People often ask me what it feels like to race a TT. I’m writing this just before I travel out to the Island, so I thought I’d finally try to put the experience into words... When I’m on the start line, I’m absolutely shitting my pants. You know it could all go wrong and you might not come back, but there is a fair degree of pressure to perform, especially if someone else is having a good TT and taken a few wins when you haven’t. I kiss the wife as well as the voodoo doll on my helmet, pop a penny down my leathers for luck and the lid goes on.
When you roll through the archway, it all goes quiet and you are on your own at the top of Bray Hill. If you bog it at the start you can lose a second or two, so you need to get it right. It’s brutal on the clutch due to the tall gearing, but once that clutch is out, any thoughts of the wife, kids and pressure leave your mind.
It’s just you, the bike, and the TT course.
The first mile or two is intense and you are puffing and panting. Bray Hill isn’t a relaxed start, it’s flat-out, first to sixth gear in less than a minute with no sighting lap. All the way down Bray Hill you’re on the back brake, and fighting the depression at the bottom. Quarter Bridge is greasy so I square it off and gas it out before hitting fourth and then down to second for the flip-flop at Braddan Bridge. This is the first left-hander so you need to be careful. It is also an amphitheatre so you can hear the crowds. After Braddan it’s mega speed through to Ballacraine, averaging 140mph. I enjoy the speed of this section and its openness, but it does have sad memories. There are three points on the track where I ask lost friends to look after me – where DJ was killed at Crosby, Gus at Kirkmichael and Mick Lofthouse at Milntown.
Every lap I just give them a little nod or do something to let them know I’m still thinking about them. Laurel Bank and the Glen Helen section give you a good workout and when I get to the Cronk-y-Voddy straight I look at the bike’s temperature and rub my feet on the pegs to check there are no fluid leaks. This is the first point you can relax, despite topping 180mph. The approach to Barregarrow is scary and you hold your breath as you go into it. The G-forces on the bike are huge and the number of selfie sticks hanging over the fence is insane. The pictures must be great, but I don’t want one wrapped around a brake hose. Kirkmichael is rough as you shoot through the town. The speed past the shops is sensational. You hear the exhaust note bouncing off the walls and the road seems to narrow in your vision. After this are the jumps at Rhencullen, the first of which you go over while carrying a bit of angle. The second one is faster, with both wheels getting airborne at over 140mph.
You never see the next section that leads up to Ballaugh on TV, but this is where you can make up time. Ballaugh Bridge can only lose you time. I want both my wheels on the ground not my fat old arse and 170kg of Blade slamming into the tarmac on landing. Sulby Straight gets rougher every year. I’ve had a few wild rides along here over the years, where all I can do is hold onto the bike’s bars, but Ginger Hall marks the start of the really rough section. Have you seen the picture of me going through Conker Trees, hanging it out at 140mph? My wife gave me a slap when she saw that. There is an old council yard you go past in sixth gear on the back wheel that I’m going to watch from when I retire. I’ll be there with a radio, cheese buttie and beer! I found the first part of the Mountain hard to learn as it’s just green and sheep.
You climb 1500ft in spectacular scenery and while areas like the Bungalow aren’t brilliant as the Shell Grip is breaking up, when you reach Brandywell you feel on top of the world, and the bike seems to gain power as you drop down towards the Creg. You have to make an extra effort at the Creg as you recognise mates in the crowd. If I’m looking good I might pop a wheelie for the fans before passing through Hillberry, Signpost and Governer’s. Then it’s onto the finish and the best feeling in the world. If you have won you need to do a mega wheelie. If you have a lead you can fire up a 10-pumper but if I have time I slow down to make sure it looks good over the line! You can only relax when you are on that return road, high-fiving fans and looking for the family. The emotion of getting back safe is immense and while I don’t cry, sometimes I want to, especially when I see the family waiting for me. It is quite simply the best race, and the best feeling, in the world.