Sunday morning it was almost a surprise when at sunrise, there was actually sun. The forecast wasn’t great but the first Superbike Race was set to go!
Although there is a law that always the government to close down the roads for an event, this is rarely done on a Sunday and like today, the roads weren’t closed until afternoon after people had gone to church and returned.
I have been up at the Grandstand / Paddock area several times but the energy is different for race day. There is an excitement, a nervous energy in the Parc Ferme. The mechanics are making final adjustments, the pit crews in their Nomex suits are filling the gas tanks and others are bringing tools and tires to the pits.
In practice riders are sent out in pairs. On race day they go one at a time at 10-second intervals. There are numbers on the grid for teams to stage their rider´s bikes. Many of the drivers do not appear until the final moments, trying to avoid the ITV4 TV reporters roving through the grid with microphones.
Davo Johnson is #1 on is the crome Norton Superbike, patiently waiting for the start of the 2017 Isle of Man TT. The top 20 positions are pre-assigned based on prior performance. Numbers 21 and beyond are based not the weeks qualifying times.
Davo is reving is engine, the starter’s hand lifts from his shoulder and he is off! The 2017 TT has finally begun.
One by one they roll up to the line, pause a few seconds under the hand of the starter and then the Superbikes roar to life.
Today’s 6 lap event is 226.4 miles and requires 2 pit stops. Once all the riders are off there is a strange silence over the crowd in the grandstand. There are no big screen TV’s for the crowd to see the race, there is no electronic scoreboard and there are no beer vendors in the stands yelling Beer Here!
There is the announcer on the PA with the same broadcast as people are listening to Manx Radio TT, there is the score board where the times and positions are written by hand and hung by Boy Scouts and in the pits, tanks holding the gas are gravity feed. While the machines are high tech, this racing in the rawest form.
The view from the top of the Control Tower shows there is a very fine line between speed and disaster.
Even with the improved weather on Friday night there was a general tension around the races. The spectators had long planned to be here, some fearing they might not see any racing before they had to leave and the race teams worried about getting in sufficient laps to make sure their drivers and machines were ready. The only place you can really prepare for the Isle of Man is the Isle of Man.
I have been very fortunate in the my friend Rob has the week off of his day job to Marshal, was willing to pick me up in the morning and drop me off at a spot to shoot. I went with him to Glen Duff, about a mile from Ramsey. One of the challenges is finding a location where you can get several different shots.
From Glen Duff, I could walk along the back roads to Ramsey’s Parliament Square and then walk up to the Ramsey Hairpin.
In one of those rare circumstances, the plan as it were, worked out. Well almost.
At Glen Duff there is a long straight both coming and going and each with a canopy of trees. Listening to race radio, we could tell when the first riders went off and knew that in about 10 ½ minutes they would fly by. However there really wasn’t any need to pay attention to the time, the scream of the 4-cyclinder 1,000 cc Superbikes could be heard from more than a mile away.
Ian Hutchinson made it a point to be the first out on practice. We don’t know his strategy, but it might have been start first in practice, finish first in the race. When he flew by the sun wasn’t quite high enough to light the area of the jump but not too bad, as the Brits would say.
My body is not capable of turning fast enough to get both an on-coming and departing shot of the same rider, but it would be beautiful to ride here, for me something closer to the posted limit would be just fine. The consensus was they were hitting about 100 mph over the posted speed limit of 50.
After watching the first 2+ laps at head-spinning speed, I headed to Ramsey. I was in luck that a young, local photographer from Peel had a car and offered me a lift (ok, I sort of pleaded for a lift).
One thing about the local photographers. Without exception they have been great and incredibly willing to help. That’s the good news. Some of the help, however I was incapable of implementing. Such as: you know there’s a spot by the Sulby Straight. Then there is a stone will and about 30 yards from the end there as a stone missing from the top and it’s great, you can just rest your long lens in there and get a shot. Yeah, right! (I have probably screwed up the description anyway).
Louis dropped me off close to Parliament Square in time to grab a sandwich and get shots of the sidecars coming through.
While I was there I met one of the Traveling Marshals (TM). There are seven TM’s around the course. They are former racers who have had medical training. Once called they can me at a crash in minutes to administer first aid. If any TM needs to move, then they all move to the next position so they never lose coverage.
One of the iconic images from the IOMTT is the Ramsey Hairpin and of course it was on my list. I knew I wanted to be on the outside of the turn, so i could get images of them coming and going – I was also hoping for a shot similar my Lanzarote shot from 2 weeks ago.
Rob had given me directions and on the drive up he showed me a road I could walk up, but it would take me to the inside of the turn.
