IOMTT: We go again

It was the morning after the night before. I don’t think many of us slept well. I tossed and turned for most of the night and woke up asking if it was all just a bad dream – no, it wasn’t.

I drove to work and it was almost as if the TT had disappeared for a few moments. The sky cried with us overnight leaving damp roads, the roads were quieter than a mouse and that was until I got to Union Mills. The boat must have just docked and streams of motorbikes were finding their way to set-up camp whether that’s in a field somewhere or in a house. They’d made their journey across Europe maybe, the UK and over the Irish Sea to be here on the little rock. To see the Isle of Man TT. For those people, their journey, their adventure is just beginning.

The weather wasn’t looking too great by all accounts. During the day the IOM Police closed the Mountain Road due to extensive fog, but by 2pm it was business as usual and people were able to continue their own lap of the mountain course.

The roads dried beautifully, except for the usual places under the trees at Glen Helen, Governor’s, and every little nook and cranny appeared to be filled. It was overwhelming. After what we all experienced last night, the heartbreak, the tears – emotions were running high . People outside this sport probably thought what an Earth were we doing back in a hedge after losing one of our own, but it’s just what we do, it’s what we know and it’s what Dan would want.

Thursday 31st May, 6:20pm – the tap on the shoulder, we go again.

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Peter Hickman just after the Gooseneck Photo: Babb Photography

It was still. Everyone was waiting in anticipation. I think we all just needed to see & hear race bike on the Mountain course again and oddly it would feel like everything was okay again… if only for a split second.

Peter Hickman posted the evening’s fastest time in the Superbike class with a lap of 132.81mph – a new personal best! After setting this he said ‘we’re here to do a job and we want to do it in Dan’s memory.’ For some it ignites an extra fire, it makes them more determined.

I remember back in 2003 when we were all so very heartbroken after David Jefferies sadly left us, Adrian Archibald took to the roads on 7th June 2003 with his 0 plate with the biggest fire in his belly that I think I’d ever seen. He won. He won the Senior TT on-board his TAS Suzuki for DJ. All for him. Michael Dunlop is another prime example 5 years later. His father, Robert, as we all know lost his life in 2008 at the North West 200. Both William and Michael were determined to get back out there. It’s all they know. They chose to turn their upset and aggression into something special – determination. Some think it’s insane, some even said they’d kill themselves out there, but we all knew there was going to be no stopping them… that was until William had a mechanical failure and was forced to drop out. That left Michael. I remember there being a bit of a kick off on the grid two days later. Race organisers didn’t want him to race. They were concerned. That same day Michael won his first North West 200.

Back to the Thursday’s practice session – first down the hill at 6:20 was Michael Rutter on the Bathams BMW with Hickman. Lee Johnston and Derek Sheils followed with Martin Jessopp and Gary Johnson 10 seconds behind. I could hear the Superbikes roar through Kirk Michael village. I was only at the bottom of Rhencullen, but it felt like a lifetime before we caught a glimpse. There they were. Over Rhencullen jump, drifting towards the right-side of the road inches away from the stone wall to put them on the right line ready to hit their apex as they head past Bishopscourt and through to Alpine.

Hickman completed his first lap at 131.113mph whilst Rutter managed a 127.475mph lap. Both Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop started a little further back and were both lapping at over 130mph whilst Norton’s Josh Brookes missed out on a 130mph by 0.826mph. If you’re on the Isle of Man, make sure you take a trip up to the paddock to have a look at that Norton – I’ve never seen anything more shiny, plus it sounds insane!

Ben and Tom Birchall posted the fastest lap of the week so far in the Formula Two Sidecar class with last year’s double winners lapping at an impressive 116.554mph.

Hickman went on to complete a flying lap and took full advantage of the clear road in front of him. No traffic usually equates to a good lap, but it could equally mean you lose track of time. Not on Hickman’s watch mind. He set an unofficial personal best lap of 132.81mph just shy of Harrison’s 133mph lap. Hickman made his debut in 2014 with laps of 129mph… He’s still the fastest ever newcomer this Mountain Course has seen to date.

