Isle of Man TT – Practice Day – The Engines are Roaring

After a very dreary Monday and Tuesday morning, everyone was only mildly optimistic about having practice last night. By mid-afternoon there was still a light rain in Douglas and fog up on the mountain. And then – the skies cleared. I mean REALLY cleared not a cloud in the sky.

I headed up to the Grandstand area about 4:30 in anticipation of the 6:20 practice session. I had time to see a few friends, grab some coffee (the first order of business) and a bite to eat.

I asked more than my share of questions about where I could be and where I shouldn’t be. At one point one of the Marshals told me, the best one to ask about that is Paul Phillips. I of course said, but I am Paul Phillips. With a smile, he pointed to the other Paul Phillips, who is one of the main organizers at the TT.

It is only natural that I want to be close to the start. The question was how close? Well it was close enough that I could feel the exhaust on my jeans. I was in the grid area right before the individual riders rolled out to the starting line, where they were sent off on their practice run two at a time.

The grid was high energy, organized chaos. There were drivers, mechanics, officials and guests, all wanting a final word with or look at the riders. I wanted to see the look in their eyes right before the flipped down their face shields. I have seen that look before at the start of races. Trying to stay relaxed and yet, the intense concentration for what comes next.

Typically I see athletes before they enter the water for a triathlon, but here within a few seconds they would be reaching well over 100 mph, with the front wheel of their motos popping up as they shift gears and get more power.

After all of the first group of riders had left the line, I started to make my way down pit lane to find a spot to shoot. Ultimately, I was near the end of the pits leaning out, just a bit against the steel guardrail that separated the course from the pit lane. As the riders came by on their 2nd lap, I could feel the guardrail vibrate against my leg.

Although just a bit too late, I quickly put my ear plugs in. Being there was a total sensory experience. The colors streaking by, the sound and the vibration.

Earlier in the day I had met prior TT champ Milky Quayle and asked what two bits of advice he had for me as a first time TT Photographer. Milky smiled and said:

  • Hold on to your hat; and
  • Buy a race radio!

Both were spot on advice. The race radio is one that only receives one station and has the live updates and is about the only way to know what is going on out on the course.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Even for the practice sessions the grandstands were filled.  An estimated 40,000 visitors are expected for race week.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

The first riders off were the ‘newcomers’ signified by the orange vest.  They were led around the course by a marshal for a controlled speed familiarization lap.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Although driver Tim Reeves is a TT veteran, his passenger Mark Wilkes is new to the TT.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

TT favorite Micheal Dunlop chats with another driver prior to the start.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Right off of the start line, the engine whines, the driver shifts gears and keeps his weight back for traction and the wheel pops up.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

As drivers enter the track for their second session the intensity does not diminish. Concentration and sweat!

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Guy Martin is known for his ‘look’ and concentration.

Practice session #1- Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

With the course map over his shoulder there is little time for visuals when at 140 mph you are traveling at more than 200 feet / second.

As expected the evening ended with several riders exceeding 120 mph for an average lap speed.

Tonight I am off to the Quarter Bridge where I think they will slow down a bit for me, well for me and hard right hand turn.

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day 2 – More Rain & The Castletown Classic

After a mild and dry Sunday, the rain moved in overnight and continued through the morning. I used the time to get caught up on some work which needed attention, but thought most of the day would be indoors and there was little chance of shooting tonight. Shortly after 11:00 Rob called and asked if I wanted to go watch the Castletown Classic Races.

This is a Pre-TT event, put on by the organization that produces the Southern 100 Road Race, which is described as Road Racings Biggest Secret. It was certainly a secret to me.

Even early in the day Rob didn’t think the TT practice would be a go, due to the wet roads and ultimately he was right.

Although the TT riders didn’t get a practice session in, I did! I wore my Photo vest and brought my credentials, but unfortunately my TT Credentials were not of any help in Castletown.

I wasn’t able to get an ideal position, but was able to work on framing and tracking the bikes that are substantially faster than the bikes I typically shoot. It was overcast and fairly low light, but I was using my Canon 1Dx Mark II and a 100 to 400 lens. Just because I was practicing, it didn’t mean that I had to practice with every lens! I shot at 2000 ISO and I knew that if I couldn’t get the shots with this camera, it wasn’t the camera’s fault, it would all pilot error.

I tried a few different locations, partially up a tree, behind a stone wall, but mostly I was behind a wall of orange-vest marshals.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

After so many years of racing, some of the locals prefer just to ignore the motos and the noise.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

My view from behind the stone wall. The riders were slowing for an uphill right turn, but still that wall seemed pretty close and certainly unforgiving.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

Hoping that a slow shutter speed can provide some of the illusion of what the driver’s see at high speed.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

Every time I see the sidecars race, the theme song to Stars Wars plays in my head.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Castletown Classic Races

The sidecar ‘Passenger’ is a critical part of maintaining balance and speed.

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Plate for the Van parked next to us. Since Guy wasn’t there, it must be a super fan.

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Now this is a classic side car!

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I wrapped up the day with some proper fish and chips!

We are all hopeful the weather will clear tomorrow.  My morning plan is to find a spot on Bray Hill to shoot for tomorrow.

I have also been invited to shoot some behind the scenes activities with a couple of the teams, it will be fun if it works out.

Isle of Man TT – Practice Day 1 – All Dressed Up and No Place to Go.

