Thursday brought ideal conditions for what used to be the traditional Thursday afternoon practice; but his year was a contingency used to make up for lost time. It was like June again; warm sun, clear skies; dry roads and very fast action. It was peaceful before the bikes arrived; we had buzzards gliding low overhead.
Tower Bends was the location for the session; it is a rising right, then left, set of bends that offer good viewing with the bikes tight to the wall on the inside of the first bend then going out close to another wall on the exit. Remodelling and a new surface have made it faster than it was last year. Michael Dunlop was first to reach us; he was fast and held a tighter line than most on the first corner. The Team Classic Suzuki looked and sounded superb. Next was Dean Harrison on the Key Racing Ducati; he has the booming twin going really well. There was a succession of Superbikes, Davo Johnson (Cowan Kawasaki) and Rob Hodson (Greenall Kawasaki) were very fast, but Craig Neve was noted be the quickest of all on the Cowan Kawasaki. Michael Rutter (Batham’s Suzuki) seemed to have a problem as he had to change down; rather than up on the exit to the corners. Yet again, Mike Browne failed to reach us on the (not so) Superbike; he reached Ballacraine. There was a short gap caused by the track being checked for fluid; possibly following Nathan Harrison having to pull off the track at the bottom of Bray Hill. It was nothing serious; Nathan appeared later in the session on the Ashcourt RC45. Michael Dunlop was quickest at 126.046mph; but the others are hot on his heels; Davo upped his best to 125.414mph; Rob Hodson 124.701 and Craig Neve were over 124mph. Dean Harrison set 123.896mph; more of him later.
Once the action restarted it was fast and furious with riders taking advantage of the conditions to put down markers; or gain more valuable laps for the newcomers. Chris Cook (Cowan Kawasaki) and Julian Trummer (TC Kawasaki) were having a close personal duel. The Senior MGP riders were impressive; Daniel Ingham (Brook Built Yamaha) was rapid; but Tom Robinson (Pete Stacey Kawasaki) probably the pick at our vantage point. Newcomers Marcus Simpson (Atherstone Yamaha), Joe Yeardsley (Spin Arena Yamaha) and David Rigby (Gasiom Kawasaki) were very impressive once again. At then end of the session Ingham remained top of the leaderboard with his 120mph lap from Wednesday. Simpson, Robinson, Lopez and Yeardsley are all over 118mph. Robinson slid off; without injury; hopefully the bike is not badly damaged.
After the Superbike and Seniors had finished the remaining classes came out for their session. As usual Michael Dunlop was first on the road on the MD Yamaha; he was fast and neat and the fastest by a whisker in the lightweight class with his one lap. Ian Lougher was impressive on the LayLaw Yamaha and almost matched Michael’s pace; Friday’s race is shaping up to be a good one. In the Ultra Lightweight sub-class, no one could come close to the 109mph lap set by Paul Cassidy on Wednesday. Best of the afternoon was newcomer Stephen Tobin (Sam’s Bar Yamaha) at 105.044mph.
Later in the session some good groups formed; one notably containing the flying Joe Yeardsley (ILR Paton) with Mauricio Bottali (Yourix Paton); Michael Rees (Rapid Grip Paton) and another in it. It was the Junior riders who really upped the ante; Victor Lopez (ILR Paton) was inside the official lap record with 116.629mph from a standing start. Joe Yeardsley (ILR Paton) then raised the bar, and the unofficial lap record, to 117.373mph on his second lap. Bottalico moved up third, behind Lopez, with his second lap at 115.460mph.
In the Classic Seniors it was John McGuinness (Winfield Paton) who was fastest as he passed us on his second lap and fastest on the watch for the session at 110.574mph. Mike Browne was next best on the Grantham Lodge Norton at 109.265mph; he managed to be in traffic as he came through Tower Bends.
With some riders having completed 7 laps in the afternoon it was expected that the evening session would be something of an anti-climax with quite a few riders deciding to call it a day. Others took advantage of the reduced number of riders on the track to set better times. Michael Dunlop saved his machines; Dean Harrison took the Ducati out and virtually matched Michael’s afternoon best with a lap at 125.597mph. They now head the overall leaderboard. Not content with that Dean took out the Craven Manx and set the best lap overall in the Senior Classic with 110.248mph. Yet again Mike Browne failed to complete a lap on his Superbike; frustrating does not come close.
In the Senior MGP, Joe Yeardsley and Marcus Simpson had the attention of the commentary team with both breaking the 120mph barrier. Whilst Yeardsley was on the ideal line through Parliament Square on the opening lap, Simpson ran wide and so lost time on the exit; despite this he was the quicker on the first lap setting 120.211mph. Yeardsley upped his pace on the second lap and raised his best to 120.116mph; but Simpson was not to be outdone; his lap was the best to date at 120.813mph. He should be pleased with his week’s work. Samuel Mousley and newcomer David Rigby both lapped at over 118mph; this race should be excellent.
In the other classes no one came close to challenging for the top spot on the leader board; Despite the lower numbers; this was a good session for the spectators.
Weather permitting; the Lightweight Race will fire into life on Friday afternoon.