Every year, we wait in patience for the greatest road race on earth. It might lack glamour and glitz of a MotoGP weekend, but the Isle of Man TT is said to be the road race that separates the men from the boys.
Bruce Anstey (Honda - Valvoline Racing by Padgetts Motorcycles) leads the newcomers on their speed-controlled lap on the opening session of the Monster Energy Isle of Man TT
Over the 109 years that the TT has been in existence, it has made even the fastest motorcycle racers gawk in wonderment - how is it that these men have the guts to average over 200kmph on a racetrack that isn't even a racetrack to begin with?!
What is it that makes these TT racers tick? How come the TT survived for so long despite having one of the highest fatality rates in motorsport. Perhaps that is the reason these guys do it. The mountain course calls out to the adventurer in you. It dares you to tame it. It dares you to prove yourself.
Whatever the case, these men are back. And they are here to separate themselves from the boys who seek refuge in the safety regulations and high traction run off areas of racetracks. Ladies and gentlemen, it is time for the Isle of Man TT of 2016.
Regarded as one of the most historic road racing circuits in the world, the Snaefell Mountain Course was first used in 1911 for the Isle of Man TT. This makes it the oldest motorcycle racing circuit that is still in use. Ever since 1911, the circuit has hosted all kinds of motorcycle races including the Isle of Man TT and Manx Grand Prix. It was also part of the Motorcycle Grand Prix World Championship between 1949 and 1976, after which the course was withdrawn since it was found to be too dangerous in a movement that was kick started by Giacomo Agostini in 1972.
The map of the Snaefell Mountain Course
Agostini wasn't wrong. As long standing as the circuit is, it is also one of the most deadly circuits in the world. The 60.7km long circuit has over 200 corners through all of which riders post average speeds of over 200kmph. At such speeds, incidents are only a matter of time. Over the years that the mountain course has been in use, it has claimed close to 250 lives. This includes competitors, spectators, race officials and marshals.
But despite the obvious dangers, the races still continue. And every year, the envelope is pushed a little further. Last year, John McGuinness set the fastest average speed through the course by averaging 213.6kmph.
Being a public road when not being used for races, the Snaefell Mountain Course is only blocked off 45 minutes before the races. And while the races are underway, there are bridges and walkways that remain open for spectators to get around.
The Isle of Man TT has always been run in a time-trial format. This means that there is no starting grid. The riders are flagged off at intervals and try to set the fastest time over the course. There is always one week of practice sessions followed by one week of racing.
Crowds cheer for James Hillier at the 2015 Senior TT
There are seven classes of races - Superbike TT, Supersport TT, Superstock TT, Lightweight TT, Sidecar TT, TT Zero and the mother of allevents, the Senior TT. The classes are all separated by various engine capacities and the allowed forms of modifications. The TT Zero, meanwhile, is for motorcycles that do not use an internal combustion engine.
Any mention of the IOMTT has to also bring up the second most successful TT racer in the world - John McGuinness. Ever since he started riding the mountain course in 1996, John has amassed 23 wins that makes him the second most successful racer to compete there. Second only to the legend himself - Joey Dunlop. This year John will compete on three motorcycles. He will race a Honda CBR600RR with Jackson Racing, the Mugen racing electric motorcycle and the Honda Racing CBR1000RR Fireblade SP. A win at the TT will bring John closer to Joey's record of 26 overall wins. And multiple wins will mean that he mightfinally break Joey's record.
John McGuinness (Honda - Honda Racing) at Ballagarey during qualifying for Monster Energy Isle of Man TT
And while looking out for John, keep an eye out for James Hillier who finished in second place behind McGuinness at last year's Senior TT. We're also excited to watch Bruce Anstey, the Padgetts Honda backed rider is competing this year on a Honda RC213V S, the motorcycle that is essentially a road-going MotoGP bike. Also competing will be TT favourite Ian Hutchinson and Joey Dunlop's nephews, Michael and William.
All time great, Joey Dunlop, in action at the IOMTT
Another rider we are looking forward to watching is Ian Lougher. Why? Ian will come out of retirement this year to ride the Suter Racing MMX 500. The Suter is a 580cc, 2-stroke motorcycle that uses a V4 motor. Honda NSR500 memories, anyone?
Also keep an eye out for Ben and Tom Birchall, the winners of last year's Sidecar TT.
This year, though, one person who will be thoroughly missed is Guy Martin. Guy is taking a break from the TT and is busy riding a bicycle somewhere in the world. The man's antics and unorthodox behaviour have been a constant source of entertainment and we really hope to see him back in the TT someday.
All kinds of motorcycles will be raced at the TT this year. Yamaha R1s and R6s, Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10Rs and ZX-6Rs, Honda CBR1000RRs and CBR600RRs, Nortons, Triumphs, name it and you'll find it racing. However there are some motorcycles that deserve special mention.
Honda RC213V S
The Honda will be piloted by veteran racer Bruce Anstey. The RC213 V S is the street legal version of Honda's MotoGP motorcycle. It uses a 999cc V4 motor and uses similar cycle parts to the race motorcycle.
Suter MMX 500
Remember the NSR500 that we all used to drool over? Well, the Suter MMX 500 is as close as you can get to that motorcycle. The 576cc, two-stroke V4 motor makes over 190PS and runs on some very choice cycle parts from Ohlins and Brembo. The MMX 500 will be piloted by Ian Lougher who has been convinced to come out of retirement for this race to race it. Wouldn't you?
This is the Empulse RR is race form. The motorcycle has been brought back to its earlier tune of 150PS which had to be reduced due to battery life concerns. That seems to have been addressed and the bike now puts out 174PS and 240Nm of torque right from standstill. Perks of the electric motor you see. William Dunlop will be the pilot for Victory this year.
Michael Dunlop (MD Racing 1000 BMW) during the practice sessions for the Monster Energy Isle of Man TT.
When and where to watch?
The races will start on Saturday, 4th of June starting with the Superbike TT and followed by the Sidecar TT (1530hrs and 1830hrs IST). Monday will have the Superstock TT races (1515hrs and 1815hrs IST). Wednesday is the Supersport TT, Lightweight TT and the TT Zero (1515hrs, 1815hrs and 2055hrs IST). Finally, Friday is when the final Sidecar TT race happens, followed by the Senior TT (1445hrs and 1715hrs IST). There is no official broadcast in India, but the official website does offer 10 episode video highlights starting on Friday, 3rd of June. You can access this for roughly Rs 700 at the official website.
Ben Birchall and Tom Birchall (LCR Honda - IEG Racing) at Ballagarey during qualifying for Monster Energy Isle of Man TT
Every year, the IOMTT has us all up inattention. A large part of it is to see who will walk away with the win at the Senior TT. But a small part of it also has something to do with the fact that we are sending up some prayers to keep the racers safe. Whatever the case, this is one motorsport event that always keeps us interested. It is a show of superhuman levels of courage after all. Here's wishing all the contestants the verybest!