IOMTT: We go again

Featured

It was the morning after the night before. I don’t think many of us slept well. I tossed and turned for most of the night and woke up asking if it was all just a bad dream – no, it wasn’t.

I drove to work and it was almost as if the TT had disappeared for a few moments. The sky cried with us overnight leaving damp roads, the roads were quieter than a mouse and that was until I got to Union Mills. The boat must have just docked and streams of motorbikes were finding their way to set-up camp whether that’s in a field somewhere or in a house. They’d made their journey across Europe maybe, the UK and over the Irish Sea to be here on the little rock. To see the Isle of Man TT. For those people, their journey, their adventure is just beginning.

The weather wasn’t looking too great by all accounts. During the day the IOM Police closed the Mountain Road due to extensive fog, but by 2pm it was business as usual and people were able to continue their own lap of the mountain course.

The roads dried beautifully, except for the usual places under the trees at Glen Helen, Governor’s, and every little nook and cranny appeared to be filled. It was overwhelming. After what we all experienced last night, the heartbreak, the tears – emotions were running high . People outside this sport probably thought what an Earth were we doing back in a hedge after losing one of our own, but it’s just what we do, it’s what we know and it’s what Dan would want.

Thursday 31st May, 6:20pm – the tap on the shoulder, we go again.

34146443_2284696301544817_2462318756685152256_o

Peter Hickman just after the Gooseneck Photo: Babb Photography

It was still. Everyone was waiting in anticipation. I think we all just needed to see & hear race bike on the Mountain course again and oddly it would feel like everything was okay again… if only for a split second.

Peter Hickman posted the evening’s fastest time in the Superbike class with a lap of 132.81mph – a new personal best! After setting this he said ‘we’re here to do a job and we want to do it in Dan’s memory.’ For some it ignites an extra fire, it makes them more determined.

I remember back in 2003 when we were all so very heartbroken after David Jefferies sadly left us, Adrian Archibald took to the roads on 7th June 2003 with his 0 plate with the biggest fire in his belly that I think I’d ever seen. He won. He won the Senior TT on-board his TAS Suzuki for DJ. All for him. Michael Dunlop is another prime example 5 years later. His father, Robert, as we all know lost his life in 2008 at the North West 200. Both William and Michael were determined to get back out there. It’s all they know. They chose to turn their upset and aggression into something special – determination. Some think it’s insane, some even said they’d kill themselves out there, but we all knew there was going to be no stopping them… that was until William had a mechanical failure and was forced to drop out. That left Michael. I remember there being a bit of a kick off on the grid two days later. Race organisers didn’t want him to race. They were concerned. That same day Michael won his first North West 200.

Back to the Thursday’s practice session – first down the hill at 6:20 was Michael Rutter on the Bathams BMW with Hickman. Lee Johnston and Derek Sheils followed with Martin Jessopp and Gary Johnson 10 seconds behind. I could hear the Superbikes roar through Kirk Michael village. I was only at the bottom of Rhencullen, but it felt like a lifetime before we caught a glimpse. There they were. Over Rhencullen jump, drifting towards the right-side of the road inches away from the stone wall to put them on the right line ready to hit their apex as they head past Bishopscourt and through to Alpine.

Hickman completed his first lap at 131.113mph whilst Rutter managed a 127.475mph lap. Both Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop started a little further back and were both lapping at over 130mph whilst Norton’s Josh Brookes missed out on a 130mph by 0.826mph. If you’re on the Isle of Man, make sure you take a trip up to the paddock to have a look at that Norton – I’ve never seen anything more shiny, plus it sounds insane!

Ben and Tom Birchall posted the fastest lap of the week so far in the Formula Two Sidecar class with last year’s double winners lapping at an impressive 116.554mph.

Hickman went on to complete a flying lap and took full advantage of the clear road in front of him. No traffic usually equates to a good lap, but it could equally mean you lose track of time. Not on Hickman’s watch mind. He set an unofficial personal best lap of 132.81mph just shy of Harrison’s 133mph lap. Hickman made his debut in 2014 with laps of 129mph… He’s still the fastest ever newcomer this Mountain Course has seen to date.