As I a was walking out of Ramsey, I stopped and asked 3 different people justo be sure I was heading the right way. Each time, I said – I want to shoot where the are riding left to right and be on the outside of the turn. The directions were all consistent, but I was sure that was where Rob had said I would be on the inside of the turn. I was not doubting Rob’s expertise, but I was doubting my memory.
After about a 30 minute walk I was there. Right there on the INSIDE of the turn and when the road is closed, it is really closed, I couldn’t cross. Fortunately Rob and sent a text to the Deputy Sector Marshal that I was coming and he brought me across on a red flag! Thanks Andy! Great fun to shoot and spend my afternoon with you and your crew.
After a short night a Quarterbridge and canceled practice on Thursday due to more heavy rain, Friday night practice was back on track.
Gary Thompson the Clerk of Course, had said that although 2016 had been an exceptionally great year for weather, riders had in aggregate 1,500 laps fewer this year than in 2016. As such the Superbike race scheduled for Saturday would be held on Sunday and a Saturday would be used as a practice day for all classes.
Still traveling on foot, I walked down to Braddan Bridge. I had seen a few photos from there and I had heard the evening light would be good.
I got an earlier start so I would have time to look around, walked by Quarterbridge and then down a straight of almost a half-mile, where they came through with a quick left and then a right.
Whenever I arrive at a location I check in with the race marshals to ask where I can and cannot shoot. Apparently over the years people have argued with Race Marshals about road closure, course access or whatever happened to come up that was an inconvenience. To deal with that, in 2016 the Isle of Man established a law that made all trained race marshals the equivalent to a Police Deputy. They were great people with decades of experience and liked to help.
The weather and the position did not disappoint. Although practice times were sparse this week, Ian Hutchinson made an effort to be first in line to get out on the course. He was first out again and first through the turn at Braddan Bridge.
The practice sessions are not only used to regain a crazy high speed familiarity of the course, but to test the equipment under near race conditions.
The riders line through the turn and body position vary greatly, each one trying to find their fastest way through the turn and back out.
Riders will often do a lap, pull off into the pits, get a different bike and head out again. Adjustments, if necessary, being made all along the way.
Hillier pulls of the road, checks a few things and then screams back onto the course.
In addition to the blinding speeds of the rider, one of the amazing things about the TT is how close the spectators can get to the action. Even though the viewing areas are carefully planned to be as safe as possible, here fans which TT favorite Michael Dunlop go by right in front of them.
Both fans and photographers can get close. I was tucked in by a gate to the church as the riders accelerated away from Braddan. I had set the focus to a point that I hoped they would come by and started shooting at when I saw them about a block away. Even shooting at 14 frames / second, at 140 mph the would go 15 feet between shots. I at lots of shots of nothing but landscape.
After the solo riders had completed their sessions, the sidecars were back out for practice and heading into the evening light.
It is now mid-morning on Monday June 5, and we are on a 2-hour weather delay, waiting to see if there will be racing today.
I am still very much in learning mode here at the TT. Learning my way around, learning how to focus when something is coming at you at 160 mph and learning that you don’t ask for bug spray for mosquitos and flies, but you do ask for repellant for mozzies and midges. I am hoping as we get into race week I will not have to be learning quite so much each day. It’s been great fun everyone has been a great help. All in all everyone has been very polite and not once, at least to my face, referred to me as that Yank Photographer. Actually I think most are laughing at some of my questions and my accent.
From my homestay I had about a mile walk downhill to Quarterbridge. Easy walk, which unfortunately at the end of the evening the walk would be uphill. Except along the shore, I haven’t found many flat spots on the Isle of Man, you are either going up or going down!
Quarterbridge is just over a mile from the start at the grandstand and is the first turn on the course with a downhill right of more than 90 degrees. Roaring down Bray Hill at over 160 mph, braking, leaning hard and accelerating on to the short half mile straight to Braden Bridge and a quick flick on the round-about.
My plan was to shoot from Quarterbridge and then walk down via the back roads to Braden Bridge get a variety of shots and at the end of the session I would be able to walk back along the course on the way home.
I had a great view of the first turn and a few minutes after I moved to the outside of the turn to shoot from a different angle, the session was ended due to rain and fog on the course.
Tonight’s practice is also a wash out, here is the current radar, with an appropriate massive green blog over Ireland and moving our way.
I am unsure about Friday’s schedule, also doubtful, but additional practices have been scheduled for Saturday and races on Sunday.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I also had a chance to be introduced and chat with Bruce Anstey, 11 time TT Champion.
I will be posting more as Practice Week begins and throughout race week.