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.