34066876_2284697308211383_138825008137895936_o.jpg

Conor Cummins on his Padgetts Superbike Photo: Babb Photography

Manxman Conor Cummins took to the roads on his Padgetts Honda Superbike to put in a 131.18mph. It always amazes me how some so tall tucks into a Superbike machine let alone a little 600 Supersport so neatly! Cummins also put in a late lap of 130.59mph. I could see on the live timing that he was just a couple of seconds off his 131.18mph he had set earlier on in the session.

Something that needs to be mentioned is the speed and talent of these newcomers we have this year. Dave Todd posted a lap time of 123.995mph and I’m telling you… he looks fast, super fast. Fellow newcomer David Jackson also went above the 120mph for the first time this week. Unfortunately Adam Lyon retired at Cronk y Voddy and I don’t believe he was able to return back to the paddock until the end of the session. 

Speeds were slowing around the Mountain course as there were stationary yellows at a few marshal posts. Chris Petty was involved in an incident at St Ninians which left debris on the road. Petty made his way back to the Grandstand, but was taken by ambulance to Nobles Hospital where he was reported to have an ankle fracture. Wishing him all the best and a speedy recovery!

Not many of the top 20 seeded riders to their Supersport for ‘some wheelies’ as Harrison would say. Ivan Lintin posted the quickest lap of the night at 123.22mph placing him ahead of Lee Johnston, but only by 0.2mph. 

It was 7:48pm when the Formula Two Sidecars took to the roads. The Birchall’s led them off down Bray Hill and I’m waiting patiently on the west side of the course for them to arrive… it honestly feels like a life-time especially when you’ve got a numb arse from sitting on a stone wall. (That isn’t me complaining by the way, it’s my happy place!) The sound of the sidecars didn’t resonate as much through the village, so they almost crept up on me, but there they were – 3 wheels off the ground and over Rhencullen jump. The sound reverberating against the stone walls, taking the same line, the same apex as the Superbikes, but just a little bit wider. 

 

Through Alpine, over Ballaugh Bridge, past the Wildlife Park (yes, we have one…!), along Sulby straight, over the bumps between Ginger Hall and Milntown, through Parliament square in Ramsey, round the Hairpin, the Gooseneck and we’re on the way up the Mountain! 

The Birchalls were the quickest on the opening lap with a speed of 115.48mph whilst Reeves/Wilkes posted (and finished) their first lap of 2018 with 114.06mph. Founds and Molyneux both lapped over 111mph and Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney posted a PB of  110.69mph.

Second lap for the Birchalls saw them up their pace to 116.554mph the fastest lap of the week so far! French duo Estelle Leblond/Melanie Farnier recorded a lap of 107.886mph. Newcomers Michael Jackson/Harry Payne improved to 104.83mph before retiring right where I was sat! The adrenaline runs so high through these racers. They jumped off the sidecar which had a mechanical issue and they were shaking… They probably didn’t notice after clinging onto the metal bars and handles, but you could see it. They were in that moment. The passenger pulled out a scrap bit of paper with three numbers on and asked to borrow a phone. First thing he asked was ‘what was our lap speed?’ Second thing I heard ‘Yeah yeah I’m fine 104 no way!’ …if that doesn’t tell you all you need to know that I don’t know what does. These racers live for this Mountain course. It’s the rush, it becomes a bug… and once you’ve been bitten there ain’t no way you can stop. 

Image may contain: one or more people, motorcycle, sky, outdoor and nature

Rutter & his Mugen machine Photo: Babb Photography

The electric TT Zero machines had their first outings…there’s nothing better than the sound of a hairdryer right?

The Mugen with Rutter on-board  stole the show with an impressive first lap of 116.049mph. Johnston, also Mugen mounted, finished his lap at just over 100mph.  It also appears Mugen aren’t the only race-pace setters as Daley Mathison on the University of Nottingham UON 02 was on a charge. MCN’s Adam Child lapped at 74.869mph on the Moto Corsa Ego. I believe they’re due another lap of practice tonight… one lap that is and the battery will last no more than that! 

Next practice session is scheduled for this evening with roads closing at 6pm, tap on the shoulder at 6:20pm. 

It’s currently raining here on the Isle of Man, but the weather forecast is looking likely to brighten up… I guess we shall have to wait and see. 

IOMTT: Dan Kneen

Featured

I had been trying to find the words, but nothing wanted to come out. I didn’t have any. See, that’s the thing about road racing – it really does leave you speechless.

