Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 21 Jan 2015
The first rounds of an Isle of Man TT World Series could take place as early as 2017 with stars such as Guy Martin, Michael Dunlop and John McGuinness going head to head in TT-style races across the globe.
Those involved in the launch of the series expect the first ‘test’ events to take place in the Winter of 2016/17 ahead of the first full-running of the championship 12 months later.
“We’re looking to create a series that sits in the European off-season, running from around November to the start or middle of April - we’re very conscious not to run over any of the existing road race properties,” explained Matt Wilson, Director of Consulting at ‘The Sports Consultancy’, who are managing the process on behalf of the Isle of Man Government.
“It would be made up of three, four or five flyway events. By virtue of the fact that it’s November to April, this lends itself to events in equatorial, southern hemisphere-kind of territories but there could well be a southern European event on the way back to the TT.”
In 2012 the IOM Government commissioned a feasibility study into the prospect of holding TT-style events across the globe. With all boxes ticked, the search is now on to find a body to lead the overall promotion and running of the series with a view of the first test events taking place late next year or early 2017.
“The World Series concept came about as an opportunity to take the Isle of Man’s biggest brand and to use it much more globally,” Wilson continued. “We’re looking to take the TT and use it to showcase the Isle of Man in terms of the banking industry, the gaming capability, the film capability and all of the other things the island has to offer.
“The series itself will encompass the Isle of Man TT. The World Series champion would be crowned at the TT; all of the series’ events would be points-generating with the final points being awarded at the TT. We’re quite conscious that the TT remains the pinnacle and the focus and so the champion can only be crowned if they participate at the Isle of Man; you’re not going to get an F1 situation where you can win it with three rounds to go.”
The Isle of Man TT is a niche and unique festival of motorcycling held over a 2-week period on 37.75 miles of public roads. Surely it’s not feasible to do this five or six times a year?
“We fully recognise that we’re not going to find another 37.75 mile track and we’re not going to go racing for two weeks every time,” Wilson continued. “The series format will probably be over four days including a weekend, two days of qualifying and two days racing and will be focused on three, maybe four classes.
“The core three classes will be Superbike, Supersport and Superstock and we’re leaving in the option for the promoter to add in an undercard. So if there was a particular class that was interest in Asian territories, South America or the Middle East, there is the possibility for it to be added in.”
The series will aim to attract big-named road racing heroes to fight it out to be the Isle of Man TT World Series Champion. We’ve already seen Guy Martin take on a number of different road races around the World and now he could be joined by rivals such as John McGuinness, Michael Dunlop and Bruce Anstey.
“In terms of competitor field, it would be a core of 20-25 riders who are committed to the whole series, you can imagine the usual suspects and we’ve been working with those riders over the last six months to really understand their motivations and needs. That core could be supplemented by another ten or fifteen local wildcards so long as they meet the agreed minimum standard.”
There are currently no plans in place to state where the series might go. Southern Asia, South America and the Middle East were all mentioned in our chat with Wilson but he was keen to emphasise that the final decision will lie with the chosen promoter.
“In terms of where the series goes, the most important thing to understand is that it’s entirely up to the promoter to identify this,” he said. “We’ve been working closely with the Isle of Man Government and they recognise that they need to have a certain amount of control over this, there is an inextricable link between what happens in the World Series and the reputation of the Isle of Man, but we also need to make sure that the promoter has the independence to take the race to where it makes sense to take it to and to partner with who it makes sense to partner with. We’ve put a lot of effort into creating a sensible control structure that gives the Isle of Man Government the confidence and control they need whilst also ensuring the promoter remains entirely independent.
“We don’t know where it will go and it’s up to the promoter to decide that but we have had a lot of interest from a number of southern hemisphere territories as part of the feasibility study, it’s up to the promoter to take those conversations further.”