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Conor Cummins on his Padgetts Superbike Photo: Babb Photography

Manxman Conor Cummins took to the roads on his Padgetts Honda Superbike to put in a 131.18mph. It always amazes me how some so tall tucks into a Superbike machine let alone a little 600 Supersport so neatly! Cummins also put in a late lap of 130.59mph. I could see on the live timing that he was just a couple of seconds off his 131.18mph he had set earlier on in the session.

Something that needs to be mentioned is the speed and talent of these newcomers we have this year. Dave Todd posted a lap time of 123.995mph and I’m telling you… he looks fast, super fast. Fellow newcomer David Jackson also went above the 120mph for the first time this week. Unfortunately Adam Lyon retired at Cronk y Voddy and I don’t believe he was able to return back to the paddock until the end of the session. 

Speeds were slowing around the Mountain course as there were stationary yellows at a few marshal posts. Chris Petty was involved in an incident at St Ninians which left debris on the road. Petty made his way back to the Grandstand, but was taken by ambulance to Nobles Hospital where he was reported to have an ankle fracture. Wishing him all the best and a speedy recovery!

Not many of the top 20 seeded riders to their Supersport for ‘some wheelies’ as Harrison would say. Ivan Lintin posted the quickest lap of the night at 123.22mph placing him ahead of Lee Johnston, but only by 0.2mph. 

It was 7:48pm when the Formula Two Sidecars took to the roads. The Birchall’s led them off down Bray Hill and I’m waiting patiently on the west side of the course for them to arrive… it honestly feels like a life-time especially when you’ve got a numb arse from sitting on a stone wall. (That isn’t me complaining by the way, it’s my happy place!) The sound of the sidecars didn’t resonate as much through the village, so they almost crept up on me, but there they were – 3 wheels off the ground and over Rhencullen jump. The sound reverberating against the stone walls, taking the same line, the same apex as the Superbikes, but just a little bit wider. 

 

Through Alpine, over Ballaugh Bridge, past the Wildlife Park (yes, we have one…!), along Sulby straight, over the bumps between Ginger Hall and Milntown, through Parliament square in Ramsey, round the Hairpin, the Gooseneck and we’re on the way up the Mountain! 

The Birchalls were the quickest on the opening lap with a speed of 115.48mph whilst Reeves/Wilkes posted (and finished) their first lap of 2018 with 114.06mph. Founds and Molyneux both lapped over 111mph and Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney posted a PB of  110.69mph.

Second lap for the Birchalls saw them up their pace to 116.554mph the fastest lap of the week so far! French duo Estelle Leblond/Melanie Farnier recorded a lap of 107.886mph. Newcomers Michael Jackson/Harry Payne improved to 104.83mph before retiring right where I was sat! The adrenaline runs so high through these racers. They jumped off the sidecar which had a mechanical issue and they were shaking… They probably didn’t notice after clinging onto the metal bars and handles, but you could see it. They were in that moment. The passenger pulled out a scrap bit of paper with three numbers on and asked to borrow a phone. First thing he asked was ‘what was our lap speed?’ Second thing I heard ‘Yeah yeah I’m fine 104 no way!’ …if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know that I don’t know what does. These racers live for this Mountain course. It’s the rush, it becomes a bug… and once you’ve been bitten there ain’t no way you can stop. 

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Rutter & his Mugen machine Photo: Babb Photography

The electric TT Zero machines had their first outings…there’s nothing better than the sound of a hairdryer right?

The Mugen with Rutter on-board  stole the show with an impressive first lap of 116.049mph. Johnston, also Mugen mounted, finished his lap at just over 100mph.  It also appears Mugen aren’t the only race-pace setters as Daley Mathison on the University of Nottingham UON 02 was on a charge. MCN’s Adam Child lapped at 74.869mph on the Moto Corsa Ego. I believe they’re due another lap of practice tonight… one lap that is and the battery will last no more than that! 

Next practice session is scheduled for this evening with roads closing at 6pm, tap on the shoulder at 6:20pm. 

It’s currently raining here on the Isle of Man, but the weather forecast is looking likely to brighten up… I guess we shall have to wait and see. 

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