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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps the most recognizable driver at the TT is Guy Martin, who’s thick accent often needs sub-titles to be understood.
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
Isle of Man Tourist Trophy – 2017
One of the things I am most looking forward to is watching the side cars races.
No race related activities today, just everyone hoping today’s sunshine holds through tomorrow and beyond.
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.