The 103rd Isle of Man TT Races get underway later today with the opening practice sessions, on the most arduous 37.73-miles of public roads in the world — regarded by many as the ultimate test of man and machine. But what makes it so special?
It all started back in 1907. Edwardian machines lapped the course at less than 40mph with riders carrying spare inner tubes around their necks and pockets full of replacement spark plugs.
The inaugural winner was London-born Charlie Collier lifting the magnificent Mouzilly de St Mars Tourist Trophy for his performance on a single cylinder Matchless.
Ironically, the very same trophy will be presented to the Senior TT winner on June 11, with speeds now in excess of 130mph.
Collier remains an iconic figure in the annals of TT history; a pioneer if you like, for his racing peers over the next century.
Many great riders have taken on the challenge of the famous Mountain Circuit, but no individual mastered it better, than the late, great William Joseph Dunlop, MBE OBE, with a virtually unassailable 26 TT victories.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of Joey’s untimely death in Tallinn, Estonia, in the Millennium year, the Island still pays homage to its favourite adopted son.
But a new breed of up-and-coming and established Irish combatant will take up this year’s challenge, looking to emulate that famous and iconic yellow helmet.
21-year-old Michael Dunlop is currently Northern Ireland’s hottest young talent, and having already taken his debut win just twelve months ago in the Supersport class, the stockily built and super-confident youngster will be looking to add to his tally this year.
One of the more experienced local riders competing at this year’s event is 34-year-old Ryan Farquhar from Dungannon.
The Ulsterman, who has two TT victories on his Curriculum Vitae, is regarded as the most meticulous privateer of his generation, not to mention the most successful of all time on the Irish national scene.
And he too, as you would expect, is a TT purist.
“I wouldn’t say it’s just the TT I love, it’s the circuit and the place in general: 37 and a half miles of unspoiled roads and whether it be the TT or the Manx Grand Prix, there’s simply no better place to stand on a podium,” he explained.
“There’s no better buzz than setting off down Bray Hill on that first lap, and apart from surface improvements, the circuit remains virtually unchanged for over 100 years.
“If everything clicks here it can be the best pace in the world, but it can also be the worse — that’s why we all love the challenge of the Mountain Course.”
The TT, dubbed by motorcycling enthusiasts as ‘the most famous seven days in June’ is more than just a motorcycle festival. It has become a way of life for 40,000 travelling fans from all over the globe, and let’s be honest, it’s not the easiest place to get to.
Mad Sunday, Ramsey Sprint, the Purple Helmets, Bushy’s beer and even naked bikers on the promenade; add to that racing legends like Mike Hailwood, Bob McIntyre and Giacomo Agostini and famous corners like Ballagarey, Ballacraine and Brandywell — and you’ll see just why a little rock in the Irish Sea becomes so popular every year in June.