COMMENT: Ian Hutchinson's TT five-timer in jeopardy and the wet weather question
Friday’s announcement around the major changes afoot for the Isle of Man TT in the next few years generated a buzz of excitement on social media amongst road racing-starved fans.
The sport has been particularly hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with two full seasons all but wiped out as the UK continues to face restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.
Back-to-back cancellations of the TT are unheard of and something that previously only occurred during the Second World War.
The Isle of Man, a little island in the middle of the Irish Sea renowned around the world because of the annual Tourist Trophy races held on the legendary 37.73-mile Snaefell Mountain Course, has been given an unexpected window into life without motorcycle racing.
Thankfully, after almost two years without the TT, Southern 100, Classic TT and Manx Grand Prix, the desire to bring racing back to the island – where the first TT races were held in 1907 – appears to be burning as strongly as ever.
Credit to the TT organisers, who have refused to stand still as the coronavirus outbreak ensured the Isle of Man became a road racing-free zone in 2020 and again this year.
On the day when the Senior TT should have been bringing the festival to a climactic conclusion last Friday, some of the biggest changes to the TT in modern history were revealed during a TT ‘Switch-On’ event, bringing many of the sport’s biggest names together for a virtual press conference of sorts.
The most significant of these next year is the introduction of live streaming of the races on a dedicated digital channel, showcasing the TT to a worldwide audience on an unprecedented scale.
However, most of the changes will come into effect – subject to consultation with the Manx public – from 2023.
Most notably, more races on more days, with a revamped schedule featuring 10 races in total – up from eight – over six race days instead of four.
Sounds fantastic, and it will be, if the schedule is unaffected by the weather.
But anyone who’s been to the TT will know that’s a big ‘if’.
With racing on six days punctuated by just two ‘rest’ days on the Monday and Thursday of race week, any prolonged spells of wet weather, coupled with the inevitable mist and fog on the mountain, will turn the schedule on its head.
Think 2019 as the most recent example, when some of the worst weather in recent memory threw practice and race week into disarray and rendered contingency plans useless.
With racing on damp or wet roads no longer considered as an option at the TT, completing the new schedule could be a tall order if the weather doesn’t play ball.
That being said, you can’t stifle progress on the basis that poor weather could disrupt any best-laid plans, and extra racing can only be welcomed.
As a result, from 2023 Ian Hutchinson’s historic 2010 five-timer will come under increasing threat, with an extra Superstock and newly-named Supertwin TT race added to the programe.
The Yorkshireman won the five main solo races on the Padgett’s Honda machines during a memorable week 11 years ago, when many wondered if the feat would ever be matched again.
Now, not only is there a greater chance of a another five-timer at the TT, there is also the potential for one rider to win eight races in 2023 – all on conventional motorcycles after the TT Zero race was dropped in the short-term at least.
Unlikely? Absolutely, but that won’t stop some TT competitors aspiring to do exactly that.
There is much to look forward to and the enforced break will ensure the sense of anticipation for TT 2023 reaches new peaks.
By the time next June swings round, it will be three years since the TT was last run in anger.
They do say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
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