IOMTT: Sunshine, Superbikes & 130mph laps

Bank Holiday Monday was yet another beautiful day on the Isle of Man with conditions that could only be described as perfect. Superbikes and sunshine go hand-in-hand. There were spectators four deep at the Bottom of Barregarrow, more orange army than I’ve ever seen and we were all ready for the first Superbike practice session to begin.

Nothing quite prepares you for the thunder that awaits when you hear ‘bike on voddy straight’… and we had to wait a while longer. 

Unfortunately there was a slight delay to the start of practice due to some drunken imbecile being a nuisance, not adhering to marshals warning and henceforth deciding to wobble along closed roads. Although marshals have their own powers in their own right, these powers were somewhat useless in this situation and the police were quickly called to arrest and remove said imbecile. The most irritating part is that that man will call himself a ‘race fan’ yet the racers were sat around in their one-piece leather race suits and boots sweating their arses off, teams rushing around to put tyre warmers back on & most vitally they were missing that important course time.

Once the above had been taken care of it was time for that tap on the shoulder at exactly 6:40pm… and they were off towards St Ninian’s crossroads, down Bray Hill and heading for Quarterbridge.

As I was saying there really is nothing that can prepare you for that thunder, that blur, that sound – especially if it’s Josh Brookes on that Norton! You hear ‘bike on voddy straight’ and you’re waiting… just waiting to hear that roar, then you see the front wheel and then a colourful blur and in that split second their already very almost in Kirk Michael. It really does make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. 

The first session was a mixture of Superbike and Superstock machines. It’s insane to see Superstock machines racing at the same pace as Superbikes and it showcases how with very slight modifications (expensive one’s mind…) can turn an out-of-the-crate-ready-to-sell motorbike into a weapon as quick as a highly modified Superbike. Supersport machine were also allowed out in this session although after a full two-hours on Saturday where most riders qualified their machine, the majority parked the 600cc for the 1000cc machines. 

Tyoo BMW’s Dan Kneen and Batham’s Michael Rutter were first away with Gary Johnson on the RAF Kawasaki hot on their tails alongside Honda’s Ian Hutchinson. Kneen, Johnson and Conor Cummins were Superstock-mounted whilst the rest of the seeded riders appeared to start off on their Superbikes.

There were no questions as to whether we would see a 130mph lap straight out of the box due to the perfect conditions… then Dean Harrison topped the sheets with an opening lap of 130.232mph on his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki. Peter Hickman finished his first lap at 128.011mph followed by Manxman Kneen at 125.526mph. Michael Dunlop crossed the line with a lap of 129.358mph placing him second behind Harrison whilst Ramsey Rocket Cummins finished quickest in the Superstocks with a lap of 128.180mph only 1.178mph slower than Dunlop’s Superbike lap.

A few riders, Cummins and Dunlop most notably, were unfortunately caught behind a little bit of traffic and  without that traffic they would’ve easily have both been into 130mph laps with the pace they appeared to have. Undeniably however, there was no touching Harrison. Coming down through the trees from Barregarrow Top Harrison was line perfect every time just skimming the white line next door to the fence and gliding over the bridge before grabbing the throttle to power through the 13th milestone towards Douglas Road corner in Kirk Michael.    

Harrison took a flying lap to raise the bar even further to a 131.376mph lap. Astonishing lap speeds and time for the first superbike/stock practice session.

Hickman posted a 129mph lap on his Smiths Racing Superstock BMW with Cummins finishing his lap a mere 0.584mph ahead. After that Cummins jumped onto his superbike, but it wasn’t to be as he retired on his first lap at Ballacraine.
Perfect conditions again greeted the competitors for the second qualifying session at the Isle of Man TT Races, fuelled by Monster Energy, and Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) topping the Superbike leader board at an impressive 131.376mph, the quickest ever lap recorded on the opening night of Superbike qualifying. Dunlop rode phenomenally to put in a 131.087mph on his Superbike and let’s not forget that the Superbike lap record by Dunlop is 133.393mph… sandbagging could be a potential. Hickman took his Superstock machine for another lap to finish quickest with a 130.219mph lap.

Hutchinson was up to a 124.588mph lap on his Honda Superstock machine. Impressive considering it’s almost a year ago since his tyre burst up on mountain near the 27th milestone (between Guthries and the Mountain mille) in the Senior TT resulting in a fractured femur.  

Not forgetting these important riders – Newcomers Adam Lyon and Davey Todd. Impressive laps at 120.186mph and 119.148mph respectively. David Jackson finally got his first lap around the TT course with Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle showing him the way after he didn’t make it round on Saturday. An opening lap of 113.933mph was pretty impressive.

