The Island’. Some reports I’ve read suggest 75 000 two-wheel enthusiasts have invaded the place and once again take up their favourite vantage points around the circuit. My personal favourite is Parliament Square up at Ramsay where one can at least get a good look at the riders and their steeds as they slow down for the 90° bend to enter the town. Yes, there’s lots of other great spots but when they whistle by at 290km/h you tend not to see that much!
Favourite hunting ground
Yes, occasionally a rider does lose his life — a few years ago they lost five — but obviously no one forces them to race. Interestingly, by way of comparison, British road statistics indicate that 60 people on average are killed on their roads each week in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Opposite the main stand in Glencrutcherie Road there’s a huge cemetery that reportedly has a high percentage of bikers within — not killed racing but elected to have their remains interred at their favourite hunting ground.
Do you follow the Isle of Man races? What do you think of it? Tell us, here