Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The Isle of Man TT…

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


The Isle of Man TT…

… a wild, crazy anachronism in an even wilder, crazier world

On Saturday afternoon when Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and the rest are about to qualify for the Catalan GP, there’ll be another gang of racers hurtling their superbikes down leafy country lanes on a small island off the English coast.

Some fans of the Isle of Man TT have a habit of calling the world’s top MotoGP riders pampered prima donnas. They’re obviously not. They may be much better paid, but when the engines start up and the visors click down, they go out to risk it all.

During last week’s Mugello Grand Prix, Marquez and Lorenzo collided at 210 miles an hour. The impact was big enough to rip off Marquez’s left elbow slider, but the youngster was unfazed and immediately launched into that jaw-dropping last lap.

Top TT riders may be jealous of MotoGP stars’ pay packets, but they’d never call them prima donnas. They’ve all ridden short circuits and fully comprehend that the riding techniques used by men like Lorenzo, Marquez and Rossi are something else.

Twenty-three-time TT winner John McGuinness has shared a racetrack with Rossi. In 2000 he finished 13th in the British 500 GP at Donington; Rossi’s first premier-class victory. Both men share huge mutual respect.

But the TT is very different. A couple of months ago a few of us got to interview McGuinness. Preeminent TT photojournalist Stephen Davidson asked him if he still has any ambitions. “Yeah,” McGuinness replied. “Just to stay in one piece.” The words sent a chill right through me.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Comments

The TT is perhaps the last bit of true racing done at the highest levels. I cringe to think of those who have and those who will lose their lives doing it, but also know that no one is more alive than those who race it. They truly are my heroes and aid me everyday in seeking from life that which fulfills me, whatever the obstructions and pitfalls...Whatever the personal foibles of the TT riders, their racing is perhaps the purest thing we have in our world of profit seeking psychopaths......

I am inclined to agree with your comment wholeheartedly, although I do believe that (unfortunately) profit is only part of what the psychopaths seek. And IMHO, it is all serious riders/racers, not just the TT heroes, whose racing endeavors are amongst the purest of things remaining in this world. Blessings and immense admiration to them all. Cheers...

Fun read from Mat Oxley, you can just hear the longing for that sense of trepidation and satisfaction from conquering the Isle of Man TT that he still has after all these years. I agree that the wonderful coverage (Velocity here in the US) has done a great deal to expand my interest in the past several years. They not only condense the many classes into TV friendly time packages, they also throw in technical reviews of the machines, history and fan experiences around the island. DVR is programmed to grab all the madness and I can't wait!

No matter how you look at it, the Isle Of Man TT is the spiritual home of motorcycle racing. Mugello has perhaps for the MotoGP the same status, like perhaps Assen had in the past, but no MotoGP gives me the same excitement as the IOM TT.

I remember vividly the emotions when I came of the ferry for the first time and after two miles you are on Quarterbridge, on the track. You are on the same piece of tarmac as McGuiness, Hailwood, Agostini, Duke, Surtees and Woods raced. And for the brave ones it is still possible to race there. I've done track days at Assen but although all the previous named racers races there, it feels sterile in respect of the IOM. The IOM send shivers in my spline.

I still miss the King, Joey.  Every year during the TT I remind myself of him on the VTR1000SP1.  Greatest rider I've ever seen.  

As always.......rooting for Guy.

I will admit that I am drawn to the spectacle of Real Roads Racing, epitomized by the IOM TT, like a moth is drawn to a flame. I have a good friend who has raced there, and I even provided partial sponsorship for one of his IOM TT efforts. Thank God my friend survived, his health intact. And thank God he will never race there again.

Despite the visceral appeal, this type of racing should be banned for the good of society. The carnage is too great and too gruesome to go on. The fatal consequences of the Snaefell Mountain Course, as well as most all the other Irish Real Road Racing courses, can never be ameliorated. And there are other alternatives available, closed circuit racing venues that offer all of the good parts of motorcycle racing, with only a tiny fraction of the bad parts. And there is this harsh reality: if you don't believe closed circuit racing offers the good parts, then you are attracted to the risk certainty of the bloodshed and fatalities of IOM racing.

