Return of the Man from the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy is, by far, the most extreme, insane, dangerous, daring (and whatever you would have it called) motorcycle road racing event in the world. Often a matter of either glory or death for some, the IOM TT has stood in the last 106 years as a milestone in the two-wheeled world and has inspired countless generations of riders.
Feared by some, dreaded by others, but in the end RESPECTED by all, the Snaefell Mountain Course is about to become a larger event and go global. The Isle of Man Government Department of Economic Development, the rights owner of the TT, is seriously thinking to expand the event to a larger scale and develop a TT Races World Series.

Very serious feasibility studies have been carried out, the IOM TT informs, and it looks like the Manx Government is moving onto the FIM for the required approval and sanctioning. Will it float? Or should we better say... will it fly, since, given the speed the riders reach on the mountain, it looks more like flying.

A glance upon the economic aspects of such an endeavor show interesting figures, at least for the small island of Man. The TT brings around 40,000 spectators each year, and these chaps spend 25 million pounds during the racing week, generating about GBP 2 million in gross commercial revenue.

The TV audience worldwide went past 23 million viewers in 2012, and the website draws more than 2 million unique visitors a year. For a semi-independent 572 square kilometers (221sq mi) island which is home to just over 80,000 people, all the figures above sound very good, but can these be projected to a larger scale?

Taking a look around the two-wheeled sports planet, I'd say such an idea could work, if proper management and funding, careful planning, and safety precautions are in place. Think of it as the ultimate type of road racing: only a few rules, several well-established classes, a clean and clear way to earn the right to race in the final events, and the unbelievable scenery.

In fact, the TT became famous for these very things, as motorcycle racing was brought in from the Old Continent after stricter regulations became effective, trying to limit the increasing number of accidents and casualties. The streets of Man had become the ultimate playground of the men who knew no fear.

More than a century later, things are pretty much unchanged... save for the speed. The roads are better, but still you get to see riders wheeling and jumping over the crests at more than 200 mph (320 km/h). The houses, the olden stone fences are the same, even some curbs are there since times immemorial, and today the bikes still zoom centimeters away from hedges and house corners, as if they're not real. Can the incredible Mountain Course race be duplicated? I say it could.

First of all, there are innumerable scenic places around the world which are just as demanding and race-worthy as the Snaefell circuit, and finding them is more a matter of location spotting, pretty much like looking for the right place to shoot a part of a movie.

From locations close to the sea up to mountain roads, from desert areas to wild exotic countries in Asia, these places are only waiting to be discovered. I am positive that the world biking online communities would offer an incredible help in creating a huge base of initial options to be checked, so the first step in finding the natural circuits is a rather easy one.

Then there's the financial problem: the IOM Government can't do this alone and they need a powerful backup. They are currently out looking for "a commercial partner to develop and promote an international series of races based on the Isle of Man TT concept that leverages the Isle of Man TT brand. It is anticipated that such a delivery partner would be responsible for all operational aspects of the Series including the Isle of Man round," as official sources say.

The TT is an almost magical brand, but magic alone won't do: not in these times, not on such a scale. Just like any other series, the TT Race World Series is business, and passion alone cannot pay the bills. However, given the unnatural attraction for such extreme road racing events, we might just see one or two white collars willing to invest in this.

And with proper TV and media exposure, I am pretty sure the TT races would become highly popular in a short time. There are tens of thousands of riders in pretty much any part of the globe who would like to pit their bikes and their experience in giving a shot at TT glory, and bringing a Tourist Trophy-like event in their area will have them hooked.

It's rather hard for a rider in New Zealand to go to Man, while a rider from the poorer countries in Eastern Europe, good as he might be, would have a hard time getting the money needed to prepare and race. Having more similar races expands the pool of riders who would be attracted by this... and if you want, you can have the Grand Final of the World TT Series on the Mountain. It only makes so much sense.

In the end, there is one more thing which must not be forgotten, and that thing's name is safety. No less than 240 riders lost their lives since the first race on the Snaefell on Tuesday, May 28, 1907, with the last one being Yoshinari Matsushita, on May 27, 2013.

Alongside these brave men and women who paid the ultimate price for the eternal Isle of Man glory, we must also honor the memory of others who died: 2 race officials, 2 spectators, and 1 bystander. And even more, we must remember the numerous injuries of riders who crashed and those whose bikes hit the spectators.

The IOM TT recorded 10 more injuries during this year's Senior Race, as Jonathan Howarth lost control of his bike. Looking at such figures and spreading them across the racing century is already a bit sinister... and it's only one track, once a year.

Doing some elementary school math will show us a lot of people getting hurt and losing their lives. Unfortunately, the TT is not at all forgiving, and lucky chaps like Guy Martin and several more are not born every day, and this might not appeal to the FIM too much. Crashes and casualties in the TT expanding to a world-level could be a problem for the series, and it could be a big one.

I fully understand the concerns of those who value safety in their own right, and I do believe they've got a strong point. Yet I look back at Joey Dunlop, his closest follower and former team mate John “Mr. Pint/the Mountain King” McGuinness, and Joey's nephew Michael who, together with all those who have ever ridden or at least dreamed of riding on the Snaefell tarmac, understood the risks and have always been willing to play the game to whatever end.

The spirit of Joey has never left the TT, and we might just see the "men of Man" ride the world.

In the memory of William Joseph "Joey" Dunlop, OBE, a tad more than 13 years from his passing.
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