Another warm, sunny day on the Isle of Man brought a wonderful; record breaking Superbike TT. There were large crowds either side of the course at Milntown; where the new fan zone seems very popular. The riders power out of the s-bend at Pinfold Cottage; jump the road bridge, then sweep right close to the stone wall of Milntown House and then click into top gear on the straight leading to Schoolhouse Corner.
The solo warm up lap brought us most of the top riders on their Superstock or Supersport machines and offered the chance to set up the camera. Then; right on the appointment minute, the Superbike TT was under way; with Davo Johnson first away. At Glen Helen, it was clear that Michael Dunlop (Hawk Honda) was on a mission; yesterday he was third to the this first checkpoint as he settled in. Today he was fastest and leading by 0.145s from Dean Harrison (DAO Kawasaki). Davey Todd; Milenco Padgett Honda) was third, 1.28s down on Harrison; but 0.866s ahead of Peter Hickman (FHO BMW). James Hillier (OMG Yamaha) was fifth; with John McGuinness (Honda Racing) sixth.
Dunlop set the fastest ever time from Glen Helen to Ballaugh and there he led by 3.135s. Todd was third, 1.143s down on Harrison; Hickman just 0.139s further behind as they approached halfway around the lap. Jamie Coward, Josh Brookes, Mike Browne and Rob Hodson completed the top 10. Dean Harrison led on the road at Milntown; he had the front wheel well into the air as he landed from the jump over the bridge; a spectacular opening to the afternoon’s action for the crowd. Davo Johnson was next; then it was John McGuinness, who also had plenty of air under the front wheel. Most of the chasing riders had low flat jumps over the bridge as they headed for the 30 mph limit at about 150mph.
At Ramsey, the lead for Dunlop was 4.54s from Harrison; with Hickman now third as he came to grips with a troublesome quick shifter and less than perfect front brake. Dunlop was the fastest to the Bungalow; his lead out to 5.416s. Todd put in his best ever time on the climb and had retaken third by 0.215s from Hickman.
16m 49.727s after leaving the Grandstand, Dunlop completed his first lap at 134.519mph, a class lap record. This gave him a lead of 6.28s. Hickman was third, 0.495s ahead of Todd; James Hillier and Jamie Coward completed the top 6. John McGuinness was 7th; Josh Brookes 8th; both lapped at over 130mph. The order was the same; but the gaps slightly larger at Glen Helen. At Milntown, Dean Harrison produced another spectacular leap over the bridge; Dunlop’s was low and flat; the machine looking very stable. McGuinness and Hillier were circulating together and putting on a fine show. The timing point at White Gates showed that the lead was 10.12s; with Hickman now 8.324s behind Harrison.
Dunlop was rapid over the mountain and with aid of another Superbike record lap of 135.046mph he led by 14.6as he entered the pits to refuel. Harrison lapped at 133.938mph to have an advantage of 6.17s over Hickman (133.791mph) who had reduced it by 2s over the mountain section. As with yesterday, Harrison gained time in the pits; his stop was 2.8s faster than Dunlop’s and 0.8s faster than Hickman’s.
On lap 3 at Ballaugh, Dunlop’s lead was 14.56s; behind him Hickman was chipping away at Harrison’s advantage; it was down to 4.45s. Those three were well clear of Todd, Hillier and Coward. At Milntown both Harrison and Dunlop had the front wheel pawing the air nicely; under the gaze of former commentator; Roy Moore. There was a fine sight as Hillier, Coward and Hickman came through in line and just inches apart. The timing beam gave Dunlop a lead of 16.1s as he started the climb out of Ramsey. Harrison had an advantage of 5.23s over Hickman. Hillier was up to fourth; Todd was beginning to have machine problems and he would retire from the fray at the Grandstand.
At half distance, Dunlop led by 18.854s; with Hickman 5.091s down on Harrison. The demise of Todd moved John McGuinness up to sixth. At Glen Helen on lap 4 the lead was marginally over 20s. Hickman was faster to Glen Helen and cut Harrison’ advantage over him to under 5s.
At Milntown, the action was again excellent; with Dunlop, Hickman and Harrison producing fast, flat jumps. The freight train of McGuinness, Hillier and Coward kicked up a storm of dust as they hammered past. The lead for Dunlop was 21.635s as he headed for Ramsey Hairpin. His lap of 132.757mph gave him a lead of as he came in for the final pit stop. Harrison had 6.49s in hand over Hickman as he came in. Harrison’s stop was not as slick as the first one; he dropped 4.5s to Hickman; but gained 2s from Dunlop whose stop was amongst the slowest; but he had no need to rush it.
The effects revealed themselves at Glen Helen; Dunlop led by 19.44s; whilst Hickman had cut his deficit to Harrison to 3.65s. Could he repeat yesterday and wind Harrison back? More spectacular action was provided at Milntown as the riders flew over the bridge. At the timing point, the lead was 19.134s; with Dunlop managing his lead; as he had done yesterday. Hickman was still edging closer to Harrison; the gap down to 2.834s. At the end of the penultimate lap Dunlop led 17.3s; surely only a mechanical problem could deny him now. Hickman was now the fastest rider on track and had cut his deficit to Harrison to just 2.43s with 37.73 miles of the toughest course in the world left to complete.
Dunlop was easing his pace slightly; the lead down to 16.05s at Glen Helen. At Ballaugh, the lead was down to 15.29s; but it was from the flying Hickman; not Harrison. Dunlop and Harrison were neat and fast at Milntown; Hickman was fast, but slightly crossed up on landing; he simply kept it pinned and continued his lap at class record pace. Leaving Ramsey, Dunlop led by 11.65s with 13.73 miles of the mountain section between him and victory; surely, he had not eased so much that he would let victory slip from his grasp. The lead had been cut to 8.985s at the Bungalow; but at Cronk ny Mona 1.1 miles from the finishing line it was 7.71s; more than enough. Dunlop must have received a hurry up message; he was fastest over the final short sector and crossed the line to win by 8.233s at a record race average of 131.832mph. This victory draws him level with John McGuinness on 23 wins; only the late , great, Joey Dunlop is ahead; he won 26.
Hickman’s final lap of 135.445mph was the best of the race; and another class lap record. His race average of 131.657mph was 9.806s better than Dean Harrison’s (131.449mph). James Hillier took a fine fourth at 128.946mph; Jamie Coward was fifth at 128.733mph; with the great John McGuinness sixth at 128.067mph. Josh Brookes was seventh; Dominic Herbertson eighth; both lapped at over 130mph during the race. Shaun Anderson joined the 130mph club with his final lap. Mike Browne became the fastest rider from Ireland with his final lap of 129.294mph.
This was a fabulous race run at a record pace; and full of fine individual performances. The questions for the Senior are; can Dunlop go faster if Hickman can solve this machine issues and go at his best pace for the whole race and can Dean Harrison make the small changes needed to allow him to hit lap record pace? It should be a great race.