Motorcycle racing’s holy trinity and bad news from the Isle of Man

Road Racing & IoM TT News

The Isle of Man, Spa-Francorchamps and Barcelona – the birthplace of motorcycle racing, God’s own racetrack and the capital of bike racing – all hosted races last weekend, viewed live by fans around the world

Isle of Man TT 2022 Peter Hickman

TT great Peter Hickman flies through Union Mills on his way to victory in Monday’s Superstock race

Isle of Man TT races

Last weekend was surely motorcycle racing’s biggest-ever super Saturday/Sunday.

The Isle of Man Superbike TT, the Spa 24 hours and the Catalan MotoGP round all happening at the same time – and for the first time ever available for everyone (with a few quid in their pockets) to watch live from home. That’s quite something.

And there was an extra significance to these three events being watched by fans around the world in the early years of the 21st century, because the TT, Spa-Francorchamps (God’s own racetrack to many riders) and Montjuïc Park (the forerunner of the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit) all pushed forward motorcycle racing in the early years of the last century.

The Isle of Man hosted the first TT in 1907, Spa staged its first motorcycle races in 1922 and Montjuïc followed in the 1930s.

Isle of Man TT 2022 Michael Dunlop

Michael Dunlop rounds the Gooseneck on his way to victory in the first Superstock TT, which claimed the life of veteran Davy Morgan

Isle of Man TT races

All three circuits have stories to tell and not always happy tales.

When motorcycling’s first world championships started in the summer of 1949 the TT and Spa claimed Grand Prix racing’s first fatalities within a few weeks of each other. On June 13th Ben Drinkwater was killed in the 350cc TT (the corner where he crashed, between the 11th Milestone and Handley’s, is named in his honour) and on July 17th Edoard Bruylant was killed in the Belgian sidecar GP.

The TT is the most famous circuit of the three, infamous, if you prefer. Last Wednesday, last Saturday and yesterday, Mark Purslow, Olivier Lavorel and Davy Morgan became the 261st, 262nd and 263rd riders to die on the Mountain Course.

The Isle of Man TT wasn’t the first motorcycle race (they happened in France) but it was the birth of big-time bike racing and remained the sport’s biggest event from the 1910s to the 1970s.

From the archive

The TT owes its existence to Britain’s equine-obsessed establishment, who banned motor racing on British roads, so the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) and ACU (Auto Cycle Union) organised races on the Isle of Man, which had its own government and still does. Hence its ability to maintain an event that most other governments would’ve banned by now.

Victor Surridge became the TT’s first fatality in 1911 and death has been a regular part of the event – run around a 37¾-mile lap of public roads bordered by houses, walls and telegraph poles – ever since.

Surely there can’t be a TT fan who 100% loves the TT; it has to be a love/hate relationship. Even 23-times winner John McGuinness, who rode his 100th TT race on Saturday, sees both sides.

“Yeah, people get killed, we know that,” he told me recently. “But no one’s got a gun to their head. It’s your choice – if you want to do it, do it.

“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.”

The really special bit is the buzz, which is like no other, which is why four-times World Superbike champion Carl Fogarty still remembers his TT rides more fondly than any of his short-circuit rides.

The risk is huge, of course, but it’s not a Russian-roulette risk, the buzz is using your skill and everything else you’ve got to ride the knife edge between the walls and hedgerows. And all racers race for the buzz, whether they’re on the Island or at Barcelona-Catalunya.

I’ve fallen in love with the TT and fallen out of love with the TT several times over the decades but my philosophical belief is that you own your own body outright, so you can do whatever you like with it, so long as you don’t hurt anyone else.

Some people need to do crazy stuff, it’s as simple as that. And in a world where we are increasingly told what to do, I’m of the opinion that the world would be a worse place without the TT.

No one rides the course without the full realisation that their first mistake might be their last. If they’re prepared to accept that risk and ride then they should be allowed to tackle the course, just like free climbers are allowed to climb mountains without ropes, skydivers are allowed to jump out of aeroplanes and base jumpers are allowed to jump off skyscrapers.

A few days ago I watched the Muhammad Ali documentary, made by legendary doc maker Ken Burns, about another beautiful (to some) and bloody sport, which resonated with the horrible news coming through from the Isle of Man.

Boxing legend Ali was asked on several occasions why he took part in a barbaric, occasionally deadly sport, which gave him Parkinson’s Disease, which played a major part in his death at just 74-years-old. Despite his horrible illness, Ali declared that he never regretted his boxing career.

“I know you’re not that concerned about two black brothers’ brains getting hurt,” he told an American interviewer in the 1970s, when he was still fighting. “We’re not worried about it, so why are you? You should worry about what else is happening in the world!”

Later he was asked by British chat-show host Michael Parkinson why he takes part in such a vicious sport.

Ali replied, “What kind of sport is this when a guy gets in damn car in your country and goes round a damn track, hits a pole and burns up?

From the archive

“We don’t have no way to get a job and few of us can get nothing unless we can box and now you want to run that out.”

His words made me think about all the TT riders with whom I’ve discussed the perennial question: should the TT stay, or should it go?

