With the Covid clouds eventually dissipating, fans, riders and teams flocked back to the Isle of Man in their droves at the end of May to welcome back the greatest motorsport event in the world - the Isle of Man TT Races.
The past three years of enforced TT abstinence had resulted in severe withdrawal symptoms for huge swathes of road racing fans - not to mention the racers. But the down time had been well utilised by the TT Development Team led by Paul Phillips (Business Development Manager) to undertake a review of the whole event and introduce a number of improvements for TT 2022/23 across a range of different areas including event safety, logistics, infrastructure, scheduling, and media coverage. The "TT Live" on-line feed was the biggest challenge – a massive innovation and one with the potential to significantly grow the worldwide audience for the TT over the next few years. With Greenlight TV handling production, “TT Live’s” first year has proved a huge success and it will no doubt be further refined and developed over future years.
Our Red Riders – John McGuinness, Lee Johnston, Dean Harrison and Conor Cummins have just returned from an intense two week TT schedule and have now picked up with their various British Championship duties. Here's some highlights of how their respective TTs went.
RST Superbike Race - First Saturday
Making his 100th TT start and on the number one bike, John McGuinness led the field off in Saturday’s opening RST Superbike race on the tricked up gold livery 30th Anniversary Fireblade.
The twenty-three times TT winner had a solid race finishing in fifth behind a podium of Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, and Michael Dunlop - with Ian Hutchinson in fourth. McGuinness rode well all week completing top ten finishes in all three big bike races – the two Superbike and the Superstock race and said he was “in a happy place” with his fortnight’s work.
John McGuinness Honda Racing Fireblade, Graham's Memorial
Dean Harrison ran a really strong opening Superbike race and in the early stages managed to keep Peter Hickman under some pressure. But Hickman’s pace was relentless and he eventually “Gas Monkeyed” Dean to take the win by 39.1 seconds. The BMW by FHO Racing / Hickman package remained a powerhouse throughout the week and went on to achieve a full flush of victories in the three big bike races.
For Conor and Lee, their opening race was unfortunately over before it had reached the half way point. Conor blitzed his opening lap with a near 132 from a standing start (131.87 mph) and Lee showed real pace on the Ashcourt BMW with 130.1 & 130.09 laps but both retired with mechanical issues during lap three.
Conor’s Superstock Heroics
In Monday’s Superstock TT Conor lit the touch paper. Although the race ultimately turned into another dominant win for Hicky on the FHO Racing BMW stocker, Conor rode a belter to take second spot - a mega result and one that again underlines his ability on the "big bikes" (SBK/Stocker). He posted the fastest lap of the race at 133.116 mph on the Milenco by Padgett’s Fireblade - a personal best and the fastest ever lap by a Honda. Only Hickman, Harrison and Dunlop have now been round the Mountain Course faster than the big Manxman. He rides in exalted company.
Huge congratulations also to Conor's Padgett's team mate, Davey Todd, who pushed him hard all the way and was rewarded with a maiden TT podium finishing in third place.
Conor guns the Milenco by Padgett's Stocker through Union Mills
The way Conor's year had started made his performance all the more impressive. In February he was lying with seven fractured ribs, three fractured vertebrae, a punctured lung and a broken collarbone as the result of a training accident. Barely three months later he then goes and posts his fastest ever lap around the Mountain Course! The perfect "Racer Blend" brew.
The Ramsey man rounded off his TT week with a third place finish in the Senior. It’s the third successive TT year that he’s podiumed in the Senior – 2018, 2019 and 2022. It's well documented that the Padgett’s Team suits him and he really has hit a sweet spot under Clive Padgett’s set-up. He showed outstanding form and has never deserved that elusive first win more.
Dean Harrison and Supersport 1
With a runners up spot in the opening SBK race, Dean was already right in the zone for Monday’s three lap Supersport 1 race.
Arguably, it was the race of the week – and very quickly turned into a fascinating head-to-head battle between Dean and Michael Dunlop, both on Yamaha R6s. At one point only 0.1 secs separated them. Dean encountered trouble with a leaking fuel cap – petrol was spilling onto his tank under hard braking but he just got his head down and got on with it. Strong Yorkshire blend!
Dean Harrison, DAO Yamaha R6, Handleys
Dunlop had consistently been fastest throughout qualifying / practice and although Dean pushed him hard all the way, the Ballymoney man rode a phenomenal race to win by 5.6 secs with Dean in second and Peter Hickman third.