The TT presents riders with a grueling rural roads course around the picturesque Isle of Man. The World Series however, could take place at entirely different venues providing key aspects of the TT-theme, such as length of the circuit and use of public roads, are maintained.
“We’ve been working with people like Paul Phillips who have been at pains to ensure that the model the promoter puts in place retains an element of the core look and feel of the Isle of Man TT.
“It needs to be longer than a standard circuit based race, it needs to be predominantly on public roads, it should incorporate a fuel stop, an open paddock and all those sorts of things that represent unique elements of the TT.
“We envisage as part of the model that a lot of host cities will want to use some existing infrastructure, so you could see a situation where a host city identifies an existing paddock facility, grandstand facility, media centre, medical centre of an existing motorsport track and they’d use the start/finish straight and maybe the first couple of corners before going off for the majority onto closed public roads. Again, similarly if a host city comes along and says ‘we have no infrastructure but we’re happy to build it’ then that equally fits the model.
“In reality what we will see when looking at the calendar is that there will be some really established biking nations and then some other destinations using the series for completely different motivations, such as destination marketing reasons, changing their global position etc. so I think we’ll see quite a broad range of destinations.”
It sounds great doesn’t it? But what about the logistics of taking a racing paddock to the far corners of the globe? Race teams are often strapped for cash as it is, the chances of them being able to afford to ship all of their freight to four or five flyaway events are slim.
“We’ve spoken to the teams three or four times between the feasibility study and now and the feedback we got from them has overall been supportive,” Wilson says. “They see this as an opportunity to develop a more established relationship with their sponsors. Rather than getting sponsors on board for just the TT, they can now get sponsors on board and say that this thing is a four or five month championship, visiting a range of territories and different markets. The format we’ve described, six or seven mile circuits and three classes lends itself really well to live TV, so all of a sudden the global TV presence rises.
“The one thing they have said is that they need support in getting there. We’ve been very conscious that in promoter agreements and in the expectations of a host city that there are significant contributions to the logistics, accommodation, transport of the riders and teams. You can imagine how a promoter would choose to do this, through partnerships with airlines or shipping companies or something like that. The teams are overwhelmingly supportive so long as they are supported in getting to the four corners of the earth.
“It will be interesting to see how the calendar pans out with the promoter working with the teams and the host cities. Whether or not it will be quite a condensed series going from race to race to race quite quickly or if it will be more spread out.”
So where are we at, what does this mean? As mentioned, the consultancy firm is now looking for a series promoter to operate the event on behalf of the Isle of Man Government; this includes the Isle of Man TT. The aim is to have the promoter in place by the end of 2015, leaving them to find their feet during the 2016 TT before running a test event in the winter of 2016/17.
“We are currently launching a market advert that will be asking for expressions of interest from promoters. We’ll cast the net relatively wide, we will obviously be focusing in on those promoters from a natural motorsport background but we’ve also had unsolicited interest from promoters with a non-motorsport background as well, who have had experience in taking niche properties and commercializing them. We’ll keep those lines of communication open until April this year and at that point we will have a long list of people who are interested.
“We will then whittle that down to a shortlist of people we think have the capability, track record and share our vision. From April to September of next year they will go into a detailed public sector procurement process, what that means is that by September/October of next year we will be in a position to appoint a promoter.
“Realistically speaking that will be into the last quarter of 2015, so will that promoter have a great deal of time to have a meaningful impact on the 2016 TT? Probably not. We envisage the 2015 and 2016 TTs to be delivered pretty much as is, by the partners who deliver them now.
“By the end of 2016 we would hope that the promoter has sufficient resource on the ground to run a couple of test events. In late 2016, early 2017 we are expecting the promoter to put on one, maybe two, test events at a flyaway location. That would then nicely roll into the 2017 event, which will be the first promoter, owned, promoter managed and promoter led TT. We expect the first fully-loaded World Series to take place in the last quarter of 2017 and first quarter of 2018, culminating at the TT in 2018.”