IOMTT: Tuesday’s Practice Session

Yesterday we all witnessed a brief monsoon, which probably washed a few campers out, so that was practice cancelled. Great weather for ducks, not so much humans. It did stop raining, but at that point, there is no way the road would have dried in time. In fact, it definitely didn’t.

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Apparently I was a keyboard warrior for saying this, but no practice means no qualifying and no qualifying means no racing. It really isn’t difficult. I’m also not trying to be a party-pooper, I’m just trying to be realistic. This isn’t short circuit racing where you stick a set of wets on, change a few settings and off you go. This is road racing and for numerous years now the Isle of Man TT is not raced in the wet hence why practice sessions get cancelled. I’m not going into the reasons why, etc. except for there’s a rather long and plausible list.

In the regulations it states the following with regards to qualifying:

• To start a race, a newcomer to the TT Mountain Course qualifying for the first time must complete a minimum of six laps on a solo machine or four laps on a sidecar machine. This applies to sidecar passengers as well as drivers.
• All other competitors must have signed on and commenced qualifying by the end of Monday’s session.
• Competitors who have qualified to start in any previous race on the TT Mountain Course (TT or Festival of Motorcycling) shall be required to complete a minimum of five laps for solos and three laps for sidecars, unless the Clerk of the Course grants permission otherwise.
• For all Isle of Man TT Race classes a minimum of two laps must be completed on each machine entered, one of which must be within the qualifying time. For TT Zero machines, one qualifying lap on the machine entered is required.
• Any competitor who does not attain the required number of laps or qualification time may not be permitted into the race.

It’s essentially a large piece of jargon, but it’s very important. Each rider has to do a specific number of laps themselves and at least two-laps on each machine they’re racing. However, this is down to CoC’s discretion. Therefore, practice week is the key to race week. Yes, they can run practice session after races, move races days to allow a day’s practice, etc. but I believe there’s also a rule of how many laps a rider can do in a certain period of time. Many people purely come for race week or even the odd few days. I totally get that, I’m only here for the two weeks because I live here (although even if I didn’t I’d still try my bloody hardest to be here for two weeks), but my annoyance came from people saying: ‘oh it doesn’t matter about the weather in practice week, race week is going to be glorious.’ So far we’ve only managed to run two practice sessions due to the weather and fortunately the first session was timed. Usually it isn’t and currently, the weather isn’t looking too clever for the rest of the fortnight either.

Practice week is so vital and it is obviously a top priority for CoC Gary Thompson to run the sessions, but he can’t control the weather! There are contingency sessions ‘just in case’, but it must be a massive concern as well as a headache for those in the control tower to figure out how they’re going to fit in enough practice ahead of race week. Yes, races can be moved, they have the Tuesday and Thursday to use if needs be, but that might not solve the problem if the weather isn’t kind. Also, imagine racing/practicing every. single. day. The racers would be mentally and physically worn out by the time Senior came around. Sometimes it’s just not feasible. I believe in 2017 we had the same kind of issue and contingency plans, such as short-lapping the riders and introducing a speed-controlled run over the Mountain section, were put into place. I think the Superbike race was moved to the Sunday and various other movements happened. Back in 2013, it was Wednesday evening practice and the Superbikes hadn’t even turned a wheel due to the weather conditions and their first race was on the Saturday! I vaguely remember that being a year of concern with regards to enough practice time. 

I’m not being a keyboard warrior, although that did make me chuckle, I’m just being honest. I’ve always supported the TT, not because it’s the ‘fashionable thing to be into’, but because it’s a passion. There’s more than just race week at the TT. Just because you aren’t here to witness it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Obviously I want practice to happen, I want everyone to qualify and of course I want a fabulous race week, who doesn’t?! All the racers want to qualify and be ready for race week too, but we all know what the weather can be like. It’s out of everyone’s control!

Anyway, back to this evening’s session because it did go ahead. It was freezing out there, but they managed to get some laps in and that’s all that matters!

