Isle of Man TT organiser ACU Events has announced details of a new initiative for improved competitor medical standards to be rolled out from 2025.
The new initiative has been crafted in collaboration with the Manx Roadracing Medical Services, who provides medical support – headed by chief medical officer Dr Gareth Davies - for the TT.
The aim of this is to bring up the physical and mental health of riders taking part in the TT and is the latest step in improving the overall safety of the event.
It’s no secret by now that the TT is one of the most dangerous sporting events in the world, with over 260 competitors losing their lives racing on the 37.75-mile Mountain Course.
While the TT has not been a grand prix event since the mid-1970s and has therefore purely been the pursuit of those who want to race it, it continues to come under immense scrutiny every year.
Road racing, especially in Ireland, has been impacted hard in recent years by rising insurance costs. But the biggest threat to the TT, according to a spokesperson for the event, is public opinion.
Ultimately, the more the TT comes into the spotlight when an accident happens, the more it is picked up by mainstream media outlets and the voice of its detractors comes forth loudly.
As the TT looks to grow its fanbase, it has recognised that negative publicity from sources out with the event will only harm this – which will also eventually have a knock-on effect sponsorship.
Despite the dangers of the TT, the ACU hasn’t sat on its hands in trying to ensure that every reasonable safety measure that can be taken has been in order to make the event as risk-free as possible.
This has included ending wet riding, scrapping the morning practice sessions, putting a massive amount of time into newcomer training, GPS rider tracking, digital marshal boards and improved standards on rider equipment, among many other things.
The new medical standards being brought forward are the latest in this quest. Currently, all competitors must file a medical report obtained from their doctor to the ACU as part of the application process to obtain a licence to race at the TT.
From 2025, the TT plans to put every competitor through an on-event medical assessment by the event’s medical officer ahead of practice week while the MRMS will give pre-event guidance on boosting rider physical and mental preparations.
A pilot of this scheme will start this year with a handful of volunteer riders to undergo a range of medical tests.
According to a press release from the TT, “data will be monitored for a range of factors such as lactate levels, blood glucose, heart rate and grip strength, with assessments taking place before and after qualifying and races sessions”.
The idea behind this is to accurately monitor a rider’s physical and mental health as they are continually subjected to the rigours of riding around the TT course to better inform medical standards going forward.
The ultimate aim behind this is to “provide clarity on the TT’s inherent risks and unnecessary risks, removing the latter so that the event operates as safely as possible without impacting the spectacle of the DNA of the Isle of Man TT races”.
That last line offers something of a glimpse into view of the TT some of the event’s fans hold, and for a long time acted as one of the unique selling points of road racing.
Because the TT falls outside of any world or national championship organisation, it attracts all sorts – from some of the world’s best bike racing athletes, to plucky privateers scraping together every penny they can and operating out of the back of a van with a couple of mates.
Go back further, and some of the TT’s icons weren’t exactly pictures of pique physical athleticism, enjoying a cigarette or two before heading out onto the course.
All of this has created an idealised view of the TT for some. But we now live in an era where 133mph laps are being cranked out for fun and the best of the best are comfortable sitting at 135mph. Last year Peter Hickman obliterated the outright lap record at 136.358mph, doing so on a Superstock version of the BMW M1000RR. With a malfunctioning Superbike, he almost set a new record in the opening Superbike race.
This is the level now: everything is faster and the bikes are more savage. Therefore, it would be folly to not bring rider physical and mental standards up to match this. Whatever your view of the TT is, it’s very much an elite-level sporting event now.
Of the new medical initiative, Dr Davies says: “Sports science is an area of medicine that’s evolved at an incredible rate.
“The level of insight that can be attained is now invaluable for many sports across all ranges, from top-level international athletes to individuals training at the gym.
“But it’s an area where motorcycle racing in general is arguably behind the curve, and the TT is no exception.
“Ultimately this is a project to further the work aimed at removing avoidable risks at the TT.
“In all aspects of health, prevention is far better than cure and it is no different here. We are taking a proactive and systematic approach to the TT’s medical standards.
“The physiological, mechanical and biochemical data we collect this year will help inform our strategy to ensure competitors are physically and mentally fit to take on the TT Course and we reduce avoidable risk wherever possible.”
More investment into on-site medical infrastructure, which will include improved physiotherapy services, to form a new Rider Welfare Centre for this year will also be made.
Gary Thompson, clerk of the course, said: “We’re incredibly fortunate to have MRMS involved at the TT.
“Their expertise in trauma care is truly world-class and the organisation is made up of an incredibly talented group of individuals, so it’s only right to bring our working relationship closer and use their expertise to lead on this exciting and innovative piece of work.
“The work on medical standards and the investment into the facilities at the TT are all being done to look after our competitors and with their best interests at heart.
“There is no escaping the fact that, in this day and age, the speeds competitors are achieving around the TT Course requires tremendous mental and physical strength, and so we want this to be a collaborative process which ultimately helps them become the best racing versions of themselves.”
Like with anything, this push to bring up rider health will likely be derided by some onlookers and lead to a rose-tinted pining ‘for the good old days’.
But the fact the TT recognises it must always move with the times is the reason that, in spite of all of the problems road racing faces right now and its uncertain future, it will have a prosperous future.
To boot, its latest safety push may also position it as an industry leader and act as the catalyst for a similar rollout elsewhere in the domestic bike racing scene.