Isle of Man TT: ‘Riders know the risks’, says event’s boss as organisers hope everyone leaves alive | UK News
The boss of the world’s deadliest motorsport event says riders have to accept risks, while insisting the Isle of Man TT is doing more than ever to improve safety.
This year’s two-week motorcycling festival began on Monday with new safety measures after six competitors died last year – equalling a tragic record.
But any talk of banning the event is dismissed on the island despite 266 fatalities now on the mountain course in the 116-year history of the races.
“We try to manage risk much better than was done in the past,” clerk of the course Gary Thompson told Sky News.
“The riders sign on, they know that risk. And, almost for them, that’s the challenge. For us, we manage that risk without taking away that challenge.”
The risks don’t bring great financial rewards compared to other sports. Riders compete for the thrill on a circuit winding through towns and villages on narrow roads past houses.
Padding on lamp posts offers minimal protection. But to manage the hazards, there is now GPS tracking of every competitor and a digital red flag system.
It is a celebratory fortnight for the local economy. The TT races can attract 40,000 visitors – around half the population of this British Crown Dependency in the Irish Sea.
‘A lot of people think we’re idiots’
And Peter Hickman – who has won nine TT races – told Sky News: “I’m not forced to be here. I want to be here. It’s an obvious risk.”
Risks helped him set the course record in 2018 and he will continue to take them – undeterred by the fact only one year in the last 85 has seen no deaths in races.
“A lot of people think we’re just crazy or idiots,” Hickman said as he prepared for the first day of racing. “You take your brain out and put your helmet on.”
“It’s very, very much the opposite effect. So you’ve really got to use your brain.
“And you’ve got to take the risk when you want to take the risk – or if it’s necessary.
“So, for example, I hold the outright lap record here and I’m constantly getting asked, ‘Are you going to break that record?’ And my answer always is ‘only if I have to’.
“And by that I mean, I win the race at the slowest possible pace. Because the slower I win the race, the less risk to me.”
And the challenge of winning at the world’s oldest motorcycle event remains exhilarating for the 36-year-old.
“Life is short as it is,” he said. “I would rather go away doing something like this.”
The hope of organisers is that everyone leaves alive.
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Even as we’re interviewing the Isle of Man TT medical chief at a hospital, a helicopter lands with a rider injured on the first morning of the competition. His condition was unknown.
Complex network of medical staff on hand
Dr Gareth Davies said: “We have a system whereby there are trackside medics that will be at the rider’s side within a matter of seconds.
“And then we have three different helicopters to support the racing, three response cars, and then about five or six different ambulances. So there’s quite a complex network of medical staff there.”
How can medics contemplate a sporting event that is so perilous?
Dr Davies said: “In our daily working lives, we see people going to work that are killed, just travelling on a push bike or an accident on the way to work.
“We see people who may be undertaking climbing or other sporting activities. So it’s not alien to see people injured.
“From our point of view. I think we very much see the racing as a huge challenge, a huge sort of celebration of the human spirit, and we’re here to support them.”
Additional reporting by Tyrone Francis, sports producer