On a lone island in the North Irish Sea is the enigma that is the Isle of Man. Not quite a kingdom, not quite a nation, not part of Great Britain or the United Kingdom, the Manx people have been self governing for centuries.

They have their own government and their own money. They have their own language. And they have the most incredible, most dangerous, and far and away the most romantic motorcycle race on the planet earth.

We had been reading with growing fascinantion for some years about this race- the Isle of Man Tourist Trophy.

Like Le Mans, the Snaefell Mountain course is long, and snakes through the Manx countryside- and eventually over the mountain. A lap is 37.7 miles long - and the race is run on a time-trial format. Pairs of bikes leave every minute, so riders are racing unseen opponents, and cannot tell if they are ahead or behind, from moment to moment. It is rider against the Island.

Joey Dunlop at Quarterbridge

One day in January of 1993 Jonathan abruptly declared that he wasn't waiting anymore. He was going to the Isle of Man THIS YEAR. He said I'm getting a plane ticket. I said buy two- . I'm going with you.

The charged romantic elements that make Le Mans magic are all at play here- the course weaving though a wooded countryside and through little villages with brick houses. And the race is a war, where half the time you can't see. At Le Mans you can't see because it is dark - here you are in the dark because you are alone.

The course has about 200 corners, and sixty or so are named - each name marvelous Ballaugh Bridge Ginger Hall Brandywell Keppel Gate Governer's Cronk-ny-Mona Quarry Bends Windy Corner the Gooseneck Creg-ny-baa

MAP of the MOUNTAIN COURSE

a Sidecar Team on the Mountain

Man on a mission: Mr Nick Jeffries at 170 mph down Bray Hill

The photograph is very very deceptive. It looks like 70, not 170 . But the radio was reporting speeds live from the speed trap at the start / finish line at the top of the hill a couple hundred yards up the hill from where I took this shot. So that number is not exaggerated at all. The first time a bike went by the frame shuddered from the forces on it, and I winced with horror, thinking that the rider had almost lost it. Look how wide the street is - if the rider goes down, it won't be pretty. Next bike by the shudder happened again- and I winced again - and each time till I realized that I almost couldn't watch. I've seen plenty of racing - stood 12 feet away from cars on the Mulsanne straight that were going 250 mph.... But nothing - NOTHING - has compared to seeing the racebikes on Bray Hill, above. As you might imagine Jeffries went on to win the Senior TT

ADDITIONAL Isle of Man photos

© 2012 SIEGE