Dunlop was already the existing lap record holder in the class (129.197 mph) but he bettered it with a 129.475 on his final lap to seal his 20th TT win. Along with Paul Jordan’s third place Supertwins ride, Dunlop’s post race celebrations took Red Torpedo prize for "best parc ferme celebration" of the week!
Lee Johnston - Supertwins Podium
Being a Supersport specialist, Lee Johnston was understandably targeting this class for results but unfortunately in Supersport 1 he lost considerable time in the pits with a fuel cap issue and fell back to finish fourth. Still a great result, but clearly not the one he wanted.
Lee’s best finish turned out to be on board the Ashcourt Racing Aprilia RS660 in the Supertwins class where he finished in second behind – yip, that man again, the ubiquitous Hicky on board a Paton 650. The Supertwin race, also a very close contender for “race of the week," saw Hickman and Michael Dunlop locked in an incredible battle with seldom more than a second separating them.
It was a real nail biter of a race with the lead changing constantly between the two. Just as it was shaping up for a titanic last shoot-out over the mountain, word came over the airwaves that Dunlop had pulled in around Laurel Bank with a very sick sounding Paton. The cacophony of wailing and groaning sounds resonating around the circuit was almost palpable. A broken tank bracket was the culprit. It had lifted the fuel tank and, in turn, created airbox pressure resulting in a knackered Paton.
Lee then slotted into second place finishing 1 min 49 secs behind Hickman giving Aprilia its best ever TT finish. Special shout out also for Paul Jordan who brought his Kawasaki 650 home in third – the Northern Irishman’s maiden TT podium.
Lee Johnston approaches the bottom of Barregarrow - Ashcourt Racing RS660 Aprilia
Supersport 2 - Lee and Dean
The second Supersport encounter, delayed due to weather conditions, was run as a 2 lap “sprint” on the Friday. For Lee it resulted in further major disappointment as he was forced to retire at the end of the first lap with vision problems - possibly the result of some kind of allergic reaction. It ended his TT as he also withdrew from the Senior which he described as “massively frustrating.”
Again, Michael Dunlop rode the wheels off his own MD Racing prepped Yamaha R6 to complete the Supersport double ahead of Hickman in second with Dean taking third this time round. The win gave Dunlop his twenty-first TT victory and his ninth Supersport win making him the most successful TT racer in the class. Closing in on a 130 mph Supersport lap on a 130 bhp bike is hugely impressive – even though when he nailed his first Supersport “double” nine years ago, he predicted that a future 130 mph 600cc lap was definitely “on.” It was only fifteen years ago that the 130 mph barrier was broken - by a Superbike ridden by John McGuinness!
Dunlop’s form on the smaller class bikes - including the Paton Supertwin before it expired, was world class this year and it's a shame that he and the Hicken family didn’t have more time to spend preparing and testing the big Gixxers following the PBM / Ducati “call off.” Maybe next year.
Dean's Senior TT
Dean had ridden consistently strongly all week taking three podiums (two 2nds and a 3rd) from four starts and just missing out on another in Superstock, finishing 4th. He had been the only rider to come anywhere close to pressurising Hicky in the first Superbike race and Michael Dunlop in Supersport 1. But perhaps his best race, given what happened, came in the shape of Saturday’s delayed Senior TT. Again, it was a start to finish win for Hicky on the FHO Racing BMW M1000RR– he never lost the lead. But it was the fact that Dean sustained not one but two ariel “strikes” from the Island’s bird life that made his race hugely impressive.
Dean Harrison DAO Racing Kawasaki ZX-10R at Alpine
The Bradford star was on his first lap doing about 150 mph when a bird struck his machine knocking a hole straight through the screen. Given the strength of the wind conditions on the mountain, this affected him massively. The second strike happened later in the race and damaged the side fairing so it was “buffeting around” and affecting his peripheral vision whilst also unsettling the bike. Given the fact that he had made a late switch to new Metzlers and suffered a broken screen, Dean's fourth podium of the week in the Senior, only 16.9 seconds behind the "Full Gas (Monkey) Goliath" Hicky, was a tremendous result.
Massive respect and thanks go to our four Red Riders for their TT performances this year and indeed, to all the riders. As always, the exceptional levels of skill, bravery and talent displayed, juxtaposed with the levels of grace, camaraderie and sportsmanship shown between competitors, is wonderful to see.
We also wish to extend our condolences and thoughts to the families and friends of the five competitors who sadly lost their lives during the fortnight and to French sidecar passenger, Olivier Lavorel who, to the best of our knowledge, is now in a “stable” condition at the time of writing.
📸 Diego Mola and Peter Faragher