Motor sports are dangerous, of that there is no doubt. There have been some famous deaths in Formula One, for example, as anyone who remembers the name ‘Ayrton Senna’ will attest to. Vehicles being driven at incredibly high speeds on courses that twist and turn are tricky enough to handle, let alone if you throw in bad weather. Sensible drivers are aware that they’re putting their lives at risk when they get into a car, even though they would argue that safety is improving year-on-year and the risk is minimal if they drive well.
However, the reality is that there are some risks that are more dangerous than others. This can be proven by the existence of the Isle of Man TT, which has seen more people die as a result of the event than any other in motor sport. In 2022, for example, five people lost their lives during the competition, whilst two others were in a serious condition in the immediate aftermath of the race. The risk is, for many, part of the thrill of taking part, which is a sentiment that also extends to the spectators that are also at risk during the race.
The Isle Of Man TT Explained
The ‘TT’ in the title of the Isle of Man TT stands for ‘Tourist Trophy’, with the race itself having taken place on the island for the first time in 1907. It has been an annual event ever since, growing in size and prestige as more and more people found out about it. There is a week’s worth of practice sessions, then a week’s worth of competitive racing, with the races taking place on the public roads of the island. Initially known as the International Auto-Cycle Tourist Trophy, this motorbike event takes place as a time trial and has six classifications:
- Sidecar TT
- Lightweight TT
- Junior TT
- Senior TT
- Superstock TT
- Superbike TT
There are different requirements depending on the classification, though the main thing is that the fastest rider wins. The Snaefell Mountain Course was first used in 1911 and soon became the course for the main race in the Isle of Man TT. One of the more interesting traditions is that of ‘Mad Sunday’, which takes place on the Sunday between the conclusion to the practice week and the beginning of race week. It is an unofficial event, during which tourists and locals are able to ride the Snaefell Mountain Course on their own motorbikes.
Why Is It So Dangerous?
The most obvious question that people will want to ask is why, exactly, it is so dangerous. It is not uncommon for the island to be referred to as the ‘Isle of Manslaughter’ during the week of the TT, with many thinking of it as sport’s most dangerous event. A part of the danger comes from the speeds that participants are doing, with the course record at the time of writing belonging to Peter Hickman, who drove at speeds exceeding 135 miles-per-hour in order to finish the course in 16 minutes and 42.778. The course itself is 37.73 mile circuit long, with about 400 curves and turns.
Some categories need to complete three laps of the circuit, whilst it can require as many as six if the category you have entered is one of the longer ones. Regardless of the number of times that the circuit needs to be completed, the dangerous and problems of the course remain. This was summed up by the winner of the Vintage Bike category in 1984, Dave Roper, who said, “There’s a lot of stuff to hit on the course and a lot of it is immovable.” The notion of the ‘tradition’ of the TT means that fixing some of the problems is tricky to do.
How Many People Have Died Doing The Isle Of Man TT?
|Year||Number Of Deaths|
The table above shows a breakdown of the number of deaths in the Isle of Man TT by year.
Between 1911 and 2022, 152 people have died as a result of the Isle of Man TT. The number increases if you include deaths from the Manx Grand Prix, which we have chosen not to do because we’re specifically looking at the Isle of Man TT here, but it is suggestive of a course that is dangerous to drive on. The deaths have occurred across both the practice week and the week of the race, with most nationalities and bike types being involved. Little wonder, therefore, that the Mountain Course is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world.
Which Races Are Also Dangerous
There is no question that the Isle of Man TT is the most dangerous race in the world, but it isn’t the only one that has witnessed numerous deaths over the years. As an example, the Circuit de la Sarthe, more commonly known as the Circuit des 24 Heures de Mans, or the 24-hour Le Mans event, asks drivers to hit speeds of in excess of more than 200 miles-per-hour, being on full throttle for around 85% of the lap time. The accidents seen there have resulted in the course’s shape being changed to make it less dangerous.
The most obviously example of the course’s danger came about in 1955, when a rivalry between Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz led to one of the worst accidents in the history of motor racing. When a Jaguar driver slammed their brakes on for no reason two hours into a race, the Austin Healey that it had just overtaken also braked. The Mercedes couldn’t react in time, smashing into the Healey and flying into the grandstand, resulting in the deaths of more than 80 people. Mercedes immediately took all cars off the track. Jaguar did not.
At the time of writing, the Isle of Man TT has seen 161 deaths during the race, whilst the Circuit de la Sarthe has resulted in 104. To give you a sense of where that stands in the pantheon of race courses, Monza has had 87 deaths, Nürburgring 78 and Indianapolis has had 73. That list includes both spectators and drivers. Those are courses that have seen races held on them for many years. It is worth noting that the Carrera Panamerica took place five times, from 1950 to 1954, but saw 27 people die in that short period of time.