Wednesday evening practice was all to schedule with the Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson announcing that there was a 30% chance of rain for the middle of the session, but apart from that no comments to be made except for ‘have a good one!’

Eagerly stood at the bottom of Barregarrow I could see on live timing they were at Glen Helen. I shoved my phone back in my pocket ready for that Superbike roar… there it was.

They were quick. So unbelievably quick. Road dust flew into the air as the racers came through one by one, sometimes two or three consecutively. It’s been so dry here on the Isle of Man that dust seems to be lurking everywhere. It was noticeable during the sidecars in the previous practice session, but only noticeable this evening for the solos.

Next we heard Control bellow over the Tetra radio ‘all sectors, all sectors – we have a full course red flag.’ We knew it wasn’t in our sector, but that’s all we knew until CoC announced there had been an incident at Churchtown and a tree was on fire. Not only was a tree on fire, but so was social media. I am a firm believer of no news is good news & no news is actual news until it is officially confirmed by the event organisers.

It was clear the incident was serious. You don’t have a full course red flag unless it is… and queue rumour mill & me getting increasingly angry on social media at idiots speculating. It’s not big and it’s not clever to announce anything that has not been put out in an official statement. They have a procedure, a protocol to follow. They ensure family are told with liaison officers present. They make sure the support is in place. It is all for a reason. Would you like to be told via social media your husband, boyfriend, daughter, wife had been injured or worse?

After several text messages back and forth with different people both on island and off, in the paddock and out of it, we all knew. Maybe not who, but we knew. We weren’t speculating on social media. It was messages between each other. Ones which you know go no further. Majority of the time it’s ensuring our best mates, family friends or even family know they’re racer is okay. You see, when you’ve been part of the road racing family through a tragedy, whether it’s a racer you know or not, there are offers of support, there is trust & unity. Everyone rallies round. It’s really hard to describe. I guess you just know the difference between a red flag and a red flag.

We’ve had three solid evenings of practice without any real drama. The whole island seemed to be on a high – the weather, the racing and not forgetting the astonishing 133mph lap Dean Harrison set!

…but now we’re not talking about the highs. The mainstream media such as the BBC, The Independent, etc. were never talking about that. Oh, no. They’ve been waiting for this like they do every year. A red flag. A fatality. ‘Ban the Isle of Man TT’ brigade will be out tonight… and it really isn’t the time or place.

ACU Events released this statement after tonight’s qualifying session:

‘ACU Events Ltd regrets to confirm that Dan Kneen, 30, from Onchan in the Isle of Man died this evening following injuries sustained during the Superbike qualifying session on the Isle of Man.
Dan had an accident at Churchtown on the first lap of the session and died at the scene of the incident.’

Dan Kneen was born and bred on this beautiful island in the middle of the Irish Sea. A proud Manxman. He made his Mountain course debut 10 years ago and is the only newcomer to win three MGP races in a week – the Junior, the Newcomers C and the Ultra Lightweight.

Image may contain: one or more people, motorcycle and outdoor

Kneen through Kirk Michael Photo: Babb Photography

Like any racer he’s had his tumbles. 2016 I remember he came down to the Bottom of Barregarrow as he wasn’t racing due to injury. Watching a racer watch the racing was fascinating. I saw him step back a little as the first bike flew down & I’m pretty sure he said something along the lines of ‘it’s not this frightening on a bike!’

Perspective. Perspective is everything. Racers aren’t forced to race these roads. They know that this sport in particular is dangerous. So do their families. It’s no secret. There’s furniture. Trees, stone walls, curbs. The more forgiving hedge and the less forgiving lamppost. These racers jump on a motorcycle and lean over a flammable tank full of fuel because it’s what they enjoy, it’s their dream, it’s their life! Most road racers live for the TT – the ultimate road race of 37.73 miles. Dan was one of those racers.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, close-up

Photo: Babb Photography

He got his race boots on the podium for the first time at last year’s TT in the Superstock race. This was when he also set his fastest official lap of 130.347mph and only last night he set a new PB of 132.258mph. Teaming up with Tyco BMW saw Dan flourish. He was setting quick lap times, he seemed comfortable on the bike and everyone was talking about how ‘he’s on for a podium with laps like that’. Yet, in a split second, quicker than a blink of an eye it’s over. Not entirely. The memories, the legacy – they all live on even through the heartache.

