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James Whitham on why sun-kissed 2023 TT was a record-breaker that won't be forgotten

Tim Keeton/Impact Images
Michael Dunlop, Hawk Racing, Honda CBR1000RR-R, 2023 TT, Isle of Man TT, action, jump [credit - Tim Keeton/Impact Images]

The 2023 Isle of Man TT is destined to go down in history as one we will remember in future... and not just because it saw Peter Hickman clock an immense 136.358mph lap record under glorious sunshine.

Rarely, if ever, has there been such an extended period of sunshine which helped the new programme of 10 races or the marketing effort which promoted both the event and the Island itself via TV, online and media to a bigger global audience than ever. 

But James Whitham, who has ridden or worked on the island since 1978 explains why he isn't content with simply watching it from the comfort of his sofa...


”There are three things which count for a lot. It is one of the biggest motorcycling spectacle in the world. There is nothing like it except for a couple of races in Ireland and even they are not quite the same. I take a motorbike or I fly over and get someone to take it for me.

"But I’m able to chat with  motorbiking people and you get the feeling that you’re in the same boat as they are which is good. It’s a nice community feeling.

"The other thing is that I get the chance to meet friends I have not seen for a while including ex-TT winners like Brian Morrison, Ian Simpson and a couple of people like that.

"And the final thing is that I love my flying and can fly myself in. In fact I’m doing a charter tomorrow, going to pick up Mat Roberts...”

BSN: What do you think of the future of the TT and the relaunch. And do you think the problems that Ireland are having with no races in the south this year is going to affect the TT in future years. 

James Whitham: ”The TT is in with a better shout. They have their own government which to some degree can do its own thing and when you consider that forty or fifty thousand people go there every year and if you add up the boat, the hotels, the camping, the beer, the food and whatever it probably adds up to £1000 apiece. And with a lot of that going into the treasury then there is a real incentive on that side.

"If it does go wrong in the future insurance, like Ireland, be probably the issue. We’re living in a time now when you’re not allowed to walk up stairs without a sign that you might trip up and die. You’ve got to wonder when the health and safety people might get involved but if you’re careful and with a bit of luck maybe not. 

"But I do believe that if you’re the only person taking the risk who’s to stop you because that’s the thin end of a long, long wedge which could stop everything  because everything has some element of risk. For me long may it continue. Everyone is a volunteer who goes over there and having done it myself I take my hat off to them.”

Peter Hickman, Monster Energy FHO Racing, BMW M 1000 RR, 2023 TT, Superbike TT, Isle of Man TT, action [credit/ Tim Keeton/Impact Images]

BSN: What do your think of the relaunch of the TT? My view of the marketing of motorcycle racing is, with one or two exceptions, pretty crap when you compare it to what some other sports have done. But I do take my hat off to what the IoM have done 
because they have put a lot of effort and probably a lot of money into it and it seems to be working.


JW: ”Yes, I think it has worked. The live tv gets good reaction and goes to parts a of the world which wouldn’t have seen it. All the Englishspeaking world get it now and other places. I’m not sure about having more races, warm up laps etc and I question whether the latter is going to help. It is OK if you have something to try but It has received mixed reaction from riders. For the punters maybe a good thing but for the riders it is  difficult week physically. This year it has been a really good time not one single session spoiled by the weather.  But I think you will get years, at least half the time and I’ve seen them since when I first went in 1978, when you get shit weather and there may be one year when they don’t get racing at all because they will have less wiggle room with days off between race days. 

“But one thing the Isle of Man has got and the reason why it survives is tradition and it’s deep. You try to do something like the TT now and it just won’t happen. Look at the Isle of Wight. So they’ve got to be careful they don’t go too far away from the tradition of the thing. They can’t make it into BSB or MotoGP. It’s a stand alone thing. They know that but they’ve got to be careful that the tradition is some how held within the changes.”

BSN: But tradition might be fine for older people but surely younger people whose attention span might be quite short need to see change, excitement, stars etc. don’t they?”

JW: ”Well, they’ve got the stars, the TT stars anyway. People like Hicky, Dean, Michael, McGuiness, and others. They are the stars and the coming stars are Davey Todd, Jamie Coward and others in that category. As for the excitement you take anybody who may have seen a lot of BSB, MotoGP etc, done track days, sit them in a hedge row where the bike is coming past a few feet away at 190mph and they’ll get all the excitement they need!


BSN: Yes, and I’ve stood at the bottom of Bray Hill many times and am still inclined to jump back. I once saw three Honda representatives who’d never seen anything like it in their lives doing just that and muttering ‘Unbeliebable!’ What the Isle of Man has done over the last two years, and we’re talking about marketing here, is push what the TT represents to a much wider public than the north of England. And I think they have had some success by having their own media,which you can log into,and the tv stuff as well promoting the island  as well as the TT.

JW: ”I agree with all of that but I do believe they should keep in mind that it’s a very traditional thing which doesn’t mean they’ve got to attract only  the people with every badge since 1956 on their coat! What they’ve done has been a great job.

BSN: Just on the question of the number of races does this bring the point you have been making into the necessity of having Superbikes and Superstock. Peter Hickman did his record lap of 136mph plus on a Superstock l Do we need both?

JW: ”I don’t think we do. Even at national racing level we could do with more basic rules I think.We’ve got to be careful at BSB in not favouring one breed, for example this year Honda have clearly the best Superstock bike. And if you can’t alter it  from standard the best has an advantage. In Superbike racing the rules allow people to have parity But simply being able to go out and buy the latest and best wouldn’t be good for everybody and certainly not the manufacturers. When, if  in the Isle of Man you can go that speed on a Stocker you probably don’t need  a Superbike. For the last 10 years there have probably been only three or four riders per year that can get the best out of a Superbike with extra grip, chassis and suspension. And most riders in that period would have been better on a Stocker because it will keep working, keep going and you won’t have as many setup issues.  Perhaps it would be better simply with Superstock, it would certainly be cheaper, although I think if Peter Hickman had got his Superbike set up properly, or Michael Dunlop or a couple of the others, then they probably could have gone quicker. But the fact  is that Peter had lot of issues with his Superbike. 

