One of the many unique factors that Isle of Man TT riders are forced to deal with is the ever-present danger of encountering wildlife on the track – something that Welsh privateer Paul ‘Potchy’ Williams discovered on the opening day of the 2023 event on Monday when he crashed at Laurel Bank after hitting a pheasant.
Williams’ crash, unfortunately a feature of racing on the 37.73-mile course that stretches through the Manx countryside and across the relatively uninhabited moorland expanse of the Snaefell Mountain section of the course, occurred when he encountered the large pheasant on the road 11 miles into his second lap of the 2023 event.
“I was having a good lap, if I’m honest,” the supersport rider told The Race afterwards. “We went out on the first lap and the bike felt mint. I came in after the first lap, chucked in a bit of fuel and went out again to get a flying lap, two laps in a row. Off I went down Bray Hill, flying into Laurel Bank feeling good, and as I tipped in I could just see it in the middle of the road.
“It was walking, and if it had kept going it would have been OK – but as soon as it heard the noise of the bike it stopped, turned around and looked at me! The next thing I know the front was going into a bush and the bike went straight into the wall.
“Fair play to the marshals, because they really looked after me. I was OK, but they gave me drinks and that. If I’m honest, I’m gutted – but I’m also not gutted because I’m alive. I was pulling the bike out of the van after it came back, and someone said to me, ‘Oh, I hope the rider is OK.’ I said, ‘I am the rider!’ It could have been a lot worse.”
And, while the crash might have left his own, self-run Triumph 675 destroyed – the frame broke as it hit the wall on the outside of the corner – the spirit of the privateer TT paddock means that Williams is hoping to return to action in the supersport class on Wednesday night thanks to the generosity of one of his sponsors.
“A sponsor of mine runs a team in Ireland,” Williams explained, “and they phoned me right away to see if I was OK and if I needed a bike. He’s shipping the bike over and I’ll have it in the morning. OK, I’ve missed two days of practice, but there’s still plenty of time to get it going.
“I’ve done circuit racing back in the UK, endurance racing, and they’re all cliquey. But here: someone’s just came looking for a part, and I’ve given it to him. I’ll probably never have it back off him, but that’s TT. If I can help someone I will, and hopefully they’ll do the same for me.
“You’ve just got to take the highs with the lows, pop it on the head what happened, because if you sit here thinking about what happened, it’s pointless going out. People have told me to take my time, but you can’t. You cannot take your time around here. I might as well not go out. I’ll forget all about it as soon as I go!”
Williams wasn’t the only rider to encounter birds during his first day on the circuit, with a number of other racers also complaining about close calls or even contact with the island’s wildlife – something that traditionally is more common early on in practice week.
Chief among those were TT winners James Hillier and Dean Harrison, with Hillier taking an impact to his hand while Harrison – whose encounter with a bird in last year’s Senior TT featured heavily in the new documentary series No Room For Error – found one in the airbox of his DAO Kawasaki after the superbike practice session.
“I hit a small one,” Hillier told The Race. “I couldn’t tell you the breed, but it hit me on the knuckles of my left hand and exploded over me. It’s James one, birds zero right now, but I’m sure it won’t be the last one this week – I actually need to go and clean off my leathers!
“I guess they learn and that the population does go down a little bit as the week goes on. The Manx bug population certainly does, but that’s the biggest problem right now and we’re trying to figure out how to run more tear-offs because the heat brings the bugs out. It’s always been an issue here.”