Spa-Francorchamps has also lived through controversy. The original super-fast nine-mile street circuit claimed the lives of six GP riders in the 1950s alone. Riders use to joke (darkly) that there were so many memorials around the circuit that one day someone could make them into a fence.

In the late 1970s a shorter, safer and mostly purpose-built Spa was built, using a couple of miles of the original circuit, from the scary-fast Blanchimont left-handers to the legendary Eau Rouge/Raidillon section.

Finally that layout was deemed too dangerous for motorcycle world championship racing. The last GP was staged there in 1990 and World Superbike and Endurance World Championships stopped visiting in subsequent years.

Three years ago the local Walloon government decided to get motorcycles back to Spa, offering 30 million Euros of funding to bring the track up to EWC spec. Further improvements will be required if Spa is to reach its goal of staging a MotoGP round. The work has been carried out by renowned Italian company Dromo, which has also done work at Mugello, Sepang, Misano, Circuit Paul Ricard and the latest upgrades at Silverstone.

Josh Hooks Yoshimura Suzuki 2022 Spa 24 Hours

Gregg Black after crashing the factory Yoshimura Suzuki at Spa – despite the crash and a broken gearbox the team missed the podium by just seconds


At noon last Saturday the first Spa 24 hour in around two decades got underway. The race was a thriller, despite safety cars and a red flag, with third position changing on the very last lap.

Among the riders was former World Supersport champion and three-times World Superbike runner-up Chaz Davies, who rode a Ducati Panigale for the ERC Endurance team with David Checa and Xavi Forès. Davies had never done endurance and was in for quite a surprise, because Spa is so fast and so dark at night. He rode into the early hours of Sunday morning when the Panigale expired with fuelling issues.

“I enjoyed the experience and absolutely loved the track,” says the 35-year-old, who retired from WSB at the end of last season. “Eau Rouge and Raidillon is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s unique, a special, special, special section, where the compression bottoms everything out.

“And it’s a sixth-gear corner! It’s probably fifth but by the time you use some lean angle the engine starts revving way too hard and bounces off the limiter, so you need to use sixth. It’s a hell of a piece of tarmac.”

Davies was gobsmacked by his first go at night racing.

“It was… interesting,” he laughs. “The track was terribly lit and a lot of the regular EWC guys weren’t too happy about that, because it’s pretty far away from their usual standards.

“That section where you’re coming towards Blanchimont is all so dark and so quick – you’re tapped in sixth! So it’s always a bit, ‘what if?’. What if someone crashes in a weird place and the bike or rider end up in the middle of the track and you don’t see them?

24-hour riders stream through Eau Rouge/Raidillon at the Spa 24 Hours

24-hour riders stream through Eau Rouge/Raidillon – now a sixth-gear corner on a superbike!


“Then you get little pockets of fog popping up in the forest – all of a sudden you’re riding towards the fog, which was a weird experience for me! There was lots to get my head around but I did like riding at night, once I got used to it.”

Davies reckons the track is already good enough for a WSB round.

“I expected it to be further away in terms of safety but most of it isn’t too bad. There’s the odd bit here and there which will have to be cleaned up for World Superbike but it’s already closer to being WSB-ready than [Czech circuit] Most was last year.

“MotoGP is a different kettle of fish. They’ll have to do a fair bit but the majority of the track isn’t a million miles away.”

Which brings us to MotoGP and the Barcelona-Catalunya circuit, which isn’t Montjuïc but only exists because of Montjuïc, a fast, undulating and dangerous parkland circuit situated above Barcelona’s port.

From the archive

Montjuïc hosted motorcycle GPs from 1951 to 1972, after which it was removed from the world championships, even though there had been no GP rider deaths during that period.

For decades the circuit also hosted a 24-hour race, which did claim the lives of many riders. When Mingo Parés was killed during the 1986 event the parkland road circuit was closed and work started on a short-circuit replacement.

Construction work on Barcelona-Catalunya began less than three years later and the new track hosted its first Grand Prix in May 1992.

The circuit is particularly significant now because if MotoGP was a country then Barcelona-Catalunya would be its capital. (Although you might also argue that Andorra is MotoGP’s capital.)

A quarter of the current MotoGP grid was born and bred in the region of Catalunya, many teams throughout MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, World Superbike and the Junior World Championship have their bases in and around Barcelona. And riders like Takaaki Nakagami (so lucky to avoid serious injury in Sunday’s Catalan GP), Ai Ogura and Somkiat Chantra, plus TSR Honda France EWC boss Masa Fujii and many other outsiders call the city home during the racing season.

Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco greet the crowd at Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday Cataluya GP 2022

Fabio Quartararo, Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco greet the crowd at Barcelona-Catalunya on Sunday


By the way, Nakagami’s Catalunya crash proved that the threat of serious injury or worse is ever-present in motorcycle racing, wherever you race, because you cannot protect a bike racer with a carbon-fibre safety cell and a halo.

And MotoGP shouldn’t forget that while it is the safest form of motorcycle racing it has taken the lives of four riders over the past decade or so, GP’s worst death rate since the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of these riders – Luis Salom – died during practice for the 2016 Catalan GP Moto2 race.

Each of motorcycle racing’s holy trinity of venues – from the most dangerous, to the darkest and (supposedly) one of the safest – has its own story but ultimately they are all part of the same game.