BSN: But of course you could still retain the title ‘Superbike’ but reduce it to Superstock formula because as you have said before the people on the edge of circuits or behind hedges can’t tell the difference can they?

JW: ”When it’s is going exactly the same speed  and a bit quicker times for the lap 
they will not tell the difference. Maybe there is something.If you are doing it to reduce costs, yes there is probably an argument in it.”

BSN: Let’s now talk about the riders and Hickman must be first on the list.He has always been thought of as the best all rounder we have got and last week made it pretty clear that he is. He was terrific wasn’t he?

JW: ”Hicky surprised me in how steady off the blocks he was. He didn’t seem to get going that early in a race compared to Michael or Dean and it took him a couple of days or a couple of races to get going unlike him. There might be a million reasons for this, I know how good he is and how hard he works. But he had a good week, in fact the whole thing was a good week. A reasonably safe TT, brilliant weather, Hicky was spectacular when he got going - hundred and thirty six and a half on a Superstock bike was unreal, ridiculous really. So yes very impressed with him.”

BSN: The other thing I quite liked about him is how relaxed he is with people, something which does not come easily to many riders. And he displayed that at a Sunday evening dinner put on by Peter Duke at the Palace Hotel. Apart from being the son of an all-time TT great, he has a strong video and online business specialising in motorcycle and motor sport plus a travel business and a large accommodation site with 180 rooms called the TT Village.

Peter Hickman was there to give a talk to more than 100 of the clients and associates of the Duke  and although just recovering from one of his worst race days when nothing seemed to work properly  he was on his feet for  something like three quarters of an hour talking about his life, his family especially his father a TT rider himself and his love for the TT. Afterwards, accompanied by commentator  and author David Moore, he  went round each of the 20 or so tables.It was quite remarkable.

JW: ”Peter is very good at this sort of thing , very good at explaining things and he enjoys it. He probably gets a bob  or two but it all helps. He has time for people and in a fortnight when you’re as nervous  as you can get  it  is why a lot of people don’t  do much at the TT. It doesn’t seem to bother him. But  people are different and for many this is the most important time of the year. It doesn’t just apply to motorcycle  racing. Even people in the public eye are different, some like appearing, some don’t. 

“I tell you what it is about  Michael Dunlop. He goes about his own business, he gets on with it, he works hard at his racing and whether  he’s  got hours and hours to spend chatting with  people he’s never met before is a different thing. He’s impressed me this year, he’s come out of the  blocks and has  obviously  worked hard at his fitness and looks strong as an ox.  He’s surprised me with his speed and the way he went  about it. I’m very impressed. We were out on the track watching at a lot of places fast and slow and he looked aggresssive but bang on line.

BSN: He’s one TT win short of his Uncle Joey and although winning races didn’t quite get there. Do you think he will?

JW: ”I think he will, there is no better person.It’s a family thing. We all remember fondly Joey.  And what a different character he was. I’ve raced with him.He wasn’t a natural speaker and sometimes decided not to wear his team shirt. But that’s why we love him and Michael’s got to make his own way.  

"The other person who has impressed me this week is Dean Harrison. He’s gone about his business and is just a good, natural flipping bloke. When he doesn’t win he doesn’t complain, he just gets on with it. He’s had a really, really good week and gone quicker than ever before. And while not making excuses when you’re bike’s a  bit slower on long straights you are at a bit of disadvantage."

BSN: Three riders have dominated this year. Do you think this is going to continue. Who else is going to challenge?

JW: ”I think Davey Todd will be there. He has had an unlucky year with lots of problems including a viral infection which didn’t  help in the Senior.  And I think Jamie Callan is a  slow burn getting steadily quicker. But I do think that long term the Isle of Man is going to be short of younger riders  coming the through and they’re going to need to look at the next generation. It is a problem they’re going to have to address but they will obviously have a plan.

BSN: Everybody is having to address it including BSB where we were delighted to see 
Kyle Ryde win couple of races at Donington.  But the leading riders are all well over 30.

JW: ”In short circuit racing there are younger ones coming through from a raft of feeder classes, Junior  Supersport or Superstock. But it is a case of  ebb and flow. The Isle of Man is different. Something like 95 per cent of the current crop of BSB  riders, even Irish ones, would not look at doing the roads - for whatever reason and I am not commenting on it. It is a very particular rider that chooses to make his career out of being  a fast roads man. I think they do have to address it and I am sure they are. They’re not nuggets so they will know what they have to do.

BSN: One further question about riders, how do you see Josh Brookes and his return to the TT? It surely wasn’t necessary for him to go to the Isle of Man  but there is a certain fixation  for the TT?

JW: ”I don’t think it was about money. Josh is  rider who loves racing  his motorbikes d he has done all sorts of odd stuff. Long distance enduros where he has done rather well; Moto cross to a high degree  and actually lodged with  top five man Gordon Crockard; and he actually did one of the toughest one day trials, the Scot in North Yorkshire.
He’s very fit and likes a challenge which draws him to the TT.

BSN: Finally, we If there is any  one thing which you think might improve the TT what is it? 

JW: ”Make it cheaper for people to get there . Yes, I know it is all about making money  but the problem the Isle of Man faces is that it only has two weeks as they’re  in the entertainment and hospitality business.I do get it but the ferries are ridiculously expensive and I don’t think the government has any sway over that. And accommodation is a big problem  in that most boarding houses have been turned into flats.

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