Runcorn motorcycle racer IAN MACKMAN, 27, recounts the thrills of his first tilt at the TT - and a promising performance as the third best newcomer, which has given him a thirst for more.
AFTER my first ever Isle of Man TT, I can confirm competing in the 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.
Practice began with my goal just to qualify for each race in which I had entered.
I was riding my Superstock-spec GSXR 1000 K6 and a standard GSXR600 K5, loaned to me by Bill Smith Motors in Chester to maximise 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 and had plenty of hours on the PlayStation video game.
I'd also taken 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 start marshal puts a hand on your shoulder, tapping it when it's time to go.
The first time down Brae Hill is an experience, a really steep downhill section where the bike bottoms out in the dip of the valley then goes over two crests at 160mph with the front wheel in the air.
Although it was dry in Douglas, the roads were wet in Ramsey. This wasn't so enjoyable. I really took my time knowing I had the whole of practice week ahead.
Despite this, I set decent time, not far outside the qualifying mark.
The circuit is fantastic but very unforgiving in the event of a crash. On the Monday, I qualified for the Superstock race with an 108.09mph average.
For Tuesday's session, my aim was to get a time in on the 1000 to make the Superbike and Senior races, then get on the 600 to qualify for the Supersport.
After two laps I had qualified the 1000 at an average 111.71mph.
I got straight on to the 600 and was pleased with how well the bike handled as it was only my second time on it.
My average on the 600 was 110.03mph, which qualified me on that bike too.
Wednesday's practice was cancelled due to bad weather and the next time out on Thursday I went straight on the 600.
Every lap seemed to be getting smoother and with less physical effort needed due to my improving lines. The times were coming down.
I saw 190mph on Sulby straight. Even that took some working up to.
Early in the week my brain just couldn't contemplate the speed and I kept rolling off miles too early for the corner at the end of the straight - just because it was approaching so fast.
Friday's session was a waste of time. A big crash forced us all to stop.
The first race was the Superbike on Monday, rescheduled from a wet Saturday. I was anxious about the event but less so than I am at a British Superbike meeting.
My first lap put me in 51st place, 113.36mph from a standing start. Lap two, I was 50th, 114.47mph. Then I stopped for fuel - another new experience.
Lap three and I was down to 58th place; a wheel change had cost me a lot.
Lap four still 58th, 115.39mph, but one of the biggest moments of my racing career. Ballycrye Leap is a 140mph jump, following a sixth-gear left-hand turn.
You come around the corner, get the bike upright as quickly as possible and drive it, throttle open, over the jump.
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 personal best lap time.
Tuesday saw the Superstock race. I was once again seeded as one of the final starters due to my lack of road racing experience. 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.
I was well pleased - having aimed to qualify at this year's event now I was finishing in the top half of the field. I'd also earned myself a bronze replica - awarded to riders finishing within 110% of the winner's total time; silver replicas go to riders within 105%.
The Supersport race was on Wednesday, the third day in a row on a bike. I'd never even ridden a road bike further than 170 miles in one day and now I was doing big distances every day at top speed.
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 113.06mph and a race average of 111.03mph. A great result.
Finally a day off on Thursday but more preparation on the 1000 ready for the Senior race on Friday.
I had initially had my entrance to the Senior rejected but results during the week had qualified me. Start number 60 was a great improvement on my 80-plus starts in every other event.
Lap one and I had already passed three riders. To lap around the 120mph mark is something not many newcomers manage.
I remained in 27th place and got another 119mph lap in too - another bronze replica and third best newcomer.
The TT is now firmly marked on my calendar.
Realistically 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, which goes towards some of the costs, and have the time of my life.