It may be a day later than planned, but the first 2019 Isle of Man TT practice session has been completed over a rather blustery Mountain.
The first practice was due to take place yesterday (Saturday), however due to extensive hill fog and intermittent rain the Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson chose to cancel the session at approx 3:30pm. The prompt decision is something as a marshal I am very grateful for and it meant we could go grab a takeaway instead rather than stand around for hours in the rain awaiting a decision. Happy days!
There is a contingency plan in place one of which allows the roads to close on Sunday for practice until no later than 6:30pm. CoC announced this would happen to allow the solo and sidecar newcomer’s to complete their speed controlled lap followed by Supersport, Supertwin and all newcomers. The schedule was provided as follows:
- 11.45: Mountain closes Barrule Park Ramsey to Bungalow
- 12.00: Mountain closes Bungalow to Creg Ny Baa
- 13.00: All roads closed
- 13.30: Solo Newcomers’ speed controlled lap
- 13.35: Sidecar Newcomers’ speed controlled lap
- 13.50: Start Supersport / Lightweight Practice
- 17.30: Roads open except Mountain section
- 18.30: All roads open
Obviously it’s great to say we’ll use the contingency plan, but the weather needs to behave itself first. I got woke up by my other half at 5:30 this morning saying the rain woke up him… I can tell you now, I was dreading opening the curtains when I woke up properly. I’d already pretty much written off today, but then the sun started to poke its way through and the wind was acting like an official TT hairdryer. Next thing, I’m grabbing bags of crisps, snacks and whatever else I can find from the cupboards to put in the scruffy racing bag ready to marshal. A marshal’s diet is very important you know. We thrive on chocolate, crisps and sarnies, but are partial to cake, biscuits and most definitely coffee.
After we’d set-up, roads closed and there we had it… a 30-minute delay. The road was still drying in places, particularly under the trees, but most vitally there were not enough marshals in certain places around the course. Every marshal’s post has a minimum number. If that minimum number is not met, the TT racers cannot turn a wheel. A plea went over the Marshal’s radio asking those who were over minimum to shuffle around. It appeared there were technically enough marshals, they just weren’t dispersed evenly. This led to a further 15-minute delay, and then another 5-minute delay. If you are here to watch the TT, please consider signing on to marshal. If you’re unsure as to what it all entails, you can find out more here. 50-minutes later than scheduled, it was GO time!
First out were the solo and sidecar newcomers. They must complete a speed-controlled lap before they can be let loose on their own. If the speed controlled lap is not completed, whether it be mechanical faults, etc., they will be given another chance during the next practice session. I believe all solo’s completed their lap, but one sidecar outfit, unfortunately, didn’t. When they had all nearly completed their first-ever lap, the flood barriers were opened as well as the throttles on the Supersport and Supertwin machines. It was finally time to release the beasts down Bray Hill for the very first time… and boy were those throttles pinned.
During practice two riders set off together with a 10-second interval between each pair. This is obviously unlike a TT race where they set off alone 10-seconds apart. Time trial remember… Before Michael Dunlop set off he said live on the radio ‘I need to sort my shit out.’ Er, yes please. If you could do that before you begin your lap that’d be ace, or at least before you get to the bottom of Barregarrow because you scare me enough as it is on the first lap…! Always fills a marshal full of confidence that. The two men first off the line were Ashcourt Racing’s Lee Johnston and Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson. Throttles pinned they were down Bray Hill on their Supersport machines. It doesn’t take long until they reached cronk-y-voddy. With the wind strong, we could hear them storming their way through Glen Helen. We knew it wouldn’t be long until they flashed by, but it wasn’t who we were expecting. It was Dean Harrioson on-board the beautiful Silicone Engineering Kawasaki shortly followed by Johnston and Hutchinson. Wow. First thought, in fact the same I thought I have every year on the first day of practice, this is f!*king BONKERS.
Usually the first practice session is untimed, however it was announced that it would, in fact, be timed today and the laps will count towards qualifying. It can be quite difficult to keep up with timings when there are different classes out and about around the course, but it’s even more difficult when you’re marshalling. You don’t really get the privilege of listening to the radio because you can’t hear yourself think let alone hear what Chris Kinley has to say. You don’t look at your phone unless there’s an interval, so timing-wise, you’re quite blind! However, I’ve heard the new live timing app isn’t that great anyway and that all sounds like a political farce, but I’ll save that for another day shall I? Instead, I keep myself entertained by oohing and aahing at different race lines, telling newcomers to put their knee away even if they can’t hear me and testing my race number/rider name skills. Oh, this is whilst fuelling myself with coffee and cake. It’s quite the multi-tasking effort you know!
