IOMTT: Supersport race 1

Monday evening’s supersport race hampered by deteriorating weather, but Ashcourt Racing’s Lee Johnston crossed the line to take his maiden TT victory!

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As they set off down Bray Hill, many for the second time, they would all have to push aside what had happened earlier on in the day just for the next hour. The sunshine had disappeared and the clouds had taken over, but the hedges were lined and Rhencullen was chocka. Despite what had happened earlier on in the day, the road racing community were out in force and they were ready for the Supersport race one to commence.

Quattro Plant Kawasaki’s James Hillier took the early lead at Glen Helen on the opening lap with Johnston hot on his pipe 1.3s behind. Gary Johnson was third quickest to Glen Helen a further 1.2s behind Johnston. Superbike front-runner Dean Harrison was fourth quickest with Jamie Coward fifth, Michael Dunlop sixth. Hickman had what looked like a massive moment at Rhencullen jump. A hold your breath and close your eyes type moment. Well, it was from where I was sitting, Hickman probably didn’t even notice! Scary place that Rhencullen jump, but almost every racer was a bit wobbly on their landing. On the run to Ballaugh Hillier had a extended his by a tiny amount, but everything remained the same except Hickman moved up to fifth ahead of Coward.  I’m not sure if Johnston had a pit-board between Ballaugh and Ramsey, but by the Hairpin Johnson had closed the gap to 0.6s. Hillier’s lead was diminishing and Johnston was on a charge, but so was the rest of the field. Less than five seconds covered the leading six riders as they began their climb up the Mountain for the first time on their Supersport machines. I was sat on a Manx stone wall, having a cheeky mid-week beer when wet stuff started to fall. At first it was only light and we all thought it was just a passing light ‘in the air’ shower, but no sooner had we thought that I became soggy Sam.

Whilst I was getting soggy, Johnston had taken the lead at the Bunaglow and completed his opening lap at 126.03mph giving him a 1.989s lead over Hillier with Hickman now into third, Gary Johnson fourth, Harrison and Dunlop fifth and sixth. It was getting increasingly wetter… It wasn’t torrential rain, but you could definitely see the road starting to become darker and a shiny film was starting to appear. Clearly the conditions were okay on the east side of the island as Johnston extended his lead to 3.9s and Hickman was busy eating away in Hillier’s second place. Harrison had moved ahead of Johnson whilst Dunlop was still ‘plodding’ along in sixth. With the lack of practice, it must have been very difficult to perfect the set-up on any machine and those who most people thought would be right at the front battling for first position just aren’t. Potentially it’s all down to the lack of practice both for the rider and the machine. No chance to perfect the set-up, no real time to get them laps in like they did last year. Unfortunately it’s out of everyone’s control, so they’ve got to make the most out of a crappy practice week time-wise.

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Hillier was still fighting with Johnston as he re-gained some time from Glen Helen to Ballaugh and the pair were practically matching lap sector times, however I’m really not sure how they managed to fight their way through the west part of the course. The weather was significantly deteriorating around the entirety of the course and the chequered flag was displayed at the Grandstand, but the racers still had to negotiate the Mountain section.

Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson had declared the four-lap supersport race a result at the end of lap two. Johnston had won his first ever Isle of Man TT and I’m pretty sure the the entire road racing community was thrilled to have seen it happen! Hillier took second whilst Hickman finished in third. Harrison Dunlop and Cummins took fourth to sixth whilst Johnson, Coward, Todd and Hutchinson completed the top ten. There was some confusion, however, as after lap two the supersport machine were supposed to take a pit-stop to re-fuel, etc. The red lights were on chequered flag was out, but I believe some missed it and went into pit lane instead. I’m not sure if this is a procedure that may need to be addressed in case there are any short-lapped races in the future. Maybe a prior warning slightly further up, but I’m sure the Clerk of the Course is already on it!

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Monday had already been an emotional day and it was about to get that little bit more emotional as Johnston entered parc ferme. The first thing Johnston said after taking his helmet off was “I’m going to cry like a girl”… and so he did with the rest of us in tow! Ashcourt Racing had been built up by Johnston, his family, friends and sponsors. They’d pulled it all together and everything had clicked nicely into place. A race winner was born. “This means so much to me, with Ashcourt Racing and everyone else around me. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and there’s one person who I wanted here to see it and sadly he’s not, but hopefully he’s looking down.” Not sure there was anyone in a hedge with a dry eye. Johnston’s father passed away last year which is why you might see ‘f13k cancer’ around the paddock – a charity campaign spearheaded by Johnston for Marie Curie Northern Ireland. The campaign raised over £40,000 and I believe you can still donate here. As mentioned, it got pretty wet out west during lap two of the supersport race and Johnston noted that he wasn’t actually sure whether it was rain or whether his overflow bottle had leaked and sprayed up onto the screen, so he decided he’d press on and thought “I’m not going to lose this by not being brave enough because of a bit of rain.” Sensational. I couldn’t be happier to see Johnston on the top step of that prestigious podium and I’m pretty sure everyone else was just as chuffed. Although, the highlight for me was hearing his little boy giggling in the background of the post-race press conference… it really is a proper family affair!

Here’s Johnston explaining how that first win felt:

 

Words by Samantha Wanless

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