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Michael Dunlop on the Tyco BMW Superbike Photo: Lucas-Croydon Photography

Superbike/Supersport/Superstock/Newcomer all together in one big session. As always, it didn’t go strictly according to plan. Firstly, roads were due to close at 6:00pm. I’m very lucky that my employer allows me to leave work at half 4 to allow time for me to get to my marshals post. However, it took me 50-minutes to get to the bottom of Barregarrow… At 6:00pm the traffic was backed up from Ballacraine to Greeba, so eventually, everyone had to turn off at Ballacraine off the course. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare closing 37.73 miles of public roads, but it has to be done if we are to go racing! Hedges were full of sweaty humans in leathers, the white line turned into a personal lane for motorcycles and people were walking along main road footpaths that hadn’t been walked on for approx. 365 days. These weren’t the only issues! There was a non-racing medical emergency that had to be dealt with so there was a precise 11-minute delay to the start of the session. Finally, at 6:31pm the beasts were unleashed and the Superbikes were having their first taste of TT tarmac of 2019.

Holy macaroni shall we say. That little flutter you get from hearing ‘bike on voddy straight’. I think I probably say ‘ooo I’m nervous’ more times than I care to image, and then there it is. Nothing compares to hearing then seeing a Superbike flash by. It’s insane. All your senses go into overdrive. The biggest smile slapped on my face. Superbikes are out and they’re flying. Michael Rutter on the Bathams Racing Honda and James Hillier on the Quattro Place Wicked Coatings Kawasaki led the field away, both Superbike mounted, with Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson and David Johnson following suit. Silicone Engineering Kawasaki’s Dean Harrison had issues before he’d even turned a wheel as the Superbike machine cut-out just before he set off. The team quickly wheeled out the second Superbike machine just in time.

After completing his British Superbike round and therefore missing Sunday’s practice session, Hickman set-off along Glencrutchery Road on his Superstock machine and down Bray Hill only to encounter an issue at Quarter Bridge. He found his way back to the grandstand and immediately went back out on his Triumph Supersport machine. In fact, Hickman didn’t have much luck at all during this evening’s practice session. Hicky PR, as they’re known on Twitter, were also confused as to where Hickman had got to a few times… turns out he was hungry and took a de-tour through McDonald’s:

Ok. So … here’s your run down on that slightly confusing session Superstock went out.
Returned to paddock via Douglas.
Supersport went out.
Superbike went out.
Returned to paddock via McDonalds.
Superstock went out.
P1 Supersport P7 Superstock.

Hickman managed to put the Supersport machine at the top of the timesheets, so that Big Mac must have worked wonders! 123.29mph… not bad for the world’s fastest road racer, eh? Oh, and thanks to HickyPR for keeping us all entertained as usual! 

Manxman Conor Cummins was fast out the blocks as he set the best sector times on the opening lap to completed a lap of 128.09mph on-board the Milenco by Padgetts Superbike. That’s a mighty fine looking machine, go take a look at it if you’re having a gander down the paddock! Rutter completed his lap at 124.22mph whilst John McGuinness stopped at Sulby to make adjustments. Dunlop clocked an average lap time of 126.65mph whilst Hutchinson was slightly slower at 125.39mph. However, it wasn’t Hutchinson’s evening. We heard the emergency button being pressed and knew there was an incident. It was at the 11th milestone. Anyone who’s been to the TT will know that’s unfortuntely a very infamous part of the course. It’s not very giving, well, road racing isn’t at the best of times, but when that part bites it usually bites bad. Next thing, they’d lost the rider. Panic panic. Nope, just the marshal not completing his sentence. The rider had walked away from it unscathed by the sounds of things, but probably spitting feathers and that rider was Hutchinson. I don’t really think he was in the mood for a chat hence why he walked away for some thinking time and to let the adrenaline simmer. Good news is, he’s reportedly okay, but no doubt he’s going to hurt in the morning.