When you’re giving those articles by the BBC, the Independent, Guardian or other the time of day, please just remember the above. These racers have a different mindset to most. They live off this thrill, the adrenaline is above and beyond. It keeps them alive, it’s what they live for. The highs of this sport are so incredibly high. Elation of endurance, accuracy & talent. That feeling when they take the chequered flag after completing six laps of the TT course on a Superbike… 226.38 miles and 1 hour 45 minutes later.

I don’t even think I could imagine how those racers must feel. I also don’t think I could imagine how those racers must feel when we hit those lows like we have this evening, yet I don’t think doubt is one of them. Most will want to do this for Dan. It’s all they know. They’re living their dream just like Dan did and that’s the greatest achievement. Don’t let this become a tragedy. Remember his achievements and most of all remember he achieved that dream of his.

The entire road racing community is heartbroken and numb tonight as is the entirety of the Isle of Man. My thoughts are with Dan’s family, friends and the Tyco team . Race in peace up there under Manannan’s Cloak. He’ll keep you safe from now on. Stay on the pipe, boy!

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

Photo: Babb Photography

IOMTT: 37.73 miles in under 17-minutes at 133.462mph

Featured

…the rubber is down, the road is hot and they’re getting more practice than ever – I can see us heading for a record breaking TT this year!

Stood around chatting at the Bottom of Barregarrow waiting for the ‘bike on voddy straight’ to blare from the Tetra radio, I made a comment about ‘I bet they’ll be a 132mph straight off the line tonight.’ Close, but no bueno! Try 133.019mph instead…

A slight breeze cooled down the blaring sunshine and maybe that might be a vital part to the next bit as Dean Harrison unofficially broke the Superbike lap record with an insane lap of 133.462mph. Unfortunately this can’t be taken as an official lap record as it wasn’t during a race, however it does at least earn him bragging rights. This lap also saw Harrison become the second rider to complete a lap of the Mountain course in under 17 minutes. Was the wind pushing him up and over the Mountain? Maybe… in an interview a couple of laps later he said he wasn’t even trying!

On-board his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki Harrison completed his first lap at 133.140mph from a standing start. Just under the official lap record, but an unofficial standing start lap record instead. The rubber was down, the benchmark placed and Harrison was truly the man to beat.

Dean Harrison on his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki Photo: Babb Photography

Harrison wasn’t the first rider to set off down Bray Hill in Tuesday’s practice. At 6:23pm Michael Dunlop alongside James Hillier both got that tap on the shoulder – an OK to gently let the clutch out, twist the throttle – hopefully without stalling – going up the box to sixth & flat out till Quarterbridge.

Dunlop’s Tyco team-mate Dan Kneen was up next with Peter Hickman followed by Ian Hutchinson and Gary Johnson. An annoying start for Johnson, however, as he retired at St Ninian’s… at least it was easy enough to get back to the paddock.

It wasn’t long until it became clear Harrison was on a seriously hot pace. I can’t remember exactly how long it took him to get to Glen Helen, but I do remember looking at the live timing and shouting IT’S ONLY TAKEN HIM (x) MINUTES TO GET TO GLEN HELEN *insert expletives*. I was just too in the moment – shocked & worried about what was about to fly towards me down Barregarrow. Fortunately no one flew towards me in the literal sense, but it was clear they were trying – Harrison & Dunlop that is. You could even see that they were that 1mph quicker. It seems crazy, and maybe it’s all in your head because you’ve seen the sector times, but even so that feeling is just a rush of adrenaline for a marshal and spectator… let alone a racer! …and that was the lap Harrison finished at 133.140mph. Dunlop was close with a 132.319mph lap… only 0.821mph difference.

Kneen lapped at 130.668mph, Conor Cummins 129.756mph and Rutter 129.583mph to mention a few. Everyone was on insanely quick laps, but Harrison raised the benchmark to a flying lap of 133.462mph – 0.099mph faster than the official lap record and not forgetting the second rider to complete a sub-17-minute lap.

Manxman Kneen also put in a personal best lap of132.258mph – 2mph quicker than his best lap set last year in the Superstock race. Hickman was also remaining hot on the pace at 132.169mph. One thing I’ve noticed about Hickman is he has quickly developed his own style around the Mountain Course. He hasn’t tried to copy any other racer. He’s felt his own way round, made it his own. That’s the beginning of a real first-class road racer.

