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Motorcycle racing

The complete beginner’s guide to the 2023 Isle of Man TT

by Simon Patterson
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The 2023 Isle of Man TT kicks off today, with a week of practice starting on Monday before the opening races this weekend in a newly-rearranged schedule for the historic event that culminates in just under a fortnight with the blue-riband Senior TT race.

While the event might be 116 years old, that doesn’t mean that it’s the easiest race in the world to get into for new fans – thanks to its totally unique race format, event schedule and grid structure.

So, with that in mind, we’ve prepared an easy guide to help you understand what remains one of motorcycle racing’s premier events and to take the maximum enjoyment from TT 2023.

The history

Joey Dunlop Isle of Man TT

These days, the TT counts as just about the oldest motorcycle race in the world that’s still running every year. Predating the launch of the Grand Prix world championship by four decades and the first-ever event in that particular championship, the TT has a long and storied history over the course of more than a century.

Losing its Grand Prix status in 1977 as calls from riders for increased safety meant the British round moved to Silverstone, the TT then became a round of the TT World Championship, the predecessor to World Superbikes.

Over the years, many names have established themselves as TT greats, but one family stands out above all others: the Dunlops. Joey is still the unquestionable King of the Mountain with 26 victories, the last only months before his death in 2000. Since then, John McGuinness has closed down on Dunlop’s record with 23 of his own – but there’s an opportunity this year for Joey’s nephew Michael to overhaul both of them.

The course

John McGuinness Isle of Man TT 2022

Without a doubt the most unique part of the TT is the course: all 37 and three-quarter miles of it.

Starting out in the Isle of Man’s capital city of Douglas before hugging the coast through small villages and farmland, it then climbs out of the town of Ramsey and onto the Snaefell Mountain Road – the only section of road in the British Isles with no speed limit.

With over 260 corners and everything from first-gear hairpins to flat-out tabletop jumps more suited to motocross than superbike racing, the act of learning the track enough to win there is something that takes years – but the fastest guys impressively know every single bend, camber and manhole cover on the whole track.

The race format

Isle of Man TT 2022


Another unique factor of the TT and perhaps the one most unfamiliar to fans of other motorcycle races is the TT’s race format, with competitors not going off from a race grid or even a Le Mans-style running start but rather at 10-second intervals.

From the minute you get the famous tap on the shoulder at the iconic starting arch on Glencrutchery Road, it becomes a race against the clock rather than a battle against your rivals, with races sometimes being settled by only tenths of a second after more than two hours of riding – and with the contestants never actually seeing each other on the course.

Of course, with six-lap races of the nearly 40-mile-long course the norm, it also means an added element that doesn’t happen elsewhere: pitstops. Bikes will normally manage two laps before needing to stop for fuel and fresh tyres, something done with old-school filler tanks to ensure riders get a breather of 30 seconds or so.

The schedule

Isle of Man TT 2022

Part of the problem that comes from having a 40-mile course that shuts down the whole island is that you have to manage multiple factors, and that’s reflected in the TT’s two-week schedule.

Week one is all practice, with riders needing as much time as possible to learn the course but also only able to do so in the evenings – once the people of the Isle of Man have made it home from work! That means that it stretches out for almost a week, kicking off on Monday 29th May and running until Friday 2nd June.

Then it’s time to go racing, with 2023’s newly-shaken-up order trying to compress as much racing as possible into two weekends. Two races per day in three blocks of two means that the real action runs from Saturday June 3 until Saturday June 10.

The classes

Ben Birchall Tom Birchall Isle of Man TT 2022


One thing about TT that’s familiar is that the premier event is run on 1000cc superbikes that are close in spec to World Superbikes, and their two races top and tail the week’s action.

The Superbike TT kicks things off on June 3, and the Senior TT (the one that everyone wants to win and historically the race that counted for GP points when it was the 500cc class) closes the action on June 10.

There are also two Supersport races, mainly running 600cc inline-four bikes, two Superstock races using largely stock 1000cc machines, and two Supertwin races, for the lightweight 650cc twin-cylinder class that acts as a low-cost and low-power entry point for many.