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Photo: Impact Images

Cummins’ was on a mega second lap and the pace had increased dramatically – on for a 129mph+ lap. The radio announced he had been blagged flagged as the Honda machine had reportedly been smoking. Soz hun, not today. Just the smoke from my tyres because I’m SO DAMN FAST. I’m joking, it’s important to check if a bike is smoking. It could be oil or anything, but fortunately, on this occassion, Cummins got the all clear and made it back to the Grandstand at an average speed of 104.96mph. Gary Johnson was also black flagged as a beady-eyed marshal had noticed his camera was loose. I’m pretty sure Gary probably ripped that off and chucked it in a hedge somewhere to complete his lap. On the fourth lap, Harrison almost touched the 130mph barrier on his Superstock machine with a lap speed of 129.34mph with Hillier the third rider to break the 128mph mark with a speed of 128.07mph on his Superbike. Harrison continued on his mission to dominate the timesheets as right on his last lap his stuck his Superbike at the top of the leaderboard with a stonking 129.53mph, close to that of his Superstock machine. Almost forgot, shout out to Rob Hodson for making me almost s**t my pants. He did apologise afterward, always the gentleman!

I am aware that there were various incidents during the solo session today. Here is what the official news has stated so far:

Paul Williams – Off at Governors. Rider OK
Jason Corcoran – Off at Glen Helen. Taken to Nobles with reported neck injury.
Emmett Burke – Off at Gooseneck. Taken to Nobles with reported leg injury.
And, we’re aware of this one: Ian Hutchinson – Off at 11th Milestone. Rider OK, although Honda Racing have said he’s ‘battered and bruised’.

Wishing all the above a speedy recovery and hopefully, Williams and Hutchinson aren’t too bruised tomorrow morning. Also, Daniel Mettam, who parted company from his machine at the Black Hut on Sunday, has been discharged from Nobles which is always good news.

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The Crowe Brothers! Photo: Lucas-Croydon Photography

 

The solo session was flagged and it was soon time to see the sidecars out for their very first session. The temperature had dropped significantly by 8pm and I was starting to lose any kind of feeling in my toes let alone my fingers. The midges started to appear in full force, and before anyone says it, they’re immune to Avon’s Skin So Soft thanks to us marshals. If anyone has an alternative, let me know! With that in mind, we were all dithering around trying to keep warm whilst downing a hot coffee before they reached us.

The Formula Two sidecars were let loose at 8:04pm. As it’s the first session for the sidecars it’s more a chance to test out some settings and have a bit of a fiddle. I don’t personally feel you can take much from this session other than it’s great they’ve finally got a couple of laps in! Dave Molyneux and passenger Harry Payne set-off, but retired at Laurel Bank. There were other outfits who had stopped to make adjustments, like Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes, and then there were the Birchall’s who were probably sandbagging as usual with a lap of 111.55mph placing them fifth. It was John Holden/Lee Cain who set the best opening lap at 114.99mph with Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley, Alan Founds/Jake Lowther and Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney (111.80mph) slotting into 2nd, 3rd and 4th.

Although it may not be too much of a shock for those who follow anything on three wheels,  newcomers Ryan and Callum Crowe, two brothers who’s dad is five-time TT winner Nick Crowe, pulled a 109.76mph out the bag on their very first lap on their 675cc Triumph. By the way, if you’re out and about watching the sidecars you can’t miss the Crowe brothers. Nope, not because their outfit is painted in whacky colours (it’s white and blue), but because the noise it makes is tremendous. It makes your ears vibrate for a good couple of minutes after. They’re definitely ones to watch so make sure you keep your eyes peeled for that pair! As some of you may also know, Maria Costello (alongside the Lightweight solo class) has decided to take up the three-wheeled sport and completed a lap just shy of 100mph at 99.37mph whilst fellow passenger newcomer Sarah Stokoe (driver Mike Jackson) completed a lap of 102.32mph.

Despite a few tumbles, all in all, a great evening for practice despite the cold conditions. I don’t believe the sun was too much of an issue, but we can only hope it will be for the next week or so. The weather forecast is looking very bleak for tomorrow, potentially a break in the weather at the weekend, but even then it’s not looking promising.

Time will tell, but for now, I’ll leave you with this little memory that popped up today of a racer who is sorely missed:

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#14

Back in 2016 Dan Kneen was unable to race due to sustaining an injury prior to the TT, so he came down to the bottom of the Barregarrow and joined the Orange Army. I remember him saying: ‘Is that what it looks like when I’m racing? It’s not that scary when you’re the one on the bike.’

Words by Samantha Wanless

 

 

 

 

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