Lap speeds started to decline due to the traffic on the course. Conditions have been pretty perfect so far, and I’m fairly confident that most of the seeded riders will have qualified their machines in all classes (except TT Zero) after 3 full nights of practice. Every competitor however is guaranteed to want as much course time as possible for bike set-up & course knowledge.

Hickman and Harrison were still in the 130mph zone on their Superstock bikes with Hickman just having the edge at 130.619mph although this came to an end on his third lap when he retired at Crosby. Kneen placed third on the timesheets ahead of Lee Johnston, Cumming and Hillier. Lintin had a small low-speed off at Governor’s Bridge on his Superbike, but he was soon back out on his Lightweight machine to post a lap of 119.191mph placing him ahead of Stefano Bonetti on the Paton, Adam McLean and the other Paton of Ian Lougher.

7:20pm saw the Supersport and Lightweight machines take to the stage. Dunlop was quickest on his MD Racing Honda Supersport machine at 125.206mph placing him ahead of Hiller, Ivan Lintin and Josh Brookes. 

After joking around with the commentators when they asked him about his 133mph laps, Harrison said he was off to do some wheelies on his 600, but that didn’t last long. He made it to Ballacraine and made his way back on open roads… on his Supersport machine. Where else can you do that, hey?!

The newcomers were improving lap by lap with Davey Todd finishing a lap at 121.97 on his Suzuki Superbike whilst Adam Lyon completed a lap on his 600cc Yamaha at 121.537mph – impressive on a Supersport machine! David Jackson made up for some lost track time too with a lap of 118.93mph after breaking down at Ballig on Saturday. Every year I watch these newcomers join this crazy world for the first time yet every year they are quicker and quicker. It’s pretty phenomenal. It’s down to the determination, the time taken in the preparation not just regarding the bike, but learning the course corner by corner, inch by inch. The bikes are quicker than ever too regardless of whether you are backed by a big team and sponsors. These newcomers we see whether it’s at the TT or Manx Grand Prix are the up and coming road racers – the road racers of the future.

The Slidey’s got another practice session in on Tuesday evening. I still think these racers are insane. To cling on to a side car with your arse hanging off either right or left to weigh it down through the corners, or in the case of Dan Sayle lie flat on your stomach just after Barregarrow rather than tucking yourself into a ball. All of these passengers have their own style, their own way – a way which works for them. I for one wouldn’t like to be hanging off a sidecar at 200mph on the Mountain with fields and a few stone walls. Made of hard stuff these sidecar racers – stay and watch them, they’re fantastic.

John Holden/Lee Cain set an opening lap of 115.732mph whilst the Birchall’s, sporting the number 1 plate, finished the session second at 114.875mph. If you’ve not heard of the Birchall’s before they’re two brothers – Ben & Tom. They’re pretty famous in the sidecar racing world and are currently the reigning F1 Sidecar World Champions, so they have a few wins under their leathers. Let’s not forget, they’ve also won three TT’s and for the first time in history last year they won both Sidecar TT’s in the same year.

Following the Birchall’s on the timesheets were Alan Founds/Jake Lowther at 112.602mph slotting into third with Dave Molyneux/Dan Sayle fourth at 111.122 mph. Peter Founds/Jevan Walmsley and Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney also broke the 110mph barrier on their opening lap whilst newcomers Michael Jackson/Harry Payne broke the 100mph lap with 101.714mph.

Second lap around the Mountain course for the Birchall’s saw them remain second with a 115.145mph lap with the Founds brothers in third and fourth and Holden/Cain still maintaining the fastest lap. Tony Baker/Fiona Baker-Holden were trying as they just missed out on breaking the 110mph lap by 0.001mph! I think I’d be impressed yet a bit pissed off with that. 109.999mph… but it’s all fuel to the fire.

So far today (Wednesday) conditions are once again beautiful. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, but only until 6:20pm… because the action will start again with a session for Superbikes, Superstocks, Supersports and Newcomers setting off from the grandstand until 7:40pm. Sidecars are out at 7:45pm till 8:40pm and then the TT Zero bikes will set off on their first qualifying lap at 8:40pm to finish the evening’s proceedings.

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

Locate.im 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.

Image result for the isle of man tt

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. 

Related image

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.