But this is the TT, and not everything could be completely normal – hence the addition of sidecar racing! These 600cc-powered custom-built three wheeled machines that take two people to negotiate the TT are unique both mechanically and visually.

The competitors

Isle of Man TT 2022

The new king of the TT in recent years has become British Superbike championship regular Peter Hickman, who, since first winning in 2018, has now racked up nine wins in seven visits to the island, including four races last time out in 2022.

There’s a whole host of guys looking to stop him, including Michael Dunlop (now a 21-time race winner himself) and Dean Harrison, the man who has established himself as Hickman’s main nemesis in the bigger classes.

McGuinness, now 51 year old, is something of a dark horse in 2023 but could still deliver a surprise, while former fastest-ever newcomer and current British Superbike championship contender Josh Brookes could be another surprise performer as he returns to the TT for the first time since 2014.

In the sidecar class, there’s only one name that everyone is expecting to be at the front: brothers Tom and Ben Birchall. Eleven-time winners and the victors in the past seven sidecar TT races, it’s hard to see anyone challenging them if they see the chequered flag in both races.

The danger

Peter Hickman Isle of Man TT 2022

There’s no escaping the fact that the TT is also one of the most dangerous motorcycle racing events there is, with fatal accidents a tragically regular occurrence.

Last year’s race, the first after a two-year break due to COVID, was particularly devastating with six riders losing their lives.

And while there’s no downplaying the danger, it’s also something that’s accepted by all the competitors – they wouldn’t be there if they weren’t aware of it.

Why do they still do it? Well, ask them and they’ll tell you that they race the TT for the same reason that people take the risk climbing Mount Everest: because it’s there to be taken on.

It’s easy to see it as antiquated in the modern age of safer and safer motorcycle racing, but it’s a tradition they want to still be a part of even given the risk.

How to follow it

Glenn Irwin Isle of Man TT 2022

There was a huge revolution in how to watch the TT in 2022 with the event being live streamed for the first time on its own dedicated streaming platform, TT Plus.

Priced at only £15 for the two weeks of action, it’s the ideal way to follow along – but if you prefer just dipping your toe in, there’s always the nightly highlights that air free on ITV4 in the UK.

The schedule

Monday May 29

10:40: Newcomers’ Speed Control lap
10:55: Supersport & Supertwin practice
11:35: Superbike & Superstock practice
12:20: Sidecars practice
13:20: Supersport & Supertwin qualifying 1
14:00: Superbike & Superstock qualifying 1
14:45: Sidecar qualifying 1

Tuesday May 30

18:30: Superbike & Superstock qualifying 2
19:20: Supersport & Supertwin qualifying 2
20:10: Sidecar qualifying 2

Wednesday May 31

18:30: Superbike, Superstock & Supersport qualifying 3
20:10: Sidecar qualifying 3

Thursday June 1

18:30: Superbike & Superstock qualifying 4
19:20: Supersport & Supertwin qualifying 4
20:10: Sidecar qualifying 4

Friday June 2

13:00: Sidecars qualifying 5
13:45: Supersport & Supertwin qualifying 5
14:45: Superbike & Superstock qualifying 5

Saturday June 3

10:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
11:45: Supersport TT Race 1 (4 laps)
14:15: Sidecar TT Race 1 (3 laps)

Sun June 4

13:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
14:40: Superbike Race (6 laps)

Monday June 5

No track action

Tuesday June 6

10:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
10:50: Sidecar Shakedown (1 lap)
11:45: Superstock TT Race 1 (3 laps)
14:00: Supertwin TT Race 1 (3 laps)

Wednesday June 7

10:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
11:45: Supersport TT Race 2 (4 laps)
14:15: Sidecar TT Race 2 (3 laps)

Thursday June 8

No track action

Friday June 9

10:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
11:45: Superstock TT Race 2 (3 laps)
14:00: Supertwin TT Race 2 (3 laps)

Saturday June 10

10:30: Solo Warm-Up (1 lap)
11:20: Celebrating 100 Years of Sidecars at the TT
12:15: Senior TT (6 laps)

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