It must be such a daunting experience taking on the Mountain course. You prepare for months. You learn the names of the corner, you watch every on-board possible. You do your track time and days, you officially get your mountain licence. Milky shows you the ropes and then it’s time. Your first time on closed roads must be a surreal and emotional moment. Just you, your bike and the famous Mountain course. I do wonder whether that 20 minutes feels like a lifetime or whether it flies by. The energy that must go in to the concentration that is required to remember every corner, just to simply recognise where you are must be a mission. Being an island resident since I was 12 I still get lost – not so much on the Mountain course mind, but then again I’m not going at 200mph+!

Towards the end of the session there were bike changes left right and centre. Hickman and Harrison flung their legs over their Superstock machines to post laps of 128.142mph and 128.134mph respectively. Josh Brookes and Gary Johnson both unfortunately retired at Sulby Bridge and Ballacraine. However, it was Hickman who took the top spot in the Superstock class with a late lap of 130.219mph placing Manxmen Cummins and Kneen second and third.

Manx Radio announced a slight delay to the start of the first side car session due to an oil spill at Ballacraine. This was cleared relatively quickly as the sidecards set off at 7:58pm only a few minutes behind schedule. It was the Birchall brothers who set the Formula Two Sidecars off on their first practice followed by Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle who broke the 110mph barrier on their second lap in their ‘bat mobile’. 

It was John Holden and Lee Cain who were the first to complete a lap at 113.663mph ahead of the Birchall’s 110.937mph whilst Molyneux/Sayle finished marginally behind with a lap of 110.508mph.  It was only Holden/Cain who sailed through to start a flying lap whilst the others pulled in to make their adjustments – common in sidecar practice. 

Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes clocked the fastest speed through Sulby at 150.1mph, but they had a few issues and were forced to stop at the Black Hut to make those vital adjustments. Holden/Cain didn’t manage to match or better their first lap with a second lap speed of 99.053mph but Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley improved to 108.851mph with Tony Baker and Fiona Baker-Holden only marginally slower at 108.412mph. 

It was later reported that there was an incident up at Brandywell which involved  Thierry Laforest and Freddy Lebulez from France. Driver Laforest was reported to be okay and passenger Lebulez was taken by airmed to Nobles hospital with reported minor shoulder and leg injury.

All in all a great practice session with some phenomenal times posted by the Superstock and Superbike machines. Harrison clearly the front runner so far, but it’s only the first practice session on the big bikes so far and there’s still four evenings of practice to go before the first Superbike race on Saturday 2nd June.

I must admit, however, I am missing the likes of John McGuinness and Bruce Anstey. So much so that I’m struggling to remember who’s riding which number… and now it transpires that William Dunlop has withdrawn also.

Sidecars as expected had their adjustments to fiddle with in first practice which is normal, but hopefully they’ll be pretty much dialled in for the next practice session.

Adios… and into Tuesday evening practice we go!

RST Superbike Qualifying – Monday 28th May – Fastest Laps

RL360 Superstock Qualifying – Monday 28th May – Fastest Laps

Monster Supersport Qualiying – Monday 28th May – Fastest Laps Sidecar Qualifying – Monday 28th May – Fastest Laps


2018 Isle of Man TT begins

I can’t even begin to imagine how exhausting yet exhilarating it must be having the throttle pinned for 37.73 miles, arguably 216 corners for approx. 18 mins… and then doing that SIX times at an average of 130mph on two wheels. 

The Isle of Man TT is a spectacle, it’s unique, it’s intoxicating.

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Road racing is something special.  Some people live for it, others just don’t understand it. There are a handful of road races around the globe, but not many people have heard of them, know of them or even believe anything this spectacular could ever happen. For two weeks every year this sleepy, quiet little rock in the middle of the Irish Sea opens it’s flood gates to around 40,000 visitors with the majority making their own pilgrimage over the Irish Sea on their own motorbikes. You’ll find all different nationalities here just by looking at registration plates on motorbikes. I’ve even met Australian bikers who shipped their motorbikes over to the Isle of Man in containers. It’s bonkers really! The Isle of Man TT is what puts the island on the map and it’s something we should be proud of. 

A road racing paddock is one of the friendliest places you could ever walk into. I’ve never been able to put my finger on why this is, but I strongly believe it’s because the road racing community are a family. We all know how dangerous road racing can be, we all know someone who’s been bitten by the Mountain course or worse. Yet year on year the same racers, teams & spectators come back because it’s what they do, it’s what they love, it’s in their blood. Road racing is a bug.

Teams help fellow teams, riders help fellow riders… yet when the visor comes down as they await the tap on their shoulder to fly down Bray Hill they become rivals who are all competing for the same reason – that top step and a prestigious TT victory. 

