Isle of Man TT – Being Part of the Story

Being a new visitor to the TT can be a challenge. It is a long and complicated course and difficult to get around. Had it not been for the amazing generosity and willingness to help of the Manx, my experience would have been limited at best.

I did not arranged for transportation in advance. I didn’t even really want to rent a car, the thought of trying to find my way around the island in the midst of closed roads, right hand drive and not being able to pronounce the names of the roads I was supposed to follow would be more challenging than shooting.

I was and continue to be extremely lucky. I met some people the first day while I was walking around to introduced me to others and they were helpful beyond description. Also I couldn’t have gotten around without Rob Cummings, long time Isle of Man resident and former work colleague of my good friend Bruno Desrochers.

Rob gave me a tour of the course on his BMW and as a marshal, he took the week off from his day job and each race day he would drop me off on the course and then pick me up at the end of the day when the roads opened.

Monday, I wanted to go to Ballaugh Bridge. We had been there on our course tour, but I have to admit on Monday, somehow it looked different. With the overnight storms it was a challenge to get there. One of the main roads was closed due to an accident. This time it wasn’t some visiting moto tourist pretending he is racing, but during the storm a tree fell on a parked car.

Once the course is closed it is really closed. Even with photo credentials you cannot even walk across the street.   Only between races and if they are willing, the Deputy Sector Marshal (DSM) can escort you across the street.

There were a few other photographers there when I arrived. I set up with David Traynor who has been shooting the TT for more than 20 years and knew every spot on the course. During the morning all of the photographers moved around on the same side of the course to get different angles of the riders lifting off over Ballaugh Bridge.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

James Hillier landing hard and compressing his read tire.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

Most riders took flight on the bridge the sheep on the hillside seems pretty uninterested.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

Over the Ballaugh Bridge accelerate and then a sweeping left. 

During the break between races, the DSM escorted David and I across the street and give us specific instructions. On the left, don’t go beyond the drain pipe and on the right go no further than the Ballaugh sign.

After shooting with my long lens to get shots of the sidecars lifting off coming over the bridge I moved to get wide shots. I was along the bridge next to the Ballaugh sign. I think it’s every photographer’s natural tendency to unconsciously move around to try to frame the shot and I am no different, but I kept glancing over my left should to make sure that I didn’t exceed what the DSM had told me.

You can hear the sidecars coming for at least 10 seconds before they appear. I would look up see them coming toward the bridge, count to 4 and then start shooting. While the Canon 1Dx autofocus is great, I don’t believe any autofocus is good enough to pick up something going 60 mph 10 feet from you. I set the focus to manual got it dialed in and shot!

I had lots of shot with nothing but bridge. But then sidecar #43, the Lawrance Brothers from New Zealand came be sliding along the wall. Miraculously not only did I get the shot but I got 3! In a truly remarkable moment, David Traynor who was still shooting long, decided to take a shot of me shooting.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017Supersport and sidecar

David Traynor’s shot of me, well me AND the Lawrance Brothers.

Given the speed and movement of the sidecar, my guess is that the shots are within about 1/100 of a second of each other.

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #1

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #2

Isle of Man Tourist Trophy - 2017RST Supersport and sidecar races

Lawrance Brothers #3

I didn’t flinch, I kept shooting and when I stood up the crowd on both sides of the street applauded. The DSM came across the road, put his hand on my shoulder smiled and said ‘bet that cleared up your constipation, eh mate.

I am sure there were a couple hundred people who saw it, a few showed me cell phone snaps of it. Someone offered to buy me a shot of brandy and a couple from the neighborhood invited me over for tea (I am sure it was TT Tea).

David posted it on Facebook and it has been shared over 850 times. I guess that counts as trending somewhere.

I have never had a desire, nor any intention of being part of the story at the TT, but sometimes it happens.

Check out a few of my other shots in Motorcyclist Magazine.