Of course, there is the argument that these young men died doing something they loved, but I cannot abide such an argument. I'm not one to support the idea that all danger is bad, nor the idea that the single goal of life is to make it last longer even if blander. I have raced motorcycles on many dangerous tracks that failed to meet even the rudimentary safety standards that existed back in the 1970's and 1980's, much less the far better standards that exist today. It was all we had, and we did our best. I've dived on deep wrecks, and deep caves, and strong currents with no visibility. All I'm saying is, I don't believe in living in a cocoon.

However, the deaths and debilitating injuries roll on with a regularity that offends the sensibilities of a civilized society. At some point, society must step in and say, "No more." We are way beyond that point. This carnage must be stopped.

The Isle of Man mountain course holds just two race meetings per year. Just looking at modern times - 2000 to 2015 - riders died every year in that period except 2001. Riders died in 15 years out of 16, and the total was 52 riders killed. My God, averaging 3.25 dead souls per year. And that does not count the associated deaths of race marshals and spectators who sit unprotected at the edge of the tarmac. (If you want to look further back, since racing resumed after WWII, death has been avoided only twice, 1982 and 2001.)

Enough, I say. This insanity must be stopped, and channeled into responsible closed circuit racing.

I don't know, I tend to agree with Matt on this. The riders have a choice and know the risks.

I think the comparison with mountain climbing is a good one, except the choice of Everest is poor. Sherpas do all the heavy lifting and take most of the risk there. No Sherpas in road racing.

K2 would be a better pick. Or maybe solo free-climbing El Capitan in Yellowstone.

I competed in the TT and MGP with a little success and continued on to become a course Travelling Marshal. A total Mountain Circuit career of thirty years, marred by four accidents sustaining broken bones. The last of these gave me 27 fractures, massive trauma including four broken vertebrae, nerve damage, seven ribs, sternum, punctured lungs, ruptured aorta, pelvic fractures, severe leg and arm injuries and lacerated liver and spleen.

Luckily I survived and have made a reasonable recovery but I would go through it all again if I could only continue to ride that circuit. It was all I ever wanted to do as a child and despite the terrible nerves in the lead up to the racing, nothing on earth can match the feeling of accelerating out of Governors Bridge to cross the line on Glencruthchery Road, and begin planning next years event.  

I went in 2015 for the first time.  I had been fascinated since childhood, when I read my uncle's annuals covering TT racing in Europe.  Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Ago, the list goes on.

So to be there 55 years later for the first time was a thrill.

Hanging over Tony East's dilapidated small gate with the motor drive on the DSLR going flat-chat, because a human cannot pan as fast as these blokes are travelling.  Coming past on that left hand kink at 280kmh and sucking the tightly-fitting cap off my head was in itself a thrill.  The A.R.E. Motorcycle museum at Kirk Michael is lovely, and Tony is a great bloke.  Lots of lovely kit, including a sweet orange Laverda Jota (drool).

Seeing McPint win the Senior in the fastest race on the island, ever!  What a finale.

Kirk Michael, Rhencullen, Joey's, the list of spots goes on.  I am finding myself smiling as I write this, such are the fond memories.

Having the chance to meet and talk with Bruce Anstey, McPint, Hutchy, Cam Donald and others was an absolute thrill, and when they are there in the flesh, rather than rendered images, there is so much more to like about them and the event.

I don't see the TT as some sort of 'death cult', it's a celebration of everything that humans aspire to - to climb the tallest tree in the forest, run faster than their friends, dive deeper.  The greatest risk brings the greatest reward.  On occasion it brings the greatest sacrifice, too.  Nobody races without knowing the risk.  Nobody sits on a grassy bank between Kirk Michael and Rhencullen without knowing the risks, as we did - a rare chance to hold the middle digit up to an over-regulated world.

Long may it survive in a world gone mad with political correctness, and nanny-state coddling of our citizens. 

Suter 500 2 stroke and Honda Customer GP bikes out there are a nice treat this year.

When watching circuit road racing I have a sympathetic internal resonance...leaning, getting into it, feeling it. Even the nutty great old BSB tracks w jumps. Not so w the TT - I am dumbfounded with awe, amazed - and a touch ill about the stomach. Zero interest in anything but a touring lap to see it first hand myself, and am glad we are able to have such an unlikely event. One of the few truly great wonders if the world.