Isle of Man TT documentary review: 'It's absolutely nuts'

Motorcycle News

This year’s TT documentary follows the stars doing their thing around the Isle of Man, plus the maddest Isle of Man challenge of all time

2022 isle of Man TT rider Peter Hickman

Lord of all he surveys – Peter Hickman above Douglas Bay before his four wins in a week

Isle of Man TT

The Isle of Man TT can only ever be a love/hate thing. This year’s event claimed the lives of six racers, making it the deadliest TT fortnight since 1970.

I often get criticised for supporting the event while complaining about the rising death toll in MotoGP and World Superbike. My argument is that they are two completely different worlds: you enter the TT fully aware that your first mistake might be your last, while MotoGP and WSB venues have been very carefully designed so you can crash without real consequences, but the championships have been overtaken by a new kind of accident.

Earlier this year I spoke to 23-times TT winner John McGuinness about the media’s (inevitable) obsession with the dangers of the Mountain course. This is what he had to say…

Isle of Man TT rider John McGuiness 2022

John McGuinness contemplates the meaning of life before his 100th TT start

Isle of Man

“When Paul Phillips [the event’s business development manager] got involved we tried to change the opinions of journalists. Often I’d get journos who just wanted to talk about death, so I wouldn’t answer them. I’d say, ‘I’m not going to talk about that – I want to talk about how amazing it is, what a spectacle it is and the history and the challenges and the bikes’. I know the place has got a lot to answer for: it’s ruined lives, ruined marriages and all sorts but the other side of it is pretty special.”

I don’t think McGuinness goes far enough. Without trying to sound like an old hippy, there’s something spiritual about the TT. Perhaps it’s the weird mingling of utter joy and sheer terror you experience while racing around the 37.75-mile course. Literally, no other racetrack does that. And probably just as well. But there are many, many things that many people enjoy doing that can result in death, harm and injury; the TT is only of them.

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Ironically, considering its worst death toll in almost half a century, the 116-year-old event underwent important changes in 2022, with more on the way. The two-year hiatus, forced by Covid, allowed the organisers to plan the next phase of the TT’s history, introducing the first live coverage of practice and racing, globally available via TT+, as well as a feature-length documentary (premiered last night) and a Drive to Survive-style documentary series, due early next year, when the TT will expand into a ten-race programme.

This year’s documentary, simply called Tourist Trophy, covers the entire fortnight, from solos to sidecars. It stars current Mountain master Peter Hickman, veteran John McGuinness, newcomer Glenn Irwin, sidecar stars Ben and Tom Birchall and Michael ‘Jack’ Russell, who takes on the utterly insane challenge of starting and finishing all eight races: the Superbike, Superstock, Super Sport (one and two), Super Twins, Senior and sidecar TTs.

In Tourist Trophy it’s the Birchall brothers – who’ve won every TT they’ve finished, which makes 12 victories since 2013 – that sum up best what the TT does to your spirits.

2022 isle of Man TT riders Birchall brothers

The Birchall brothers find normal life difficult to bear after the end of every TT fortnight

Isle of Mann TT

“Coming off the island after the whole thing is done – what a comedown that is,” says passenger Tom. “It’s weird and hard to understand because you can’t replicate anything of what you’ve just done.”

“A month of depression,” says Ben wryly.

“We ring each other up,” Tom continues. “‘Are you all right?’. ‘Not really, no’. ‘Neither am I’.

“You’ve just got to work towards next year. That’s what it is: just roll on to the next one. But yeah, there’s no cure for it…”

Hickman is obviously the TT’s man of the moment. This was his seventh TT and he dominated, just like he’d done last time out in 2019. Hickman came to the TT in 2014 to save his career, because he couldn’t earn enough money out of BSB to make a living. To say that the Isle of Man has turned his career around would be an understatement. But there’s no doubt he’s now every bit as hooked as the Birchalls.

Hickman has taken TT riding to a new level, using wheelspin to steer the motorcycle through the dozens upon dozens of hyper-fast corners – that’s 160mph and beyond – where momentum wants to take you straight ahead, into the wall. Using wheelspin (he turns off his BMW S1000RR’s traction control and other rider controls, much to the annoyance of BMW engineers) allows him to force the bike into turning the corner.

“When you come somewhere like this it’s different, it’s more intense – you do six laps in the Superbike and Senior races – an hour and 40 minutes to do 226 miles,” says Hickman, who’s also fast on short circuits – he took one victory and several podiums in this year’s BSB championship. “And there’s lots of elements to the riding because it’s so diverse. It’s got anything and everything you could imagine in a circuit.”

Hickman had another superb TT: six podiums from six races, including four wins.

McGuinness was once where Hickman was. He knows this is the twilight of his career – 2022 marked his 50th birthday and his 100th TT start – but although there was talk that this would be his last TT he refuses to confirm or deny, “Because it’s the last one that’ll get you”. Of course, sat outside his motorhome after the final Senior race, sucking on a beer, he confirms he will race again in 2023.

From the archive

So does Honda Racing UK team-mate and TT newcomer Glen Irwin, who breaks the newcomers’ lap record in the opening Superbike race, obviously dazzled (literally and metaphorically) by riding a 227-horsepower superbike as fast as he dares along tree-lined country roads, which become a 190mph strobe ride.

“It’s absolutely nuts, there’s bits where you can’t see,” he says.

Irwin changed his mind a few months later, deciding to put his partner Laura and two kids first before the Isle of Man. There’s no doubt that the people who suffer most during TT fortnight are the racers’ loved ones. That’s obvious throughout Tourist Trophy. Hickman’s parents laugh it off better than most, but you know what’s going on in the pit of their stomachs.

2022 isle of Man TT rider Michael Russell

Michael Russell, who had the bright idea of entering all eight TT races, on two wheels and three

Isle of Man TT

Without a doubt the maddest story of the 2022 TT is Russell, who decided to have a go at doing what no one has done before – tackling all eight races. This would be a crazy goal for someone with unlimited resources behind them, but for RAF driver Russell, with not much at all behind him, it was like climbing Everest in your underwear.

I won’t drop a spoiler here, but Russell’s race week is emotional. He nearly pulls out of the first sidecar race due to debilitating cramps, the result of spending the morning racing a Supersport bike and the afternoon wrestling a three-wheeler, sat in a totally different position.

I’m still awaiting a documentary that gets to the heart and soul of the TT, something which digs into the emotional rollercoaster of competing and the technique side of riding the Mountain course. Tourist Trophy doesn’t do that but it’s a good record of the 2022 TT.

For further information on Tourist Trophy and more TT coverage click here.