Despite being surrounded by a packed grandstand, and knowing that millions of people are watching live around the world, the start line at the Isle of Man TT is a lonely place. With seconds to go, you say a few private words to the man upstairs and take a deep breath.
Every fibre in your body tells you not to do it, to turn around and walk away. The TT has claimed the lives of 239 racers over its 106 year history and is one of the scariest races in the world. Then the flag drops, you dump the clutch and you're away, flat out down Bray Hill, which was a normal high street with regular traffic just a few hours ago. For the next 37 ¾ miles you're going to feel emotions that you've never felt before, and get so bashed and battered over the bumps that you feel physically sick.
And 37 ¾ miles is just one lap. The top racers in the Superbike class will cover six laps, averaging close to 130mph. That equates to racing from London to York down A and B roads, covering 226.5 miles in just over an hour and 45 minutes, only stopping to refuel twice and change wheels.
The top riders are true gladiators of the 21st century, risking their lives for the glory of being the fastest around the TT course. This is a spectacle like no other, and you don't have to be a bike racing fan to appreciate the skill and bravery involved.
The TT (or Tourist Trophy to give it its official name) was started in 1907 and was run on the St John's short course, which was 15 miles long. The Snaefell Mountain course as we know it today was added in 1911. The first full mountain course race was won by Oliver Godfrey, with an average speed of 47.63mph. The Isle of Man TT race was part of the FIM Motor Cycle Grand Prix between 1949 and 1976, however the FIM stripped the TT of its official status shortly after the 1976 event.
The TT is unique because it's a time trial event on public roads. Riders set off individually in ten-second intervals, which means they are racing against the clock and not necessarily the rider in front.
There are five major classes: Superbike, Senior, Superstock, Supersport and Lightweight. There is also the TTXGP, which was introduced in 2009 for electric prototype machines. This year the Isle of Man festival takes place from Saturday, May 25 to Friday, June 7: week one is practice week, week two is race week.
Who to watch out for
John McGuinness is the unmistakable king of the mountain, has 19 TT wins to his credit and is second only to the late, great Joey Dunlop, who has 26 TT victories. McGuinness is the outright lap record holder with an average speed of 131.578mph, and is once again back on the Honda Legends team. If this was horse racing, he would be the bookies' favourite.
The fast-charging Michael Dunlop has joined the Honda Legends team this year and is team-mate to McGuinness on identical machinery. Michael's father, Robert, was a multiple TT race winner and his uncle was the famous Joey Dunlop: road racing runs through his veins. He's as determined as ever and has no excuses in terms of machinery.
Isle of Man local Connor Cummings is back to full fitness and has joined the Milwaukee Yamaha squad. Connor had a life-threatening crash at the 2010 TT and was injured last year, which means he's never really had the opportunity to attack the TT since his famous accident. The big man is with a quality team, holds the lap record from a standing start and should be back to podium pace, if not better.
Guy Martin is arguably the most famous of all TT riders thanks to his BBC TV series The Boat that Guy Built, Channel 4's How Britain Worked, and his film debut in 'Closer to the Edge'. Despite his TV fame and Fred Dibnah similarities he shouldn't be underestimated. Guy is dedicated, desperate to win, with one of the best teams - TAS Suzuki - and is one of the fittest sports men around.
New Zealander Bruce Anstey shouldn't be overlooked; he has nine TT wins to his credit, is one of only six riders to have ever lapped the TT course averaging more than 130mph and was last years' Supersport winner. Bruce has once again teamed up with the incredibly experienced Padgetts team, who took all five victories in 2011. Bruce is a safe each-way bet - he's likely to be on the podium at some stage and is keen to take his tally of race wins to 10.
The likeable Aussie Cameron Donald has shown brilliance at times, and his unofficial 131.457mph practice lap in 2009 was outstanding. Cam is back again with the Wilson Craig Honda team and came away from last year's TT with three second places. Cam should be another safe bet for a podium position, if not a race win, but he is lacking race experience, and the TT will be his first road race of the season for him.
Where to watch
The 37¾ mile track is littered with famous vantage points; you're really spoilt for choice. Some fans choose locations where there's a pub, good food, great atmosphere and easy access. Others prefer solitude, finding a unique spot which is a closely guarded secret. If in doubt ask and take note of prohibited or restricted areas.
One of the most spectacular and famous places to watch as the superbikes approach the huge dip at almost 190mph. The bikes bottom out, scraping their bodywork at the bottom of Bray Hill at 180mph. If you're in the right spot you'll get an excellent view of the riders as they wheelie off Ago's leap after the dip. There is a small catering facility which serves light snacks, hot drinks and there are port-a-loos nearby.
Creg Ny Baa
The famous Creg Ny Baa pub is one of the most famous spectator vantage points and well worth a visit. Bikes approach the right hand bend flat out; you can hear them wailing on the approach. There's a small grandstand at either side of the corner for excellent viewing. There's ample parking for a small sum and the pub serves food all day. The inside of the famous pub is full of TT memorabilia and worth a visit even when the racing isn't on.
The main grandstand on the start / finish, above the pits, holds approximately 700 seats and it's the perfect place to keep up to date with riders' times because it is situated opposite the score boards. Before the race you'll be able to soak up the atmosphere as riders prepare for their race.
The advantage of the Grandstand is that you'll witness live pit stops as the professional crews change the back wheel and re-fuel the bikes in under 40 seconds. There is ample parking in the Nobles Park, a wide choice of food, stalls to grab your TT memorabilia, and after the racing you are free to wander around the paddock autograph hunting.
Ballaugh Bridge is a relatively slow section of the TT course but it is very dramatic because the bikes get airborne over the famous bridge at around 60mph before accelerating hard thorough the village. To keep spectators safe, viewing is permitted from either side of the junction behind barriers.
On the outside of the bridge the One Stop shop sells coffee and tea; the Raven Pub on the inside serves food and quality beers all day long.
A very popular location as you witness the riders start the dramatic climb up the mountain from Ramsey on the approach to the second-gear Gooseneck right-hander. If you're feeling fit you can walk up to the Guthrie's memorial, a dramatic, picturesque "S" bend. A catering van provides hot snacks and drinks, but there's no pub.
More information at www.iomtt.com.
Full article can be found on the Daily Telegraph website.