RACE DAY, RACE DAY. EVERY ONE UP. LETS GO.
7am we were up. Packing our cool box with Monster Energy Rossi Edition, sausages, burgers and bacon. Snack box was overflowing, but we were ready. 7:30am we were in the van fully loaded for the day and heading 2 minutes down the road to Rhencullen where we were to plonk ourselves on the grass bank for the forseeable.
The sun was baking. I’m very fair-skinned. I don’t tan. I turn a bright shade of tomato then return to my pasty self. I thought we had prepared for every eventuality, but nope. I’d forgotten my hat. Suncream was applied, but even at 8am the sun was already turning bald heads pink and I had resigned to the fact I probably wouldn’t make it through both the Supersport and Superstock races. Instead I would probably be sat in the back of the van with a sulk on because it would either be that or burn baby burn!
Roads closed at 10am sharp. Like clockwork. It’s amazing to see how quickly the roads are closed, how organised. There’s never (usually) any bother with getting motorists off the road. Just lately it’s been the spectators causing issues instead. After I’d climbed through the farmers fence, narrowly avoided a nettle to the face and escaped any injury, I was up on the grass bank with legs dangling. Now you might think that’s dangerous. Why would you sit with your legs dangling whilst motorbikes fly through at 150mph+ about an inch away from the curb you’re closest to? Actually, I can’t really answer that except for at least my feet weren’t touching the pavement! This truly is the closest you will ever get to racing and this is exactly why you won’t find me in a grandstand at a BSB or MotoGP in the UK because there is no way you’re sticking me behind a load of chicken wire so I can look on a big screen. Nope. I want to be right there. A stones throw away. (In fact one clipped my nose on Monday, but that’s another story.) The TT and road racing in general really does spoil you. So, I’m sat on the grass bank like a pig in muck. Sun is out, I’ve eaten by bacon bap and I’m just patiently waiting listening to the radio build-up. Roads are closed and there’s a nosher stood in his socks on the road. I just don’t understand. Clearly a biker with his leather trousers on, guessing his feet were too hot in his boots. I couldn’t smell the pong, but the sweat was showing. I’m tutting, shaking my head. There’s no way he didn’t know the roads were closed. It was bellowing out all through the field. Yet still he has to be told by a marshal to get off the road and even then it took him a few minutes to realise…
Michael Dunlop appeared to be the favourite before the race had even begun after his Superbike win on Saturday. Sure, he was probably still on a high from that too, but this is a different machine. It’s pretty much full throttle 80% of the time as opposed to a Superbikes and now it was time for the 600’s, it was time to thrash the nuts off them.
After a disappointing Saturday for Harrison, despite becoming the outright lap record holder, I was sure he was going to push for a win. Conor Cummins, a favourite being a Manxman, gives me a little laugh when I see him on a 600. He’s probably around 6’4″ and yet still manages to wrap himself round that Padgett’s Honda. It must be like some sort of origami! Still quick though and definitely one to watch especially since that number 1 plate he’s sporting seems to be suiting him well. That number 1 plate isn’t for everyone. It’s the road sweeper. You’re the first out onto the road. You find the wet patches, the little stones in the road. You disturb the little birdies in the trees with the roar of a Superbike/sport machine. You have a clear road ahead of you and John McGuinness always said it can feel lonely. If you’re winning a race you know because there will be no one in front of you. You could go a whole 4 or even 6 laps round the TT course without seeing a single bike on the road next to you unless you find a couple of back markers. No carrot dangling in front of you, no one to catch. It’s just you and the road – something Cummins appears to be gluing well with.
…and Cummins heads off over St Ninian’s and down Bray Hill with a full twist of the throttle, but it’s Harrison who took the lead through Glen Helen on the opening lap holding a 1s lead over Dunlop, James Hillier in third. It was a ‘watch this space’ kinda lap. Watching the live timing you could see that Dunlop was on a stonker of a lap which brought the gap down to just 0.2s at Ballaugh. By the time they’d laid their rubber down at Ramsey Hairpin Dunlop had taken the lead by a mere second. Hillier was now in the race for third as Peter Hickman started to pick up the pace drastically. He was 8s adrift of Hillier, but only 0.2s ahead of Cummins.
128.265mph was Dunlop’s opening lap average speed placing him 1.7s ahead of Harrison. Hillier was currently at the shit end of the third place battle as Hickman now had a 2.5s advantage and had taken that third position. 3 laps left, a lot of time to win or lose and Harrison decided he wasn’t having any of the ‘raging bull’ taking yet another TT victory. At Glen Helen Harrison had started to pull back the time ever so slightly and with Hickman 14.2s behind he didn’t have anyone breathing down his hump.
Harrison didn’t stand a chance. Dunlop had pulled another second out the bag at Ballaugh and by Ramsey the gap was 4.6s. It felt like Harrison was riding the arse off that Kawasaki, but Dunlop just kept pulling and pulling. His style of riding is so aggressive, but I actually think it’s what those 600’s need. You’re constantly throttle open, dancing on the pegs to pull the bugger from the right to the left and then up-right and back to the left and so on. They might be smaller machines, but they take some muscle.
