Motorcycling: Risking all for a win at speed

Infamous Isle of Man TT circuit poses extraordinary dangers but riders just keep coming

John McGuinness, 40, will today kiss his wife Becky, look up at his children Faye and Kurt in the grandstand, and then attempt to win his 18th TT race on a course on which around 240 riders have died.

McGuinness, an ex-bricklayer and cockle fisherman from Morecambe, Lancashire, will race his 1,000cc Honda Fireblade at up to 190mph on a course that streaks through village streets and over open moorland for 37.73 miles on the Isle of Man.

Yet almost every year the TT culls riders. Three died in last year's races, including 67-year-old Bill Currie, a father-of-two and a company director, and the passenger in his sidecar outfit, Kevin Morgan, 59. An air ambulance arrived minutes after they crashed near the famous Ballaugh Bridge, but both were pronounced dead at the scene. Twenty riders have died on the circuit since 2000 alone.

"It wasn't until I was 25 that I started racing here," McGuinness says, explaining his love of the TT Mountain circuit. "First time out I got a 15th and won best newcomer. To do six laps on a 210bhp superbike, with pit stops, to link every corner and make the most of every single section is amazing. To do that faster than anyone else in the world and win is such a hard feeling to explain, but that's what keeps me coming back."

Guy Martin, the 30-year-old racer-cum-TV star, broke eight ribs and his back, and punctured his lungs in a terrifying 170mph crash on the TT course in 2010. But he's still trying for his first TT win, and says: "I ride a motorbike because of the danger, and there is no place more dangerous than the TT.

"If you keep going back the chances are it will catch up with you. Don't let your mind wander – a split-second lapse in concentration and you can clip a kerb – dead."

The TT is an anomaly that thrives in a world where health and safety is an obsession. The MotoGP series, where Valentino Rossi makes his millions, is conducted on carefully constructed circuits such as Silverstone, which have huge run-off areas and keep the crowds well back.

But on some parts of the TT circuit spectators can perch on an earth bank just feet from riders hurtling past at 160mph. The event was thrown out of the World Championship series in 1977 because it was killing too many riders. But now the race organisers are considering launching a separate TT World Series in 2014, using public-roads circuits in other countries.

While the Formula One and MotoGP series are constantly trying to stop cars and bikes from going too fast, the talk on the Isle of Man in practice this week is about whether McGuinness's 2009 lap record of 131.578mph will be bettered, possibly by a lap in the 132mph zone. Rossi races on tracks where the average speed is a massive 20mph slower.

Yet the TT is addictive to many riders – even when they have already shattered their bodies in motorcycle racing. Conor Cummins broke his left arm and suffered two bone fractures in his back, a dislocated knee and ligament damage, bruised lungs and a hairline pelvis fracture when he plunged over the edge of the Mountain section of the circuit at 140mph in 2010. The 26-year-old is now riding with two broken bones in his hand following a recent crash.

Ian Hutchinson, 33, won five TT races in a week in 2009 but almost had his lower left leg destroyed in a crash at Silverstone in 2010. He rebroke the leg this year playing with a dirt bike, but he's seeking his ninth TT victory today.

McGuinness will compete in six TT races over the next six days, including the innovative Zero Challenge race for silent electric bikes, and could bring his tally of Isle of Man wins to 20. And this is a man who has said: "I'm waiting to hear that demon in my head saying, 'Right John, that's it, pack it in now.' Because it'll get you, eventually. It has to, it's got other people and eventually it'll get me."

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas