After the TT races in early June, racing returns to the Isle of Man and the Mountain course next month [17-26 August], as the Classic TT – part of the island’s Festival of Motorcycling – roars into life. Get ready to watch burly superbikes such as Suzuki XR69s, lightweight two-stroke 250 Grand Prix bikes, and vintage British classics do battle around the 37.73-mile circuit, with names such as McGuinness, Hillier, Harrison, and Anstey gunning for glory.
And if you’re on the Isle of Man for one of the planet’s coolest motorcycling events, we’re here to help you get clued up on the racing, where to watch from, and what else to do to make the most of your visit…
Let’s start with the most important bit, shall we? After a week of practice and qualifying you’ve got four races, split over four days – Saturday 24 and Monday 26 August – with the action getting underway with the Senior Classic TT. Get ready to have your ears pierced by old Paton’s, Nortons, Matchless 500s, BSAs, with Honda the main Japanese representation. Last year’s race was won by John McGuinness on a Roger Winfield Paton.
Up next is one of our favourite events, the Lightweight Classic TT. Prepare for a sensory overload, as Honda RS250s and Yamaha TZ250s go head-to-head and fill the air with crisp two-stroke zings and a blue haze. Riding for Padgetts last year, Lee Johnston ran out the winner on an RS250, and this year Bruce Anstey will ride for the same team as he makes his long-awaited comeback.
The Junior Classic TT kicks off Monday’s action, pitting 350 Nortons against Hondas, plus the odd Suzuki, AJS, and Ducati – with Dominic Herbertson last year’s victor – before the main event, the Superbike Classic TT.
Here, we’re looking at XR69 Suzuki’s, ZX-R Kawasaki’s, and RC45 Hondas. This year will also see Team Classic Suzuki enter Danny Webb on its RG500. Previous winners include: Michael Dunlop, Anstey, and in 2018 Dean Harrison on a Silicone Engineering Kawasaki.
Where to watch
Where to begin? There are some firm favourites, and they’re that for good reason. One of ours is nice and early in the lap – Ago’s Leap. It’s just after the dip at the bottom of Bray Hill, on the run to Quarter Bridge. We like it because the bikes are at full chat, on their back tyre over the crest before disappearing down the hill. It’s also close to the paddock, so it doesn’t mean you’re away from the hub between races and can get there and back quickly.
Getting around when the course is closed can be tricky, but if you’ve got two (or four) wheels, you can still catch the same race from different spots. Watched them fly over Ago’s leap? Run back to the car and navigate the housing estate to Peel Road, and head as far up as you can before you hit the road closure to catch the next wave of competitors hit the anchors for Quarter Bridge and sling it right before the run to Union Mills. You can scale the bank on the left hand side of the circuit and get an aerial view of the action. Or alternatively, the Quarterbridge pub sits on the outside of the track and affords excellent views (and beverages) also.
If you remain put off by a pint of Okells or Bushy’s, jump back in the car / on the bike and head south past the McDonald’s and turn right, using the access roads to get back up to New Castletown road. A local access road runs directly alongside and then underneath the circuit, getting you onto the infield and allowing you to short cut your way to the return leg of the lap. Pick up Ballafletcher road, joining Jonny Watterson lane, and follow it as far as you can before you hit the road closure.
Jump out, run up the bank and watch the riders come through Hillberry, a fast left hander that heads towards Signpost. In the closing stages of a tight race, this is approaching last-chance-saloon for riders to claw back any time.
Other areas to try and watch from include the classic one at the Creg Ny Baa – use the aptly-named Creg Ny Baa back road to navigate your way there during the road closures and watch from the roadside. Or if you’re committed to a day on the Mountain, on a nice day viewing spots don’t get much better than the Bungalow. With bikes in shot for plenty of time each pass and stunning views, it makes for a dramatic place to watch motorcycle racing at one of the most famous spots on the course. Another firm favourite is the Sulby Straight. Bikes whizz past in the blink of an eye, but the Doppler Effect as they approach before disappearing up the road is mesmerising.
One of the best things about the Isle of Man TT and Classic TT is the paddock. Here there’s no requirement for VIP wristbands, so it’s definitely worth setting some time aside to take an amble around and get up close with teams, riders, and machinery.
The builders of some of the beautiful race bikes are, more often than not, only too happy to talk about them, and there are some wonderful stories to be told. Find the right person, and you can be there for hours being entertained and informed.
Pick a day when there’s no racing and set some time aside to make sure you see it all.
Show and Shine
Away from the racing there’s plenty more to see and do during the Classic TT, with dedicated owners taking all manner of interesting, rare, and exotic machinery along to the event.
Before racing starts on the Saturday, Friday hosts a paddock Show and Shine in Noble’s Park, with awards handed out for Best Classic, Best Modern Classic, Best Vintage, Best Sidecar, and Best In Show. Grab an ice cream and spend some time ogling some stunning examples of the best motorcycles of the period.
Own one yourself? Get it along! It’s free to enter and owner of winning machines can bag free grandstand tickets on race-day.
Segue from the Show and Shine to the Paddock Carnival, and rewind the clock with tribute acts playing music from the period, chat shows talking to racers, and pop-up displays and museums.
Be entertained by stunt shows, peruse some of the most iconic race bikes from road racing history, hear legends talk about their own racing days, or soak up the atmosphere with a beer. You may even catch a famous face sporting some fancy getup from the era.
Festival of Jurby
Not all Classic TT action centres around the paddock. Every year over 10,000 people head across to Jurby’s Motordrome for a full day of entertainment.
Held on the Sunday between race days, the island’s branch of the Vintage Motorcycle Club brings together huge collections of bikes and people, while the circuit hosts track sessions that see a wide variety of machinery spin some laps. Rare bits of kit will parade for fans, while you’ll even catch teams there getting some laps in to shakedown race bikes ahead of Monday’s races.
Exhibitions, legendary riders, good food and a crowd of like-minded people make it an excellent event to add to your itinerary.
For more information, check out: www.iomtt.com/classic-tt