TT Thursday night. Traditionally the night to find out who’s really on the pipe. The riders are well dialled, the course has rubber down and it’s time for some seriously fast laps.
Tonight was perfect – almost too perfect with clear blue skies and a sun dipping towards the horizon that might have given the riders some concern on certain parts of the course. But it didn’t matter anyway.
Just minutes before practice was due, there was a serious road traffic accident, which required the use of an air-med helicopter. That delayed the start of practice.
But solo TT practice was called off without anyone turning a wheel.
Sidecars had been allowed out first and there was an oil slick from Kirkmichael to Alpine, at least a mile of pollution that the organisers simply couldn’t afford to let one solo loose on.
If it hadn’t been for the RTA, the marshals might have had the time to clear the oil. As it was, the work required would have too little time for practice.
So, good decision to call it a day.
The bad decision on the face of it – I'm going to say it because this is what everyone in the solo paddock is thinking - was allowing the sidecars on track first. I've nothing against sidecars and, as John McGuinness said, they are part of the show and deserve as much track time as the solos but, when everyone knows the sidecars at temperamental beasts at best, why would you jeopardize solo practice like that?
There is a need for the solos to start from the paddock area to test their pit lane speed limiters. Normally, when the solos are out first the bikes are wheeled from the hard-standing paddock are onto the Glencrutchery Road and set off in pairs. When they return to the paddock for adjustments to their bikes or to swap bikes, they return via the slip road just past the pit lane. The pit lane is not used by the solos in practice (except in the case of Paul Shoesmith on opening night when he was blinded by the low sunlight – see the vid clip on YouTube).
The sidecars meantime are scrutineered and lined up in the pit lane so they can set off while the solos are flagged off on a short lap, back into the top end of the paddock.
If the solos had set off first, the pit lane would be full of sidecars, and there would be no opportunity to test pit lane speed limiters. Doh.
So it seems to me, that somehow the organisers need to fathom how to create some extra space to pre-grid the sidecars away from the pit lane - if the solos are required to do their pit lane speed limiter testing. Easy for me to say, I know, but it’s an absolutely disaster that the premier class of the TT has been robbed of vital practice time – especially when the weather was so good and everyone was hyped to the max, looking forward to some sensational times.
Michael Dunlop, for example was relying on tonight to get some laps on all three bikes after being stranded out on track last night when his superbike blew up. His crew worked through the night- with just three hours sleep – and all for nothing.
Of course they weren’t the only team frustrated by losing practice.
But far from resentment, most solo riders I spoke to were simply frustrated by the lack of track time. Here’s a sample of the comments:
McGuinness said: "I've waited all day to ride my bikes and then this happens. It’s hard enough as it is, without losing a practice session but the sidecars are part of the show too, and have been for years. Engines let go in racing. No one can help it. I think the organisers made a good decision because the oil is down in a really high-speed section of the course. Luckily, I’ve ridden all my bikes so I’ve had some practice."
Clive Padgett concurred with McGuinness and said: "I agree with John, the sidecars are as much part of the show."
Cameron Donald added: "Yeah, it’s frustrating because I’d made some changes to my bikes which I wanted to try tonight. But I’d race now with what I’ve got."
Ryan Farquhar said: "the thing is, they are as entitled to ride as much as we are. Though it’s still disappointing."
As a result of the mess, there’s a special test session organised at Jurby tomorrow - purely for straight line speed testing (for people who need to check out engine rebuilds etc) and then there’s evening practice as normal – but, from what I’ve just been told (at 10.00pm as I finish this blog), the solos will go out first and there will be no pit lane speed-limiter testing after all.