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Friday, June 2, 2017

A hidden danger of the TT course

My name is Antonio Maeso, I'm a road racer and I'm writing this in my seventh Isle of Man TT race. I do it in the hope this may be of help for my fellow riders both at TT and Manx GP and for those coming to race to the mountain course in the years to come.

It was exactly four years ago, Sunday the second of June of 2013 at the SBK race. The weather had been playing its role and the first race of the week had to be moved one day forward to that Sunday. That was good for me. The SBK race of the TT week is by far the most demanding one as you are coming from doing maybe three laps a day during practice week (weather permitting) to enter into a six lapper race with the fastest bikes in the paddock. 

My stock BMW was faster than me at that point as I was coming from a hard practice week and NW200 specially after having missed my fitness training due to a broken rib playing basket just a month before the Northern Irish meeting. I knew that the SBK race was going to be my toughest of the week as after passsing that tipping point I would have been coming strengthened all the way to the senior. 


As usual I was coming faster with the laps so I managed to leave Ian Mackman and his Norton behind after the second pit stop and stepped into the top 20 once again. I remember I was about approaching the Goosneck in the sixth lap when I felt I needed to use my last tear off... couldn't find it. I tried again at the beginning of the mountain mile to discover that it just wasn't there any second tear off. It really pissed me off as I couldn't see much but I was pushing hard as per any of my last laps ever. As I shifted one down at that right hander at the end of the mountain mile, I thought I had managed to calm myself down and convinced me about just "cruising" all the way down to Glencrutchery Road considering the situation and the fact that it would have been not very difficult to keep my 19th place to the flag.


There is a a right hand corner I haven't managed to know if it's got a name (someone later told its Casey's), but that it happens to be just before the left hander called 'Black Hut' (this latest is the one before Verandah) that has a little marshalling shelter house on the left and its exit side kerb painting in white and black stripes.  Here is picture for your reference.

By the time I was approaching that corner I though I had accepted my own predicament of not putting myself into troubles in the last few miles still left of that race...but 'strangely' my right hand didn't seem to be actuating consequently. Tiredness started to be noticeable and, although my right hand kept wide opening the BM's throttle bodies, I realised that I was off line for the corner, travelling mid track when I was supposed to be on the left hand side. I didn't have much visibility as I explained and those two factors should have prevented me for taking the decisions I was about to make. Tiredness and visibility got off the equation and I just considered the fact that I was off line. So in that situation I though, "well, if we (talking for most of the riders) always leave a meter to the very inside of that corner, why don't I make use of it so I compensate I'm off line and I can keep the speed I'm carrying also not hitting the black and white kerbs at the exit?"


 All of this happened in tens of a second if you like, so the wrong decision was taking instantly. I went in much deeper than normal because of my line but I was doing my job and, despite the possibility of wiping the grass a bit (there is 'just' a little grass bank in there), I was managing to get my bike through on this improvised line I was trying...

Bang! Wiping the grass never sounded like that... 

As I was half way through my new apex I heard that noise which unsettled my bike enough to head myself to hit the stripped kerb at the exit. Instinctively I managed to save the crash as the bike ran on the little run off there is before actually touching the kerb itself. I put myself back on the tarmac again but the relief for not having crashed lasted another half a second, the time it took me to turn my head down to my right knee and realised it was anything but aligned with my ankle which absolutely out of my control still was still resting on the foot peg.

"Well, you have destroyed your leg. What next?" Well, the next though was the following, and it lasted another half a second in my mind if so "no! I'm not going to finish the race! No, no, please!...

The pain that was coming up from my waist was blocking myself at the same time so time for thinking the next move was tighter than my budget to race the TT... Already almost at Black Hut and arriving at the vision field of the marshalls at the Verandah, I decided I couldn't come off the bike risking losing my leg so I had to try to stop using my other leg somehow. You are coming after five laps and a half on a super bike so you body is not rapidly ready for standing stability but for riding the motorbike. I counted the shifts down and, when in first, prepared myself for the very difficult manoeuvre of stopping in my situation. In the grass of the inside at back Hut I put my foot down and managed to turn the key off. Then another of those thoughts someone could argue you wouldn't have in such a situation but I spoke to myself... "ok, it's the end of your TT, and in your situation, therefore, quite likely the end of your TT career. You've tried your very best mate, but that's it."


The marshals at Verandah were the nearest but they hadn't seen me hitting anything but just stopping and moving my head up and down 'obvousily' as 'it must have had a mechanical' which I don't blame them for. But their not rushing walk towards my position let me in the dramatic situation of losing vital seconds in which I was bleeding widely out of my destroyed knee. When they very close enough to hear me I started receiving and outstanding care which last all the way till I arrived in my home country a month later, from those marshals, air Med, Nobles Hospital, race office staff, rider support, Liverpool Royal Hospital and so on... Greatful forever to all of them.

Well, what happened to me after I don't think is interesting for the purpose of this post but I will say it has taken me 4 years to make my come back to the mountain course, which anyone on the pragmatic side wouldn't have ever even expected it to happen. Mine must have been one of the most nasty injuries in TT history of a rider not actually falling off the bike.


During this time I've been trying to figure out what I hit that damaged my leg so badly. For me, there was nothing to hit there, but I obviously clipped something really hard to injure myself that terribly. 


I spoke about it to many people including local riders and very knowledgeable TT course ones that couldn't really tell me what could be in that unnamed corner. Amongst them I chatted to two of the most knowledgeable riders of the mountain course. Neither my friend David Madsen Mygdal or  mate John McGuinness could spot what I could have hit as the real danger was really hidden and not actually visible unless you look for it, left alone in the sight of any rider when passing through there at high speed.

So obviously I had a mission when I made my come back apart of racing again at the TT myself where I shouldn't have ever left if I haven't found this hidden danger if the TT course.


Don't get me wrong, there are hundreds of dangers like that because of the nature itself of the course, but I sadly happened to find one in a nasty way that could easily be removed in case the history gets repeated with another rider.

What it is (I hope not for long) is a kind of a lump of concrete or sign anchor of 4 or 5 inches thick and 12 inches high for maybe 60 inches long. It has the sign of the impact I had with my knee and it is camouflaged just waiting for the next Antonio Maeso to come a bit off line.


I spread the word in the hope my case helps a little to make the most exciting, but dangerous, race track in the world a bit safer for all of the heroes that ride it so we keep doing what we like most, and people coming like most watching, for years to come. 

Update: Well, today it's the 17th of August 2017 and I've got an email from TT marshal Kate Bandit Young. She already got in contact with me when I first published this post and went to inspect the site. Now, she has gone up to the mountain to try to fix the problem. Shouldn't have they been, the organiser and the Clerk of the Course, who had done something about it yet? 
Kate has managed to clear the surroundings of the concrete and painted to make it visible. She promises to come back with a bug hammer to try to demolish it. Thanks Mate for such a caring attitude. Shame on those supposed to have it as a responsability of duty. 
Here the scary picture she has just sent me. 

Antonio Maeso
Isle of Man
2nd of June 2017

Pictures: Antonio Maeso, Barry Clay, Google Earth, 

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