Unsurprisingly it was Harrison who took to the top of the timesheets – 121.97mph quickly followed by a 124.39mph lap. He was hungry for that Senior win last year and I think he’s back to take another bite of the action proving to be a very popular guy in the road racing paddock. Harrison put in six-laps all together, but I felt like I’d seen him more times than that. Every lap I saw him get smoother and smoother; it was almost as though he had ironed out all the bumps and he was gliding along. Then boom. A 126.09mph lap. That’ll do, lets park it. Now he’s qualified in this class, he’ll probably work on perfecting the settings on his Superbike machine going forward, but maybe he won’t. We won’t know until the day! When being interviewed after their laps, it was clear the winds were proving to be a bit of a nightmare up over the Mountain. Conor Cummins said there were tail-winds, head-winds, cross-winds and windy corner was windier than usual. It doesn’t get any more windy that that, does it? Gary Johnson didn’t seem too phased and even told everyone he’s survived wind, so if Gary can we all can! Joking aside, the high winds are very challenging up top. It can completely blow you off-line, unsettle the bike. However, it didn’t deter many racers as most completed at least four if not five laps.
It was great to see Michael Dunlop back on the roads as he set a lap speed of 123.9mph with Manxman Conor Cummins clocking 123.71mph on his fifth lap of on-board the Milenco Padgett’s Honda. If you get chance to go down to the bottom of Barregarrow, go and watch Conor from down there. He has got it so finely tuned that the bike drops away from him, arms extended and away he goes. It’s just so perfect. He doesn’t fight to stay tucked in, he just goes with the flow and it’s clearly working. Prez Racing’s Jamie coward was fourth on the timesheets at 123.19mph and James Hillier managed to not cause chaos down at Barregarrow to clock 121.9mph placing him fifth. Ian Hutchinson finished in 12th for the Honda Racing Team just ahead of the legendary John McGuinness. I must admit, I wasn’t too impressed with his overtaking manoeuvre on a higher numbered rider just as they were to tip into the bottom of Barregarrow. Maybe understandable during a race, but personally I don’t think it’s called for during practice. Thankfully it was all okay, but I definitely think it would’ve been safer to have waited till after Barregarrow considering the stretch to Cammal Farm is straight… Onto McGuinness – he does indeed have a Supersport ride after announcing yesterday he had partnered with his Padgett’s family once again to ride the stunning Milenco machine. So get that scribbled in your race programme! He didn’t go too mad on his first time back at the TT since his NW200 accident, despite doing a couple of parade laps last year, placing himself 13th. Respectable first practice place.
The Supertwins were also out amongst the Supersport machines with Jamie Coward topping the leaderboard at 119.96mph and defending champion Dunlop putting in a 118.52mph lap placing him second. Last year’s runner-up Derek McGee finished in fourth with a 116.19mph lap whilst Stefan Bonetti, after his mega win at the NW200, posted the fifth fastest time at 116.02mph.
I personally don’t think that lap times/speeds really matter on the first day of practice, but I’ve put them in for you just in case you are bothered. Yes, it’s great that it has counted towards their qualification within the Supersport and Supertwin classes because it can sometimes be very difficult to qualify every machine due to delays, cancellations, mechanical issues. However, it really isn’t necessary to go all balls out for the ‘fastest racer in first practice’ headline. I’m just glad they’ve managed to get a few laps of practice under their leathers because it really is so vitally important for them to get the laps in. With over 200 corners, I don’t think I could ever do enough laps around here to know them all inside out and I live on the Isle of Man! Some of these racers take part in British Superbikes/Supersport, other road races and of course they must obtain enough signatures for their Mountain Course license, but they don’t get to race here every weekend. Some do race in the Classic TT, but many only race the TT meaning the last time they took to the Mountain Course was approx. one year ago. I’ve said it many times, but the road surface changes significantly. Trees disappear, appear. Curbs appear, get lowered. Your yellow drain braking marker might have disappeared or a new drain cover has appeared. That year really has an impact on a racer’s memory of the course, the bike settings, everything. For me, the first practice session is the most important. Racer’s will now spend the evening relaying all their information back to their teams. Adjusting front/rear suspension, altering tyre pressures, gearing. This first practice session is about fettling the bike back in and sorting out your own head. Johnston spoke about how he was clearly feeling a little rusty, but it’s now time for them to process the 37.73 miles in an attempt to perfect their lap times. It must be so mentally draining, but the adrenaline and the TT in its entirety is clearly worth it. First practice is literally just the beginning for these racers and there is certainly more to come.
The session was thankfully relatively uneventful although New Zealander Daniel Mettam did part company with his machine at Black Hut in the Supersport session and was taken by airmed to Nobles Hospital. His condition is reportedly not serious, but no further details have been issued. Tomorrow evening we should hopefully see some more practice with roads closing at 6pm and an approx. aim of a 6:20pm flood gate opening. Let’s see what tomorrow brings…
One last little, but important note about today’s practice session – I couldn’t help but think about Dan Kneen, James Cowton and William Dunlop. I’m sure I’m not alone by trying not to think too much about it on the lead up to this year’s TT, but I have certainly missed seeing them race these roads today. They’ve definitely not been forgotten, but are most definitely missed by all. x
(Full practice times can be shown here, although the website doesn’t appear to be very user-friendly, so good luck if you’re attempting to use it!)
Words by Samantha Wanless