Race day, race day! We were up by 8pm, out the door by 9pm, but we still weren’t early enough.
Saturday marked the first day of race week and with the schedule of Superbikes followed by Sidecars we knew it was going to be busy. Just how busy, however, surprised us. We lobbed the barbecue, the stove, the whistling kettle and snacks to last 3 days in the back of the van with a couple of chairs and of course a radio. We were ready, we were prepared. We headed off from Kirk Michael to Laurel Bank, but panicked when we saw that the fence looked full of other vans, campers and cars. Fortunately, we took the last available space by the fence… reverse in and set-up camp for the day. That’s the joys of road racing. Go pick yourself out a spot, a hedge, a field, a wall and, provided it’s not prohibited, sit in it, on it – a voila! It’s great in that specific field at Laurel Bank. You don’t have to pay to use it, there are working toilets and it’s a cracking spot to watch from. All the land owners ask is that you put in a donation, no matter how small, for the Rob Vine Fund… and today they raised over £200 alone. Top job they’re doing!!
From the moment I looked out of the window it was clear that there were going to be delays. We couldn’t see any of the hills from Kirk Michael… Manannan’s cloak had descended right on the top of the Isle of Man, and we were in for delays… 1 hour to be precise. All of my thoughts of lap records being broken were out the window.
Before the Superbike race got underway John McGuinness finally got to put those silver Norton leathers to good use and finally got his leg over that Norton at 12:15pm. Not for a second did anyone think McGuinness was going to ride round at 40mph waving to the crowds that were sat on the grass banks through Crosby Leap, the field at Laurel Bank, the wall at Rhencullen, or Parliament Square at Ramsey. There were comments about this lap being the decision maker on whether he hangs up his leathers or not… but with a 115mph lap I’m pretty sure he won’t be AND that was with waving to crowds and soaking up the atmosphere. It was special to see McGuinness on that Norton. It’s something we’ve all been waiting for after the disaster with Honda. After his lap, he commented about how he truly thought flying through the fence at the North West 200 would be the end of his career on the roads, on a bike. Missing two years at the TT is also a big issue. It’s a road. It changes all the time. Pot holes appear, they get filled and they feel different to ride on. There are lumps and bumps that appear or disappear from one year to the next. There might be a new stone wall or higher curbs that appear. A tree you’ve never noticed before or even air fences in places they’ve never been. It differs year upon year. Not only does it change, but your knowledge of this vast course may start to fizzle away. Probably highly unlikely for a 23-time TT winner like McGuinness, but there’s always a possibility. If you don’t use it you lose it right? That’s why missing a year or two at the TT matters. However, McGuinness felt like he was finally part of the 2018 after that lap. A lap of 115mph where he let off the throttle in certain places and hammered it where there were least spectators. He’s still got it…
12:45pm – the 15 minute klaxon is signalled – it’s almost time to go racing.
The teams line their bikes up on Glen Crutchery Road. 1 – 20 are seeded and line up in exactly that order. 21 onwards are dictated by their qualifying times, but they still keep their original number. I remember a few years ago they all changed number when qualifying was finished to whichever place they would start from… one of the most confusing and chaotic ideas the TT organisers have ever had. Imagine having to rush around peeling off number 30 to put on number 29 the night before the race and spectators quickly having to scribble dow the new numbers for each non-seeded rider… nightmare!
Manxman Conor Cummins set off with the number one plate on the Padgett’s Honda after receiving that tap on the shoulder under the TT arch… we were racing & we were ready.
Around 4 minutes in Dean Harrison had made it to Glen Helen and was already 3.7s ahead of Michael Dunlop and Peter Hickman who was a further 1.9s behind. You could just tell Harrison was on a charge. You could even see his eyes piercing through his visor straight at his next apex. By the time he was in Ballaugh his advantage had extended to 5.6s and a further 2.2s at Ramsey. There really was no stopping him… and it’s only lap one. When you get to Ramsey, round the hairpin, it’s time to start that ascent up the Mountain. Each sector Harrison powered through, the record was broken. Grandstand to Glen Helen, Glen Helen to Ballaugh, Ballaugh to Ramsey… bang. Broken. We knew it was quick, you could see it was quick, the times to us it was quick.
…and there it was. 134.432mph. Everyone at Laurel Bank was cheering, clapping and there’s me… ‘oh. my. wtf. how. insane. incredible.’ I didn’t really know what to say. I was almost speechless… almost. Back in practice week I had said if conditions stayed as perfect as they had been that lap record would be broken and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the first 135mph lap. These racers appear to be pushing hard than ever this year. Their lines are tighter, throttle open in places they’d usually roll off. Those bikes were fine-tuned and it’s partly thanks to the amazing weather we had during practice week. Without all those laps a finely tuned 1000cc Superbike would not be producing laps of 134mph. I still can’t process that now. It’s insane. It’s madness. Sub-17 laps of the TT course astounds me… it takes me that long to get from the Quarterbridge to Ballacraine sometimes.
