Sailing legend Grant Dalton doesn’t mince his words: ‘I’ve done seven laps around the world and a few America’s Cups, but this is the most extreme thing I’ve ever done.’
The 57-year-old New Zealander is a household name in his home country as the boss of Emirates Team New Zealand, the high-profile sports team that competes for the most prestigious prizes in sailing including the America’s Cup.
But he’s taking on a whole new challenge in the Isle of Man this week as he makes his debut on the 37.7 mile mountain course as part of the Festival of Motorcycling.
With the help of fellow Kiwi Graeme Crosby, a former double world champion and three-time TT winner, Dalton is aiming to qualify for Monday’s Classic TT Formula 1 race, and for the Manx Grand Prix Supertwin race taking place on Wednesday.
Grant said: ‘My objective is simply to try and qualify - if I can even qualify I’ll be more than happy. I’ve got a day job to get back to next week!’
He is a die-hard motorsport fan and has raced cars in New Zealand, buthe’s a relative newcomer to bike racing:
‘I only got my first set of leathers in March this year so this is brand new territory for me.’
He freely admits that the move from race meetings in New Zealand to the Isle of Man TT course has been a shock.
‘It started in December when Graeme suggested doing the parade lap, and it’s kind of morphed into racing two bikes. I’ve done quite a bit of practising on the bikes, but nothing prepares you for that ultimate speed.’
Ocean racing and road racing might seem worlds apart, but Grant wears it lightly.
‘In a funny sort of way they’re not as dissimilar as they might seem,’ he said.
‘Road racing and round the world sailing are both kind of at the fringes of their sports, and they both have a real sense of cameraderie.
‘In the very short time that I’ve been here I can really sense that.
‘The Isle of Man is an amazing place – I first came here in May for the TT and I was just blown away by the place.’
Grant describes his countryman Bruce Anstey, who set a new lap record at this year’s TT as the first rider to reach an average speed above 132mph on the mountain course, as ‘unbelievable’:
‘I just wish that Bruce could get the recognition at home that he deserves as one of New Zealand’s greatest sportsmen.’
A more modest average lap speed of 90mph would see Dalton qualify, but that’s still a huge challenge on one of the most difficult circuits in motorsport.
‘I’m just trying to build it up slowly. If I can get to qualifying speed by the end of the week, that for me is a win,’ Grant said.
Story and picture by Dave Kneale