The TT continues to live up to its unenviable reputation of delivering incredible highs and desperate lows.
In a split second a life is lost in a horrible high-speed crash. Not long after, racing continues as normal – with the number 16 starting slot empty.
That was Derek Brien’s number in yesterday’s Supersport race. He was the rider who died in a crash at Gorse Lea early in the second lap.
I didn’t know Brien – a 34 year old from County Meath, Ireland - but I do know he was attracting our attention in the press office with a storming first lap that had taken him to ninth place. The better informed Irish contingent among us were explaining how he had won a Manx GP Junior race in 2007 – and the year before had been pipped to the line in the closest-ever finish on the Mountain course.
He’d done two years at the TT so he had a good knowledge of the course.
The next minute there’s a red flag and when that happens at the TT, everyone fears the worst. You know it’s either oil down or a major accident. And if it’s the latter you know it’s going to be serious.
We quickly work out who is missing and pray there’s some good news. But Gorse Lea is so fast. The terrain unforgiving.
The process of announcing a fatality is a lengthy one. Families have to be notified first. And rightly so.
By the time news finally filters through of Brien’s death, it’s only miserable confirmation of what we had feared. You feel for the rider who has paid the ultimate price for wanting to experience the thrill of racing in the TT. You feel for the people left behind. It’s terrible.
Yet the show goes on. It has to. It seems horribly callous but when you go to the TT you either accept there will be bad times and make a conscious decision to celebrate the good ones. Or you don’t go.
It’s that decision all the racers make. They have to otherwise they couldn’t function.
I spoke to James Hillier and Dan Stewart when they came back to the pits after the race had been stopped. Both of them had threaded their way through the crash site. But they had already put that to the back of their minds and were instructing their respective crews what needed doing to the bikes for the restart. Fifty-four minutes and 40s after the restart, everyone was celebrating Bruce Anstey’s brilliant Supersport race win over Keith Amor and Guy Martin. Champagne was flowing.
Anstey only found out about Brien’s death as he came off the podium. And Amor didn’t even know until Anstey apologised during the press conference, for the riders spraying the champagne.
But by then the ill-informed were already e-mailing, texting, tweeting about the lack of respect the riders and organisers were showing after the death of a competitor.
It’s not like that. You only had to listen to John McGuinness and Michael Dunlop paying their heartfelt respects after the Superstock race to realise the hurt everyone was feeling.
That’s how the racing community, particularly the TT paddock, is. Racers have the utmost respect for others but they all have a job to do and the show has to go on.
It sounds callous and it sounds selfish. But that’s how racing is and always will be. It’s the only way those involved in the sport can keep going back to the Island year after year.