TT World Series: The dangers ahead

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This is a very busy fortnight in the road racing world with the launch of the TT last week and the North West 200’s 2015 send off scheduled for Tuesday.

In other race series there is usually a season long build up to a season end finale but on the roads both of the sport’s biggest events come right at the start of the year and almost together. By mid June the hottest action is over and the pecking order has been well and truly established.

That might be about to change very soon though. Unless you have been taking a trip around the galaxy on the Mars Explorer in recent weeks you can’t have failed to hear lots of chatter about the TT World Series. Many people have dismissed the proposed series as nothing more than a pipe dream, another unworkable attempt to initiate some kind of road racing world championship.

The Isle of Man government certainly don’t see in that light though. The Island’s Department of Economic Development have already spent some £200,000 on feasibility studies surrounding the proposed series and are now actively seeking a promoter to run the show.

The Economy Minister says the first World Series race is likely to be run in 2017 with the whole series being rolled out 12 months later. Norton boss, Stuart Garner, are rumoured to be interested in making a bid and some team bosses have already been canvassed for their support.

Although details are still sketchy it looks likely that the new series will operate on the same basis as the current template used in MotoGP and Formula One. The sale of the opportunity to host a TT World Series event, the returns from the distribution of television rights, commercial sponsorship and the licensing of the TT World Series brand will raise the finance to allow the new promoter to run a six race winter series, culminating in the TT as the final, ‘championship decider’.  

The support of the race teams and their riders will be ensured by the provision of a guaranteed financial return that will tie them to the Series.

This would represent a seismic departure from the way road racing is currently run, with most events being organised under the auspices of an amateur motorcycle club who gather the necessary finances from commercial sponsors and the public purse. Teams and riders raise their own sponsorship, negotiating with the organisers for start money and battling for a share of the prize fund.

The likely financial clout the new Series will make it impossible for competing teams and racers to ignore it. For the first time since pure roads circuits were removed from the world championship calendar in the 1970s, road racers will have the opportunity to compete in a professional race series. Team bosses will be able to attract bigger sponsors on the basis that their racing activities will be receiving global exposure and the talents of the sport’s top exponents, such as John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop and Co will be rewarded for their skills in the same manner as Marquez, Rossi and Crutchlow

So what is there not to like?

Perhaps not very much unless you are one of the other pure roads events such as the North West 200, Southern 100, Scarborough races or the Ulster Grand Prix that will not be part of the TT Series.

A winter race series will mean that most, if not all, of these UK and Ireland based events will be excluded unless they were prepared to change their dates significantly. Even then the room for manoeuvre will be very, very limited by the UK’s adverse winter weather.

At this stage their inclusion doesn’t even appear to be part of the mix as none of the organisers of any of these events have so far been included in any World Series discussions or consultations.

With the teams and riders in the proposed TT World Series likely to be tied in by water tight contracts, the organisers of these other races may find it extremely difficult to attract top flight entries to their events.

Teams like Milwaukee Yamaha or Tyco BMW currently include the North West 200 and The Ulster Grand Prix alongside the TT when they announce their new rider line-up and the races they will compete in.

Will we see those traditional Irish events replaced by the Dubai GP or the TT of Thailand in those announcements if the TT World Series kicks off in 2018?

If the TT World Series becomes a reality could the North West 200, the Ulster Grand Prix and other races like the Southern 100 or Scarborough Gold Cup suffer the same fate as that experienced by international events like the Mallory Park Race of the Year or the Daytona and Imola 200s when they were no longer able to attract top Grand Prix stars because of the world championship’s monopoly on the riders’ services?

Only time will tell.

Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

Biographer of John McGuinness & road racing's foremost writer & photographer