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Lone Wolf and the most extreme of sports

It is widely acknowledged the TT is an extreme sport. Indeed, that is probably one of the reasons why the new marketeers of the event are so excited by the potential. But it is not that long ago when the organisers, on the back foot as the accident toll rose and national media promoted the 'let's ban it brigade', were using phrases like ‘the throttle works both ways’ and trotting out statistics like accidents per racing mile.

Valid and worthy as the defence was, it didn't cut much ice with those very much in favour of adults being able to say what they liked but not being able to do what they liked. What has changed?

There can be no doubt that people tearing around country roads at high speeds, even though there is nothing coming the other way,  can be termed extreme. And if that tearaway is a 47 year-old man with a beard riding a 220bhp motorbike at 196mph then it could be termed extreme plus.


But no fan of the TT or, indeed, road racing in general, is unaware of the risks these amazing men and women take. And nobody remains unmoved, or unquestioning, when one is killed or badly injured. When two brilliant young men paid the ultimate price at Scarborough and Portstewart last month, and the news was published on BSN, I texted the Editor: "I love road racing but some times I don't. This is one of them."

Deaths at the TT still make the national news - the winners rarely do - but its popularity is on a huge upsurge. The world has become much more risk averse and we're constantly being lectured on the dangers of this and that, even living and breathing. Sport has become much more sanitised, parents are being warned of the dangers of their sons playing rugby. Cyclists who don't wear helmets are seen as rebellious nutters.

And maybe this amazing event in the middle of the Irish Sea, now enjoying worldwide exposure, is reigniting the rebellious nature in us all. So many freedoms have been lost to the do-gooders or politically correct. To hell with the nanny state…


And speaking of the nanny state, what are we to make of World Superbikes? What was once a great series with great characters is now limping along under the shadow of MotoGP like an uncared-for orphan. The crowds, other than in Italy, are poor. Donington was a typical example and those who attend the British Superbike round in September will almost certainly queue longer at the hamburger stalls than on Sunday.

What's up? Fans have only so much money to go round and with the TT, British MotoGP at Silverstone and an exciting BSB series - five different winners in six races - heading for a dramatic showdown there is no shortage of choice. But even where there is less competition WSBK is not cutting it

It is not that series boss Danny Carrera is not aware of the problems, although he would deny it is in crisis, and believes that major change is required but he has difficulty convincing his bosses at Dorna, and the manufacturers, that it should be revolution not evolution. His biggest change has been to split the two legs between Saturday and Sunday in an attempt to attract more weekend visitors and have the Saturday race act as a taster for Sunday to increase the TB audience.

It isn't working. The cost of accommodation makes for an expensive weekend even though the ticket price is attractive; having only one big race per day, each lasting less than three quarters of an hour, is hardly good value; Eurosport, under its new American owners, seem happy to shuffle motorcycle racing off to another channel if something really important like tennis or cycling comes along - and not tell anybody - and, most important of all, it is with the odd exception predictable and dull.

Racing circuits, especially in Europe, are losing enthusiasm when faced with losing money even with cut-price sanction fees. Monza was not prepared to spend money modifying their circuit to meet the FIM’s stringent safety standards. Another circuit could not be found.


Safety is costly. And only two circuits in the UK - Silverstone and Donington - are up to either MotoGP or WSBK standard, although Brands is arguable. The mighty Monza, home of Italian motor sport, isn't, the irony being that safety conscious Formula 1 still runs there. Is World Superbikes, surely no more dangerous than British Superbikes, pricing itself out of the market?

It is not that owners Dorna don't care. They just don't care enough. Perhaps this is understandable because the original value to them, strengthening of their position as the owners of both world series in their constant battle with the Japanese manufacturers, has worked and largely gone away. It's  presence still puts a block on any rival series so the maintenance of the monopoly is important. But in money terms, relative to their other operations, principally MotoGP, it is neither here nor there.

But wouldn't it be great if Dorna were prepared to take the risks which an independently owned championship might. Running the two legs on separate days was worth trying but why not go further maintaining the first race as a sprint event but have a much longer race, say 75 miles, on the Sunday as the main race of the weekend.

Yes, it would require stops for tyre changes and refuelling but isn't that what a production-based series should be about and wouldn't it provide great drama for spectators and, more particularly, television viewers.  It would, almost certainly, make the races less predictable. MotoGP’s best races so far this year have come with stops due to weather.

And as one philosopher sagely put it, ‘Creativity is an absolute necessity but plagiarism is faster’. So why not copy BSB and have a showdown or playoffs of some sort. It works. It may not be fair, but it's fun. Much of the entertainment business, which is what we're in, is about presentation as well as content and that's the job of the promoter. Frankly, compared to many sports from boxing to darts and even to cricket where the "Big Bash" is taking over, our promoters are not very good at it.

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