Today, May 28 is a big day, rich in history in the world of motorsports. The Monaco F1 Gran Prix begins shortly dating back to 1929 about 5 hours later in Indianapolis there is the 101st running of the Indy 500. Pre-dating both of these major events is the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy (TT) where the initial lap record in 1907 was 38 mph. The courses each have their challenges are dramatically different, Monaco is just of 2 miles of twists, Indy is a 2 1/2 mile oval and the TT is 37 3/4 miles of twists turns and roads that haven’t changed much since 1907.

All are amazing motorsport events and each have pushed the technology. Speed at around 200 mph,it seems is one of the few things that they still have in common.

Intense competition and amazing driving skills are required all each event, but only at the TT will you have drivers that are not full-time professionals. The top 20 drivers are seeded and go off in numeric order, but the rest (about 60) are based on qualifying times.

The race is a way of life here on the Isle of Man. With a population of about 86,000, the TT brings in an additional 40,000 arrive for race week. International fans arrive all with a common bond.

I arrived a few days ago and had great plans on how to prepare, but I quickly realized that no amount of planning would have adequately prepared me to shoot the race.

Just walking around on the Promenade in Douglas, I met a few people who introduced me to others and so it went.

My dear friend and primary US driver Bruno referred me to his friend Rob Cummings who has been living here for 30 years. Rob picked me up late Saturday morning for a course tour. Of course the tour at the IOMTT was on a BMW K1200K – there is no replacement for seeing the 37.75 mile course on a moto, even though we were at most going half of race speed, even though we did hit 105 mph on the mountain.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

By late afternoon it was time for me to head back up to the Grandstand, pick up my final credentials and wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin. And wait for the practice session to begin.

On an island not unlike Kona and Lanzarote, there are microclimates. There can be bright sunshine on one side and rain on the other. At IOMTT the decisions are simple, if the medical helicopters can’t see to land on the mountain, is no practice or racing.

Unlike with race days, which are scheduled Saturday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, when a weather cancellation will mean events are rescheduled for the next day. With practice however, there is no rescheduling and drivers, mechanics and fans need to wait until Monday night.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

From the onset there were doubts about whether there would be practice, technical inspection is a must before you can go out to the parc ferme.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

The bikes are lined up and the riders and team members are pacing waiting for word on the start.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

While most drivers are out in the open, TT favorite Michael Dunlop keeps his ride under wraps.

Perhaps the most recognizable driver at the TT is Guy Martin, who’s thick accent often needs sub-titles to be understood.

One of the things I am most looking forward to is watching the side cars races.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

IOMTT via a Galaxy Far Far Away

No race related activities today, just everyone hoping today’s sunshine holds through tomorrow and beyond.

Another Week, Another Island and Another Guy on a Bike.

While my blog title is 100% accurate, the week, the island and the guys on the bikes couldn’t be more different.

After a winter of Minnesota hibernation, my race season began by shooting the Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3, a great place to start with a beautiful venue and many good friends. Two weeks later I was in Oceanside California for the 70.3, once again a great event, followed by Ironman Texas, the Get in Gear 10K in Minneapolis, yes I got to sleep in my own bed, then out to Ironman St. George 70.3 and home for the Medtronic Twin Cities 1 Mile.

Ironman Lanzarote was next. Lanzarote is in the Canary Islands and is a place like no other. Not unlike Kona, Lanzarote is a volcanic island. It is however more lava and much less vegetation.

Ironman Lanzarote 2017

At El Golfo about 29 KM into the bike course at Ironman Lanzarote

On Wednesday, after a very quick overnight in Dublin, I arrived on the Isle of Man. While not much different in size and population from Lanzarote, the Isle of Man is a speck in the Irish Sea between Ireland and England.

While in recent years, it has become know for off-shore banking, and of course Tour de France sprinter Mark Cavendish, aka the Manx Missile, the Isle of Man is the home of the World’s oldest and most dangerous motorcycle race and yes, I am here for race week.

Although I have been riding and shooting from the back of motorcycles since 2002, I have only owned one since 2011 and that began with a 70cc scooter.

From riding around on the scooter to enhancing my skills at the Zalusky Advanced Rider School and attending the California Superbike School, my fascination has not only been with riding but the visual and the movement of the machines, the colors and the speed.  As I begin my experience here, I am can visualize what I want to shoot, my hope is that I can execute.  Only time will tell. Time, patience and practice.

The normal island population is about 85,000, with the largest city being Douglas where about 30,000 Manx live. Over the next two weeks there will be 40,000 visitors, coming by air and by ferry.

I am pleased to have arrived a few days early to get a feel for the island, the village and the people, and have spent much of the time wandering around.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

My first walk down to the Isle of Man Harbor.

For some reason, my Midwest accent makes me standout. At least so far that has been a good thing and I have made some great new friends. I have been able to connect with a local photo legend who was born on the IOM and Peter Bull was a wealth of advice and very friendly suggestions.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Des Conner and Peter Bull

I have had an offer of a course tour on Saturday and in the meantime I am checking out routes for the public transit system.

Although the Grandstand area is quiet now, by Saturday evening when the practice sessions begin, there will be a roar.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

The IOMTT Grand Stand. Since this is a Road Race, there is normal traffic every day in passing by.

I also had a chance to be introduced and chat with Bruce Anstey, 11 time TT Champion.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017

Bruce Anstey – getting things sorted out as his equipment arrives.

I will be posting more as Practice Week begins and throughout race week.

One more great adventure.