The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider had shattered the outright lap record, shattered the sector records and held an 11.3s lead over Dunlop onto lap 2 with the Isle of Man’s own home grown coffee-mann Cummins up into third… we were all in for a treat!
By Glen Helen on lap 2, Harrison was up to 14.7s clear of Dunlop. You could hear the crowds cheering, programmes waving. Everyone was willing Harrison on for that win and we were only on lap 2 of 6! The standings remained the same as they entered the pits on lap 2 with Harrison lapping at 134.180mph, Dunlop at 133.513mph and Cummins setting a new PB of 132.589mph to remain third.
Visor change, juice and maybe a new rear.
Off we go again for more of the same. Lap 3 would consist of a slower time as this is the lap that takes into consideration the seconds in the pits. Have you ever watched those race teams change a rear, fill the tank, give the rider some juice and change a visor in well under 60 seconds? If not, do it. They are also the unsung heroes. Everything can be won or lost in the pits. It can also lead to some time penalties if racers don’t abide by the pit lane speed limit… although this time there didn’t appear to be any dramas in ‘gasoline alley’ *eye-roll*.
Harrison was through Glen Helen safely with the gap to Dunlop still over 16s and the gap between second and third 24.3s. It was clear that the front three were pulling away from the rest of the field. Cummins was 10s clear of Hillier, Hiller 13s clear of David Johnson and Gary Johnson another 30s back in sixth… we were at half race distance and we suddenly had what appeared to be a race on our hands.
Dunlop had begun his charged. Harrison’s lead had been sliced by 11.5s and Dunlop had broken the sector record from Cronk-ny-Mona to the Grandstand. The pace was increasing, as was the heat, and on lap 4 Dunlop had gained another 2.5s… the difference now only 9 seconds. Then… drama.
Harrison was still leading on the road meaning he’d passed the other four who started before him, but all didn’t appear right. Harrison had lost five second from Glen Helen to Ballaugh and then it was announced that he had retired at Sulby Crossroads. When you race so hard, you hit your apexes, you break every sector record, the outright lap record, you are the man to beat… imagine your clutch slipping and poof – it is no more. Once calmed down and back at the pits, Harrison admitted he ‘spat his dummy’ and ‘had a tantrum’, but was ready to get back out there on Monday on his 600 and Superstock machines. After all, his name will still appear as the fastest man to ever lap this Mountain course.
Dunlop. Up into first 40.3s ahead of Cummins who was into second and Hillier took the third position.
There were quite large gaps between the top three who were heading for that podium and the positions did remain the same over the final two laps with no reported pit stop dramas at the end of lap 4.
Dunlop took his 16th Isle of Man TT victory as he crossed the line taking the chequered flag, Cummins took second and Hillier third. I think everyone loves seeing a Dunlop on the top of that podium. It’s the name of the TT really. No one will ever forget watching Joey race round here. Pulling up in his knackered van, lighting a cig and pulling his race bike out to have a little tinker with his spanners. He was the epitome of the TT. His legacy lives on through both his nephews Michael and William. They do the Dunlop name proud, they still are very much in control of their own bikes. They’re not just racers, they’re mechanics, they know what’s right, what’s wrong. They know when a set-up is perfect and they’re not afraid to tweak things themselves. I doubt you’d find that very often in a MotoGP paddock…
David Johnson took fourth equalling his best ever result an Rutter held onto fifth despite Johnston pulling the pin for a late charge. Martin Jessopp finished seventh – his best ever finish with Ivan Lintin, Phil Crowe and Josh Brookes completing the top ten. Newcomer Davey Todd took 16th in his first ever Superbike TT race as he lapped at 126.268mph to become the third fastest newcomer in TT history. He is surely one to watch for the future.
The chequered flag is out and that’s the end of the first 2018 Superbike TT. The next time these 1000cc machines are wheeled out onto Glencrutchery Road will be on Friday for the big one – the Senior TT.
Six laps completed. 226.38 miles covered. Two pit stops. Tears and tantrums. Tears and elation. The adrenaline after all that must be higher than you could ever imagine. Muscles sore, throbbing. Hands blistered and raw. Sweaty and fly ridden. That’s approx. 1 hour 45 minutes of pure concentration, determination and grit. It’s seeing P2 at Gorse Lea and twisting that throttle a little more than you dare. It’s seeing P1 and keeping your head down, throttle open and calmness. It’s about your mind. Mind over matter… keeping that feeling of winning an Isle of Man TT at the forefront of your mind.
I personally could not be happier for Michael and the Tyco BMW team. After the lowest low that team had to face in practice week, everyone was thrilled to see them on that podium, the top stop. A win dedicated to Dan Kneen and what an incredible tribute it was.
Lets not forget Harrison, however. The new outright Isle of Man TT lap record holder with an astounding 134.432mph lap. Now that is incredible. I wonder what records could be broke on Friday, but before then… Monday. We go again.