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3rd June 2005

The Isle of Man TT Races

The TT is as Real as it gets, and is certainly Classic. Martin Gelder counts the cost of competition...

Rapidly slipping down the message board is a thread entitled "TT Races - RIP?" It started with R.K.Ick bemoaning the fact that the TT ain't what it used to be, and was swiftly followed up by some spirited defence from Isle of Man resident GeofS and several others.

Now this is something I've got pretty strong views on. I went to the TT pretty much every year for ten years from 1978 onwards, then I missed a few years, then I went back in 1992. I haven't been back since.

The first time I went to the TT, Hailwood was making his comeback, Ducati twins were beating Honda fours, and a whole new world of motorcycling was opening up to me. The last time I went to the TT, Hislop was winning races on a Rotary Norton, Fogarty was smashing lap records, and Joey Dunlop was Yer Maun.

But the shine had gone. Mona's Isle had lost a bit of her sparkle. There were more cars than bikes parked along the prom at Douglas, there was less accommodation available despite there being fewer people coming over for the races, and the speed limits were spilling further out of the villages and onto the circuit. Things were quieter, more sedate than I remembered. Nicer, if you wanted to get a seat in a pub or along a wall or bank to watch the racing, but without the edge of the late seventies and early eighties.

R.K.Ick's TT RIP thread got me thinking and when the BBC's coverage of this year's racing started on Sunday morning, I sat down with pen in hand and started to make notes for a RealClassic Opinion story which would Set the World to Rights.

I was going to explain how there is little incentive for young riders to race at the TT and little reason for young motorcyclists to visit the TT, how there is little recognition for teams who enter the races and little value for sponsors to back them, and how Something Radical Needs to Be Done.

And then, ever positive and optimistic, I was going to offer some suggestions to revive an event which is - let's not forget - only a couple of year's away from its centenary. I was going to remind you, the reader, that the TT could not survive by pandering to an ageing audience (that's us, by the way) or by concentrating solely on the classic angle.

I was going to point out that the races need to regain a credibility which won't come from seeing the same riders winning year after year, and that the inertia that keeps the faithful few coming back to the Island year after year won't last for ever.

I was going to draw parallels with what's happening to the Le Mans and Daytona events and then explain how special the TT is in terms of everything that surrounds the racing. I was going to expound on the nanny state, litigation, the changing demographic of Manx residents…

Then I heard that a friend and colleague had been killed while competing in Friday's Senior TT.

And suddenly, nothing I had written mattered.

Gus Scott's ambition had been to race at the TT, to lap the Mountain course at 115mph and to earn a Bronze or Silver Replica. He achieved all three in Wednesday's Supersport race, and he died two day's later. He was a professional racer, he knew exactly what he was doing, and he loved every minute of it.

If perfectly sane, intelligent men with comfortable and happy lives are prepared to test themselves to the absolute limit on the Isle of Man, then who am I to whinge on about relevance and credibility?

The TT *must* survive. It's one of the ultimate motorsport challenges and we as a nation should be celebrating it in the way that the French celebrate the Paris-Dakar race. Yes, it's dangerous. Yes, it's foolhardy. Yes, it's pointless. But how many other challenges are so ultimately challenging? Where else are people so inspired, so driven, that they are prepared to risk their lives to achieve their ambitions?

The TT races need a shake-up, but the only way it can survive is as a serious professional motorsport event. Emphasising the side-show activities of owners club runs and specialist stunt shows won't help, and relying on the classic angle to bring in a fresh audience isn't going to work. The race classes need to be understandable (what's the difference between "superbike" and "senior", for instance?) and brought into line with those used by the FIM, and the organisers needs to accept that whatever is done around the edges of the competition, the racing is never going to be "safe".

Finally, and most importantly, the image of the whole event needs to be lifted out of the George Formby, MCN fish 'n chip paper, burger and fries lowest common denominator that we Brits seem to put up with, and given the profile of the Le Mans 24 Hours or Macau GP.

There are heroes competing on the Mountain circuit, and they deserve recognition.

Gus Scott
Ian "Gus" Scott: 1964 - 2005

Footnote 1: What's really needed, of course, is for a bored millionaire tax-exile (now where are we going to find one of those on the Isle of Man?) to build a state-of the art motorsport circuit in a quiet brown-field development somewhere on the Island. Surely it's not too much of a stretch to imagine MotoGP, World Superbikes, British Superbikes, World Endurance and maybe even Formula 1 each holding an annual race at what is, after all, the home of motorsport? Imagine, the IOM MotoGP one weekend, the TT races during the following the week, and then the Manx World Superbike round the following weekend...

Footnote 2: And if I hear one more luvvie on breakfast tv going on about how "dangerous" their latest theatre work is, I will not be responsible for my actions…


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