You’ve got curb stones, stone walls, lampposts, electricity boxes, pavements, trees and bridges not to mention roundabouts, tram lines and hairpins to contend with as well as the every-changing weather. The roads aren’t smooth like you would find on a track, they’re bumpy and uneven most noticeably from Ginger Hall through to Ramsey. There are arguably 216 corners to negotiate around the 37.73 mile course which is primarily a public road for 365 days a year. It takes months of back-office preparation to ensure the logistics of the two weeks are finely tuned. It takes weeks to paint the black and white curb stones on corners of the public roads, erect the air fences around specific parts of the course and to tie hay bales around gate posts and the like. Yet it feels like the whole two-weeks of the Isle of Man TT is over in the blink of an eye… some truth in this because if you blink you’re bound to miss Michael Dunlop flying past at over 200mph.  

It takes over 520 volunteers to sign up as marshals before any practice or racing can take place on the mountain course. They must be prepared for every possible eventuality whether that’s a racing incident, ducks on the course, oh and of course 4 seasons in one day! These marshals are the eyes and ears for race control and essentially the Clerk of the Course back at the Grandstand on Glencrutchery Road. It’s a time trial and there are riders on each part of the course throughout a race or practice and there is no way Gary Thompson (CoC) with all the will in the world could keep his own eye on each part of the course. To put the 37.73 miles course into perspective it would take approx. 15 laps of Brands Hatch GP (2.43 miles) to complete 1 lap of the Isle of Man TT course. During the Superbike and Senior TT races the riders complete 6 laps of the TT course… call it 93 laps of Brands Hatch? Make no mistake mind that track racing bares no resemblance to road racing other than it involves motorbike racing, but that’s for another day.

It’s usually the newcomers speed-controlled lap which is up and out first. Richard ‘Milky’ Quayle usually don’s on his leathers, boots, gloves & helmet. This year (2018) there are only 3 newcomers, most starting their mountain course career wait until later on in the year for the Manx Grand Prix – more on that in August! Oh, and when I say speed-controlled that doesn’t mean they sit at 50mph all the way round… they’re usually rounded up by a Travelling Marshal to ensure they all finish their first closed-road lap of the TT course safely. 

After that it’s usually time to unleash the experienced riders like the Dunlop brothers Michael & William, Manx-men Conor Cummins & Dan Kneen, the Bingley Bullet Ian Hutchinson who is returning after yet another injury which he sustained during the Senior race last year, NI’s Lee Johnston, Bradford’s Dean Harrison to name a few. Unfortunately this year there will be no 23-time TT winner John McGuinness as he is recovering from a leg injury sustained at the 2017 NW200 after the Honda Racing CBR spat him off into Primrose Hill. There will also be no Guy Martin this year. The first practice session is usually Supersport & Supertwins mingled together and on Saturday some of the riders noted above managed to put in 6 laps during their two-hour session. Usually the first night of practice is a wash out. Marshals are usually soggy, spectators being bitten by midges as they’re unprepared and riders cursing the weather – usually mountain fog and rain. 2018’s first practice was a little unusual as sunshine showered the Isle of Man, albeit a little windy, for the first time in a few years we managed a full evening of practice. 

Nothing quite prepares you for Michael Dunlop flying down from the top of Barregarrow to the bottom throttle pinned in sixth gear brushing the curb before the bridge, powering through the dodgy camber and the bell pan just kissing the tarmac. It’s a bit of a heart in mouth moment, but yet there’s also trust. You know Michael can be a bit fiery, but you expect it. McGuinness always looks to be line perfect, so instead of heart in mouth you watch in awe. If you see someone who just about fits on a Supersport machine you know is Cummins and if there’s a little guy hanging onto a bike you can probably bet that’s Johnston. Once the first lap is out the way your head as a marshal, spectator is dialled in. You start to pick the numbers out, you know who’s riding which number, which plate colour is which machine, you know a dodgy race line when you see one and you know when to prepare yourself. You can also bet that when you think there’s a gap to grab your sarnie and munch it a freight train will be 2 seconds away. 

The first night of practice is exhilarating. You swear multiple times, you take a few steps back, but most importantly it hooks you all over again. It reminds you that although it looks superhuman what these racers are doing… they really are human, just a little bonkers with a shit-load of talent. 

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Yes – it is arguably the world’s most dangerous race, a minor mistake can prove to be fatal & you always get someone saying ‘well if it’s that good then why doesn’t Valentino Rossi do the TT?’… (These are the people you should slap and then tell them to go home by the way.) The Isle of Man TT is a drug. Sometimes you don’t want to watch, but you just can’t help yourself. You become immersed in an atmosphere that is unlike no other. You meet new people from all over the world, you make friends, memories. You become part of the road racing family for two weeks and you get to watch the greatest road race in the world. If you haven’t been to the Isle of Man TT, get it booked! 

…and if you’re reading this thinking what even is the Isle of Man TT, take a look at this: 

…here comes the second night of practice for the 2018 Isle of Man TT.