End of lap 2 marks the first and only pitstop in the four-lap Supersport race… and there it was – another lap record smashed! Dunlop finished his second lap at 129.197mph breaking his own record which was set back in 2013. That aggression was so visible on the road. He was ready for this win, he was on it. A 6.4s advantage was something Dunlop could keep under control. Harrison remained in second with Hickman a whopping 22.7s behind. Hillier was putting on the pressure for Hickman with only a gap of 3.6 determining the third position… and Hillier was leading on the road. A mega pitstop by Hillier’s team and a longer than anticipated pitstop for Hickman meant the gap narrowed to only 0.2s at Glen Helen. By the time the pair were through Ballaugh it was Hillier in that third position, but only by 0.6s. At Ramsey that had doubled.
Going into the fourth and final lap there were no records broken. The third lap took the pit stop into consideration, but now they were all on flyers. Dunlop and Harrison were together on the road with the official gap being 9.4s. Watching those two together on the road was just magical… with a slight hint of fire. They both have very different riding styles. As I said before, Dunlop is quite aggressive. He literally looks like a bull in a china shop. Harrison doesn’t look so heavy footed on a bike, but he’s mainly elbows out with his head down. Harrison clearly had his carrot and he was ready to bite the arse end off it… but unfortunately just couldn’t keep up with Dunlop’s pace.
Harrison led on the road to the finish line, but being the gentleman he is let Dunlop through to take the chequered flag. Such an amazing show of sportsmanship – it really gives you a hint of what this road racing family is like. Yeah, they’re all competitors. There can be tensions in the paddock, although I think most of them have gone since a certain tea-drinker hasn’t been around, and they clearly all want to win and be on that rostrum. Yet they are the first people to congratulate each other whether that’s first, second or 30th. Everyone who finishes their race round this monster of a course deserves a pat on the back. It is ruthless on both body and machine. It is why we race.
Harrison finished in second 0.258s ahead of Hickman who had finally put Hillier into fourth by 1.8s. Cummins finished in fifth, Brookes sixth on the McAms Yamaha. Huge congratulations to newcomer Davey Todd who finished 12th – one of the road’s rising stars as you’ll soon see. He’s a little bit special in my opinion, he’s one to watch.
During the post-race press conference the top three finishers mentioned an incident on the Mountain section during the Supersport race. Nothing had been mentioned by the race officials. Everyone was buzzing after that race. We all sat on our grass bank. Some with sandwiches, some with their coffee. We’d cracked open the barbecue as per, beef burgers topped with bacon were on the menu and a can on Monster, listening to the radio whilst the crossing points were open. My other half was laughing at me sat in the back of the van munching on my burger – happy as larry – and then I hear the sentence I hate.
‘ACU Events Ltd have released a statement’
Shit – no. I run over to the fence to catch the announcement. Another racer was living their dream to the very end. The statement reads as follows:
ACU Events Ltd regrets to confirm that Adam Lyon, 26, from Helensburgh in Scotland was killed in an incident during the Supersport 1 Race today at the Isle of Man TT Races. The accident occurred at Casey’s, just after the 28th mile of the course, on the 3rd lap of the race.
Gutted. Heartbroken for his family & friends. Made even harder when you note he was a newcomer. It was Lyon’s first ever time competing on this beautiful island. The first night of practice he was shown round by Milky Quayle on a speed controlled lap, then not long after the 3 newcomers were released to go about their racing career on this amazing course. All week the newcomers had been fast. Not quite as fast as Hickman when he came over a newcomer, but they weren’t far off. It scared me if I’m honest. These were newcomers and they were doing the same lap times as someone just outside of the seeded 1 – 20. Are they just oozing talent, or are they going all balls out? Most likely both. You don’t get offered a newcomers spot at the TT if you hadn’t proved yourself somewhere else, if there wasn’t a spark. There are strict rules and ultimately it is down to the race officials as to whether you are ready or not to tackle this course. Lyon’s had qualified 24th in the Supersport race with a fastest lap of 122.261mph and on his opening lap of the race he’d managed a 122.636mph. In an instant, he was gone.
I don’t know what happened up on the Mountain. The red flag didn’t appear, the situation was obviously controllable through waived yellows. Hickman said that he and others had slowed down considerably due to the incident, but hoped that everyone was okay – that glimmer of hope so quickly taken away. Lyon’s along with Dan Kneen were both doing something they were passionate about, something they loved and lived for. Tonight I watched the red arrows over Douglas Bay. I winced more watching them cross paths at a speed I dread to think about. An accident could have so easily have occurred, yet you don’t see many people complaining about how dangerous the red arrows are and how they should be banned. People see the red arrows practicing, people don’t necessarily see our TT racers practicing. Hickman, for example, is in BSB. He races most weekends during the season. He’s accustom to his machines despite circuit racing being a different discipline. The Dunlop’s are born and bred road racers and they attend many of the Irish road races before and after the TT. Many of the racers are involved in circuit racing or other small road races during the season. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be granted their Mountain licence – it’s not an easy process. Just because you watch the Isle of Man TT, please don’t think this is purely what these racers do. Yes – it is most likely their biggest two weeks of their racing calendar. It takes months of preparation every year if not more and ultimately it takes years to learn this course properly. I won’t blabber on about how they all know the risks because we should be fully aware of all that from when we heard the devastating news about Dan Kneen. Just be thankful you got to see these men race, you got to see them achieving their dreams.
My thoughts are with all of Adam’s family and friends at this sad time. I hope it brings them some comfort to know he was doing what he loved, what he wanted and ultimately living that dream right to the very end.
…and then we went again because, as we all know, it’s what we do, it’s all we know.
Next up – Superstock Race 1.