Motorcycle racer IAN MACKMAN, 27, recounts the thrills of his first tilt at the Isle of Man TT - and a promising performance as the third best newcomer
AFTER my first ever Isle of Man TT, I can confirm competing at this event is the best thing I have ever done on a motorcycle.
I had an excellent newcomer's year, from the initial speed-controlled lap to a fantastic result in the final senior race of the week.
Practice began with my goal just to qualify for each race in which I had entered.
I was riding my Superstock-spec GSXR 1,000 K6 and a standard GSXR 600 K5, loaned to me by Bill Smith Motors in Chester, to maximise my amount of track time.
The first lap I, and all the other newcomers, had to follow a travelling marshal.
This was to show us the course without the danger of any of us over-cooking it.
During the previous six months, I had watched on-board TT videos more or less every morning.
I'd also taken a car over to the island and my road bike across to get in as much experience of the circuit as possible - 37.75 miles of twists and turns is a lot to remember!
Tension mounted as I pulled up to the line. For practice, you are set off at 10-second intervals in pairs.
The first time down Brae Hill is an experience, a really steep downhill section where the bike bottoms out in the bottom of the valley then over two crests (Ago's leap) at 160mph with the front wheel in the air.
Although it was dry in Douglas, the roads were wet in Ramsey and this wasn't so enjoyable. I was really happy after my first session, a decent time, not far outside of the qualifying time, even with the roads being wet in places.
The following session was on Monday. I did not want to rush into anything but I set a time which qualified me for the Superstock race, 108.09 mph average.
For Tuesday's session, my aim was to get a time in on the 1,000 to make sure I qualified for the Superbike and Senior races, then get on the 600 and qualify for the Supersport race.
After two laps I had qualified the 1,000 at an average 111.71mph.
The first race was the Superbike on Monday, rescheduled from a wet Saturday.
My first lap put me in 51st place, 113.36mph from a standing start. On lap two, I was 50th.
Lap three and I was down to 58th place; a wheel change had cost me a lot.
Lap four still 58th, but one of the biggest moments of my racing career... Ballycrye Leap is a 140mph jump, following a sixth-gear left-hand turn.
I didn't quite get the bike upright on this lap and it landed with the wheels out of line. I think the crowd could hear me screaming before the wheels even hit the deck! The bike landed and the rear wheel threw itself from full lock one way to full lock the other repeatedly, eventually straightening up 200 yards up the road.
A big moment. Note to self - make sure bike is well upright before take-off next time!
I felt like I was taking it a bit easier on the final lap, to make sure I got a finish in my first ever TT race - in 52nd place and 115.12mph with a race average of 110.37mph. I was tired after nearly 230 miles of flat-out riding, but over the moon - a strong finish and my best lap time.
Tuesday saw the Superstock race. Lap one and I was in 44th place, 116.03mph from a standing start. Once again I took it slightly easier on the final lap to ensure a finish, 38th place, 116.26mph and a race average of 115.13mph.
The Supersport race was on Wednesday, the third day in a row on a bike. Physically I was fine, except for my neck. Poking my head up into 190mph wind blasts and crunching up behind the screen was taking its toll.
I came home in 48th place with a best lap of 113.06 mph and a race average of 111.03 mph. A great result.
Finally, a day off on Thursday, but more preparation on the 1,000 ready for the Senior race on Friday.
Lap one and I had already caught and passed three riders on the road.
To lap around the 120mph mark is a great achievement and something not many newcomers manage.
I remained in 27th place for the rest of the race, and got another 119mph lap in too.
I earned my second bronze replica - awarded to riders finishing within 110% of the winner's total time - and third best newcomer. I was so pleased to have finished every race and got some excellent results and times in too.
This could be my last season in the British Championship due to escalating costs. But I can go to the TT, get paid start money, and have the time of my life.
* Ian Mackman is service manager at Bill Smith Motors in Chester.