As it enters its fourth year, the popularity of the Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling - a fortnight's binge of classic and modern motorcycles consisting of the Manx GP, the Classic TT, the Vintage Motorcycle Club's Festival of Jurby / Club Rally and the Classic and Two Day off road Trials - continues to steadily grow.
Since the Festival's creation in 2013 - the result of positioning the Classic TT to sit alongside the Manx GP and Jurby Festival (and the programme of other events), it has been a proven success. Fans love the sights and sounds of the classic bikes whilst the Manx government appreciates the additional 15,000 visitors and £6m that the Festival contributes to the economy.
Even the one day Festival of Jurby is a massive draw - so much so, that with up to 10,000 visitors alone, it's the best attended single day event on the Rock. For this year it will bring another great sight and sound for fans to savour: the unmistakable throb of six Rolls Royce Merlins. Weather permitting, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster - (one of only two remaining Lancs still flying in the world) will display over Jurby airfield on Sunday 28th August. It's an unforgettable sight and sound for anyone who hasn't experienced the privilege.
However, it's the Classic TT that's the 'headline event' of the fortnight and it has now become established as the leading classic motorcycle race in the world attracting fans from around the globe. This steady growth in spectator numbers has been accompanied by increasing media interest - including ITV4 TV national and international coverage, new commercial partners and exciting, no holds barred classic road racing featuring the world's leading exponents of the sport. How has it managed to achieve this in such short a period of time?
World Class Field of Top Road Racers
With the exception of Ian Hutchinson, currently enjoying some sunshine in Ibiza, and Lee Johnston who injured himself at the Ulster GP, just about all of the leading road racers in the world will be at the Classic TT alongside dedicated classic specialist racers - like Alan Oversby. The line-up includes Michael Dunlop, Bruce Anstey, John McGuinness, Conor Cummins, William Dunlop, Dean Harrison, Steve Mercer, Cameron Donald, Michael Rutter, Gary Johnson, James Hillier, Dan Kneen, Ian Lougher, Ivan Lintin, Horst Saiger, James Cowton, Ollie Linsdell, Danny Web, Maria Costello MBE.....the list goes on. The entry field is excellent with ninety riders entered for the Senior Classic 500 race and fifty-five for the Lightweight Classic TT.
The array of classic motorcycles is equally enticing and represents a real treat for all "pipe smoking" classic motorcycle enthusiasts to wax lyrical about over a few beers at the Creg ny Baa. Bruce Anstey will once again pilot the Padgett's built 1992 Yamaha YZR 500 V4 stroker on which he set a Classic TT lap record of 123.894 mph. In addition, he'll have a stonking Honda RS 250 for the Lightweight Classic - which the Padgett stable built from the ground up in four days! In the Classic Senior race, John McGuinness joins team mate Conor Cummins to ride the majestic Team Winfield Paton 500s whilst Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison will both race Black Eagle Racing's superb MV Augusta triple replicas built by the Kay family. These twin cam, 12 valve "Ago replicas" rev to 12,500 rpm - just as they did in the 1970s. In the Superbike category Michael Dunlop and Danny web will ride Team Classic Suzuki bored out XR69s. Throw into the mix Honda RC30s and 500 fours, Manx Nortons, AJS's the Egli Vincents of Cameron Donald and Horst Saiger, Matchless 350s, Yamaha 0W01 (Padgett's), TZ Yamahas, Kawasaki ZXR750s, ....and that's just for starters! Whether it's three and four megaphone exhausts thundering through Gorse Lea.....or screaming TZ Yamahas going through Hillberry and big throaty single 350s and 500s hooning round the greatest race circuit in the world - what's not to like?
Hard Fast Racing on the World's Greatest Race Circuit
Although many of the motorcycles are classic machines from the 70s and 80s - many earlier still - or faithful reproductions of classic bikes like the hand built MV Augustas, the riding is still hard and the top racers don't hold back. Michael Dunlop's 125 mph Superbike lap from 2015 demonstrates just how fully committed the racing is. Thirteen riders lapped the Mountain Circuit in excess of 120 mph in last year's Superbike race. However, the one slight downside is that the demands upon classic bikes are particularly severe given how testing the TT Mountain Circuit is on machines. Inevitably, this can result in high numbers of retirals.
Product Development - New Race Introduced for 2016
The organisers of the Classic TT have played a masterstroke for this year. Fans of two stroke racing are in for a special treat with the introduction of the new Lightweight Classic TT. Having been central to the TT for decades, the quarter litre class eventually disappeared in 2004 as the motorcycle industry concentrated on four stroke market development. However, the vast majority of motorcycle racing fans love two strokes and miss their regular presence at most race meetings. They're exciting, belch out plumes of blue smoke, wail like demented banshees and go like the proverbial clappers. The Castrol R also smells incredible - evocative and highly distinctive. There's nothing like the sight of a group of two strokes diving hard into a hairpin like a swarm of hornets on steroids, then blasting away as riders grab fistfuls of throttle and slip clutches like mad in an effort to find their bikes' narrow power bands. They're just massively entertaining to watch, listen to......and smell! Many of today's TT top men cut their teeth on 250cc machines. John McGuinness bagged his first ever win at the TT in 1999 on board his Vimto RS250 Honda and set a lap record of 118.29 mph which still stands to this day. Will it be broken on Saturday's race?
Past Legends at Jurby Festival
There's always an impressive line-up of past racers and legends at the Festival of Motorcycling and this year's no exception with Mick Grant, Freddie Spencer, Philip McCallen and Brian Reid all putting in an appearance. Freddie Spencer will ride an ex factory Rothmans Honda NSR 500 triple at both the VMCC's Festival of Jurby and in the Classic Racer Magazine lap of honour on the following Monday (29th August).
The 2016 Classic TT races kick off on Saturday 27th August with the Bennets Senior Classic TT race (500s) followed by the new Lightweight Classic TT (250s). It rounds up on Monday 29th August with the Okells Junior Classic TT (350cc) and the Motorsport Merchandise Superbike Senior Classic TT.
Red Torpedo wishes all riders, teams, organisers, marshals and fans a safe and good meeting.
Photo: www.wpfotos.co.uk (John McGuinness on the Team Winfield Paton 500)