Douglas, Isle of Man - There are very few places in the world where authorities not only permit but encourage motorcycle racing on public roads, undeniably the world’s most dangerous sport. Estonia, Macau and Ireland are the only ones that spring to mind, along with a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea that Britain claims as her own but which is so different it might as well be on another planet, let alone another country.
Even when they’re not racing, there are no speed limits outside built-up areas on the Isle of Man; if you want to go out and kill yourself on the narrow, bumpy country roads that’s up to you. Residents can get a full motorcycle or car driving licence at 16 - but the roads are tortuously twisty and average speeds are low.
Except during the first two weeks of June each year, when a 60km loop of public roads linking the capital, Douglas, with Ramsay and Peel is closed to the public for the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races.
When the TT, as it’s universally known, was first run in 1907, it was as a reliability trial, which was why the riders set off at 10 second intervals, and still do. Just getting round the rutted, unpaved course on the primitive machines of the time was an achievement - but the winner was, of course, the rider who got round the quickest.
Which brings us to the weirdest thing about road racing: because there’s no mass start, lap times are measured not in minutes and seconds but by average speed. It sounds crazy but it makes it possible to compare performances at different venues directly with each other.
For instance, a four-minute lap of the 11.68km Ulster Grand Prix course at Dundrod is significantly slower, at an average speed of 175km/h, than a 20 minute lap of the TT course, which requires an average speed of 181km/h.
But Superbike riders go much, much faster than that. Top contenders in the headline event, the Senior TT for highly modified litre-class sports bikes, will go round the 60.73km course, through a number of small towns and over a 422 metre mountain pass, in less than 17 minutes - that’s an average speed of well over 210km/h, hitting close to 300km/h on the longer straights.
And this year the Isle of Man course, by far the longest in the world of road racing, also became officially the fastest as Peter Hickman, riding a BMW S1000 RR, smashed the ultimate course record on his fifth lap of the six-lap Senior TT, with a speed of 216.723km/h. That’s not only the fastest lap ever at the TT, it’s also quicker than Dean Harrison’s fastest lap at the 2017 Ulster Grand Prix of 215.390km/h on a Kawasaki ZX-10R, hitherto the fastest recorded in road racing.
Hickman said afterwards his record ride was thanks to perfect weather throughout the event, slick organisation by the marshals (no time was lost to weather or red flags during practice for the Senior, as has so often been the case) and several sets of very special Dunlop tyres made specifically for him and hand-delivered the day before the race.
After six laps, Hickman beat Harrison (whose best lap was also faster than the previous benchmark) on elapsed time by just two seconds in one of the closest Senior TT finishes in recent years. Each had ridden 365 kilometres in an hour and 43 minutes, at an average speed, including two pits stops apiece, of just over 210km/h.
To get an idea of what that took, watch the highlights of the 2018 Senior TT below.