For two weeks in early summer, a small island in the Irish sea becomes enveloped in a festival of rip-snorting motorcycle-racing action, in which the world’s bravest, leather-wrapped throttle jockeys thread their 200mph projectiles between houses, trees, kerbs and lampposts.
Since 1907, this annual series of two-wheeled dances with the devil that makes up the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races has lured motorcycle-racing fans from far and wide. They pour onto the island in their tens-of-thousands to watch a heroic breed of road racers do their thing in this intoxicatingly insane endeavour.
As racing kicks off each year, I routinely expect the television footage – superbly crafted by North One, anchored by Craig Doyle and ‘experted over’ by ex-racers Steve Parrish, James Whitham and Steve Plater – to carry one of those on-screen ‘please do not adjust your sets’ warnings, such are the mind-scrambling sensations of the event. It really is as though you’re trapped in a computer game and someone’s leant on the fast-forward button.
Yesterday’s opening contest, which had been delayed from Saturday after storms in the early part of practice week had reduced track time, pitched the riders against six laps of the Snaefell Mountain Course – all 37.73 miles of it – for the Superbike TT (for 1000cc, race-tuned bikes).
And what a way to start race week. The front-runners took off at a searing pace, led by the #1 Honda Fireblade of 21-time TT winner John McGuinness – the ‘Morecambe Missile’ chasing Irish legend Joey Dunlop’s 26-win record.
Behind McGuinness on the road, however, Yorkshireman Ian Hutchinson flung his Kawasaki ZX-10R around the course to take an early lead. ‘Hutchy’, TT devotees will remember, claimed a record five-race sweep on the island in 2010 before an horrific shunt at Silverstone later that year signalled the start of a five-year recovery fight, so his position out front was met with much enthusiasm from all those watching.
‘The man who holds the course record had exorcised his top-class demons and he was pretty emotional about doing so after 15 years and 72 death-defying races around this tantalising yet treacherous, old-school race track.’
But ‘Hutchy’ hadn’t reckoned on 45-year-old TT veteran Bruce Anstey. The mild-mannered (off the bike only), smiling Kiwi upped his pace on the Padgetts Honda after the second fuel stop at the end of lap four and moved to the front.
Anstey then held on to beat Hutchinson by just over 10 seconds to record his 10th victory on the island since 2002. As he powered across the finish line past the pits and main grandstand on the historic Glencrutchery Road the feel-good vibes at his first win on a big bike (his previous nine triumphs had come on smaller-capacity machines) was palpable.
The man who holds the course record – a 17m6.6s, 132.29mph monster lap in last year’s Superbike race – had exorcised his top-class demons and he was pretty emotional about doing so after 15 years and 72 death-defying races around this tantalising yet treacherous, old-school race track.
You really couldn’t make this place up, so Anstey’s fairytale win was wholly appropriate.
As I said: what a way to start race week.