After stubborn mist moved away action began several hours late at TT 2023. The solo warm up lap was significant because it allowed Peter Hickman to complete a lap on his Supertwin Yamaha and thereby qualify for the evening’s first race for the class. Mike Browne was out on his Stocker, to test changes made in response to handling so bad that he made an unscheduled stop in the Superbike race. The Sidecar warm up allowed Dave Molyneux /Dan Sayle to test the troublesome KTM on track. The warm-up lap made the riders aware of a small patch of cement dust on the approach to White Gates.
Normal weather service had been restored when Davo Johnson led the Superstock away on their 3 lap race. The riders were obliged to have a pit stop at the end of lap 1. Michael Dunlop’s crew chief set out what most were expected to do and that was simply top up the tank and clean the screen and rider’s visor. Starting this race pulled Michael Rutter level with his father Tony on 83. For Josh Brookes the race was over before he reached St Ninian’s on the FHO BMW.
Peter Hickman had no such problem; the machine was ready to go after just four laps of practice; this allowed him more time to try to tame the unruly Superbike. Michael Dunlop’s MD Racing Honda machine had similarly been ready to go early in Practice Week.
When the Glen Helen was reached, Dean Harrison (DAO Kawasaki) was right behind Davo Johnson (Jackson Honda) and passed him on the Cronk y Voddy straight; Dean remained the pigeon scarer for the remainder of the race. Behind them, Dunlop had nearly closed the starting interval on James Hillier (OMG Yamaha). Passing slower riders did cause some minor delays for the podium riders but tended to even out and did not affect the result. The times at Glen Helen showed that this was going to be a race with close battles throughout the field of 46 riders left in the contest.
Michael Dunlop had been the fastest of all over the first 9 miles; he led by 0.65s from Peter Hickman, with Dean Harrison 1.69s down in third; in what was becoming a recurring theme. Davey Todd (Milenco Padgett Honda), Conor Cummins (Milenco Padgett Honda); heroically back on track three days after being on drip in hospital; James Hillier and Jamie Coward (Steadplan Honda) were the top 7. Just 3.6s covered the four riders. On Sunday Dunlop set the fastest ever sector time from Glen Helen to Ballaugh; today Hickman returned serve with the fastest ever Superstock sector time. This gave him a lead of 2.26s as they hopped over the famous bridge. Harrison was third, but 4s down on Dunlop. Todd, Cummins and Coward completed the top 6.
May Hill in Ramsey is a good vantage point; with the bikes powering out of Cruickshank’s Corner and coming close to the low kerb on the left side of the track. The sound of the machines on full gas echoes back from the house walls. Dean Harrison was first, and he was trying; using all of the road. Davo Johnson was next; followed almost immediately by the rejuvenated John McGuinness. Jamie Coward has settled onto the Honda superbly, and he was wringing its neck as he went past. Michael Dunlop has been using all of the road; but he is never out of shape; yet again he was very fast, but very stable. Hicky was rapid and holding a tighter line than most of the top runners; apart from James Hillier.
As they started the mountain climb, Hickman had a lead of 3.4s from Dunlop. Harrison was third, 6.74s down on Dunlop. Todd, Cummins and Coward completed the top 6; Hillier was 7th just 0.141s down on Coward. Hickman is normally the fastest over the mountain; but today Dunlop was, and cut the lead to 2.7s as they came into the pits for the mandatory stop. The pits stops saw Hickman and Harrison gain over 1.5s on Dunlop. Dom Herbertson; 11th at the time, missed the pit lane and had to come in via the return road. After some words were exchanged with the stewards, he was allowed to continue, despite his off track activity.
Back on track Hickman’s lead was 5.3s as he powered the big BMW up Creg Willey’s Hill for the second time. Dunlop had increased his advantage over Harrison to 10.8s. Todd, Coward and Cummins completed the top 6; with Hillier just 0.2s behind Cummins.
Hickman continued to set the best sector times; he led by 9.1s as swept out of Cruickshank’s in fine style; the front wheel pawing the air as he powered through. Coward; Hillier and Cummins were covered by 1.5s in their exciting battle for the final leader board places. With the best time for each sector over the mountain Hickman had a comfortable lead of 15.7s as he headed off for the final lap; the lap that would be the fastest of the race. Dunlop had 10.1s in hand over Harrison. Todd remained under pressure from Coward; but Conor Cummins was starting to lose time; no doubt exhausted after his illness. John McGuinness was riding a fine race in 8th; Johnson was 9th and Herbertson
10th in spite of his pit stop faux pas.
Hickman was on outright lap record pace for part of the lap; but lost some time behind slower riders and then eased back over the last two sectors; but still set the best lap of the race at 134.311mph; to seal a 23.17s victory over Michael Dunlop. This win moved into double figures. Harrison; Todd, Hillier and Coward all lapped at over 132mph on the last lap. Conor Cummins took 7th; John McGuinness went out at Guthrie’s handing 8th to Davo Johnson; he lapped at over 130mph on the final lap. The excellent form of Mike Browne and Shaun Anderson continued; they finished 9th and 10th respectively.
This was a race of the highest quality and Hickman’s win repaid team owner Faye Ho for her support. The second race should be at least as good; weather permitting. I can’t help thinking that four laps would have been even better.