Saturday, 5 September 2009


The Manx Grand Prix is all over and I've had a relaxing day after a hectic week. Yesterday was the best day. The first race (for 250cc Lightweight machines) produced a very dramatic duel between Dan Sayle and Neil Kent who set off side by side at the front of the grid and after four laps, 150 miles, were less than a second apart when they passed the last transponder point before the finish. That told me, via my computer screen, that they were virtually neck and neck with just over a minute to go before they came into my line of sight. Filling that minute with meaningful words is usually quite tricky, because I can't afford to go off into some rambling descriptive or opinionated spiel. I have to be ready to snap into live description of the bikes as they shoot into view and I have only three or four seconds to tell the listeners what is going on before they cross the line. Anyway, it all worked fine and Dan took the win by two tenths of a second. Close finishes like that are brilliant for the commentator because excitement and interest are maintained to the end. Back in 2006 I was the commentator for the closest finish ever on the Mountain Course when Craig Atkinson beat Derek Brien by one hundredth of a second in the Junior MGP. That was awesome.

The second race was history in the making. Carolynn Sells, who comes from Preston, used to live in Liverpool where she worked on Hollioakes, and now lives on the Isle of Man, became the first woman to win a Manx GP or TT race, the Ultra Lightweight race for 400cc bikes. It happened on the 20th anniversary of the rules being changed to allow women to compete. Carolynn is a skilful, determined rider and a lovely down-to-earth person and to see the joy that her win brought to her family and her team emphasised so much that is uplifting about sport.

Her strategy was based on going the whole four laps without a pit stop to refuel. All the other contenders, as usual, came in for a pit stop after two laps. When Carolynn rocketed straight past the Grandstand I was aghast, thinking she had forgotten to come in! Should have known better, and at least I didn't voice those fears on air. She knew exactly what she was doing and went on to build up a lead of over a minute, suggesting that she would probably have won anyway. It was terrific to be able to describe the moment and join her for the celebrations in the beer tent. It was also great for her team, led by Martin Bullock, who has put a lot of cash and care into supporting many riders at the MGP and TT.

Among the riders she overtook was her own dad, Dave, whose bike obligingly packed up in time for him to watch his daughter write her name into the history books.

The last race, the Senior (600cc and 750cc), was very difficult for the riders as the weather deteriorated and squalls blew in unpredictably. Several pulled in after one lap. It looked like Ryan McCay, from Ireland, had it in the bag but he crashed with less than 10 minutes' racing to go. That opened the door for Michael Russell, from Birmingham, to take the win. Michael is with the RAF. He's already seen service in Basra and he's due to go to Afghanistan later this year. I'm not sure what is more dangerous, taking on the Taliban or riding a motorbike at crazy speeds around the Isle of Man, but clearly he is not a man to settle for an easy life.

So, after some real emotional highs, long hours in the commentary box, the sadness of knowing that one rider, Richard Bartlett, had lost his life after crashing, and the cameraderie that comes from working with a tight-knit group of broadcasters under pressure, it's all a bit of an anti-climax. Not that that will last for long. It's back to Premier League football next week and then the challenge of starting the new academic year at the university.