Behind the scenes at the TT

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‘I asked Guy Martin about a bump coming out of Ballagarey and he just said: ‘Where’s Ballagarey?’

o-one’s busier during the countdown to the TT than the man in charge of the condition of the Mountain Course itself  

The Mountain man

Shaun Counsel
Age 45
Lives Douglas, Isle of Man,
Job TT Course inspection officer

Rarely ever seen minus his TT branded clothing, there are few people involved in the TT more dedicated than Shaun Counsel. Long before practice week begins the Mountain Course inspection officer is on call, travelling the circuit in his course inspection car, dealing with any problems that crop up.

“I’ve been called out at 1.30am to road traffic accidents on the mountain because a bike has gone through a stock fence or a biker has had an incident at Stella Maris and ripped 30 bales off the wall. All the way through practice week I do two inspection laps of the course, one in the morning at 7am and then the final inspection just before practice at 5pm.”

Working closely with Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson throughout the build up to the two-week festival, Counsel seeks the advice of the people who know the Mountain course best.

“I’ve asked John McGuinness what he thinks about the course and I also have a word with a few riders further down the field to get their opinion on things,” he explains.

“I ask them for their thoughts on the road surface and if there is anything else bothering them or that would benefit them. I ask them about the warning boards we put out and I also use the Rider Liaison officers, Milky Quayle and John Barton for their opinions.”

The TT racers are always happy to help out but some are more responsive than others.

“I asked Guy Martin about a bump coming out of Ballagarey and he just looked at me and said ‘Where’s Ballagarey?’” Shaun recalls. “I told him it was the fast right-hander after Union Mills where he crashed but he just said he wasn’t sure of the corner so I had to ask John McGuinness instead!”

There has been some major resurfacing work on the mountain section of the course prior to TT 2016 and Counsel has played a central role in changes that might make the 132mph circuit record even faster.

“Over the last couple of years there have been a number of riders coming off at the Waterworks so last year I went up and had a look,” the 45-year-old explains. “On the inside of the corner the tarmac was starting to ripple so we got the Department of Infrastructure to resurface it. Coming up to the 27th milestone, just after Guthrie’s was very bumpy too and I noticed on the TT review DVD that the riders were getting thrown out of their seats so I thought we needed to have it resurfaced too. The bank has been taken off the 32nd as well.”

One of the toughest parts of Counsel’s jobs is investigating TT crashes. “If there is a red flag I will get sent out in the course car to assess the area where the incident occurred to assess what has happened and see if any of the course furniture has been damaged” he explains.

“For the last three years I have been carrying a paramedic in the car with me and I’m First Aid trained as well.  It’s another pair of hands when you get to an incident. We could be sent to anything if there’s a red flag. It could be a dog loose somewhere, it could be sheep on the mountain; we were even sent to a house fire in Kirk Michael a few years ago.”

In typical TT fashion, there are also surreal moments of humour amidst the serious business of keeping the TT show on the road.

“One morning I was doing an inspection lap, coming along the mountain mile at 6.30am, when I saw a bike in front of me,” he smiles. “As I got closer I realised the rider had no shirt on and when I got alongside him I had to look twice because he didn’t have any clothes on at all, not a stitch! He just winked at me and gave me a wave!

“I look forward to the TT but in the last few weeks running up to the races I do get a little stressed out,” Counsel admits.

“But once it’s all underway I really enjoy it. A lot of people say they wouldn’t do my job for a gold clock but I have done it now for 11 years and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

My TT race week

‘I started out as a marshal on the Mountain 29 years ago’

For everyone involved in the TT, the race plays a central role in their lives and Shaun Counsel, the Mountain Course inspection officer, is no exception.

“I took on this role in 2006,” the 45-year-old Douglas man explains as we chat over a pint in his local, The Cat with No Tail, during a rare evening off duty.

“I oversee the maintenance of the course, deal with road service crews, look after fences, help set up the course and make sure all the course safety furniture is put out in the correct place.”

By the time the rest of us get to the Island, Counsel has already completed most of his set-up .

“It starts getting busy from the end of January and we have to contact various landowners to get permission to put course hardware on their land.

“We keep in contact with land owners on the mountain in relation to stock fences and from the middle of March I’m around the course twice a day dealing with the contractors who are setting things up.”

The ability to strike up a good relationship with people is a critical part of Counsel’s job as he soothes the way during the huge change the TT involves for the people who live around the 37 ¾-mile circuit. “There are probably a couple of thousand residents involved, maybe more,” he says.

“If we have a scaffold tower in a field for a flag marshal for instance we’ve got to go and get permission for that. Most of the land owners around the course are very obliging. If they have any problems they will contact my colleague Paul Moore in the Motorsport office or me and we will go out to them and try and sort it out.”

Counsel’s skills have been gathered through long service to the event. “I started off as a marshal on the Mountain 29 years ago,” he recalls. He graduated to the role of Deputy Sector Marshall in the Creg ny Baa area and then Chief sector marshal, responsible for the part of the course between Windy Corner and the famous hotel. The retirement of a colleague saw him inherit the preceding sector from Black Hut to Windy Corner as well. “I had two sectors to run on the fastest part of the course,” he says. “It took a lot of work to cover it but we did it and then I just wanted another challenge and I was offered this job.”

Words: Stephen Davison Photos: Pacemaker Press International

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Stephen Davison

By Stephen Davison

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