“Lip smackin’ head turnin’ sun scorchin’ programmes waving’………Circuit burnin’ beer sinkin’ revs screamin’ throttles twistin’ ……….Micky haulin’ Joey chasin’ Hicky scratchin’’ Deano blazin’’……Fans cheerin’ Mona’s rockin’ ground shakin’…record breakin’!”
It’s definitely been one to remember. Not a drop of rain over the whole fortnight. Sun splitting the sky, a bone-dry circuit and plenty of rubber laid down during practice week. And with ten races over eight days, TT 2023 was continuing to “build back bigger - and better.” An additional Superstock and Supertwin race in this year’s schedule resulted in a total of ten races spread over two weekends. Kudos to Paul Phillips and his team for continuing to adopt change and move things along with the revised format. And in terms of global appeal, “TT Plus” shows significant growth now with 200,000 subscribers in only its second year.
Amongst all the memorable highlights of race week two men shared the honours in all eight solo bike races - four apiece. Michael Dunlop got off to a flyer with a dominant first half of the week: a Supersport double plus wins in the RST Superbike and Supertwin 1 races. And he very nearly made it a Supertwin double to equal his Uncle’s total of 26 TT wins but his Paton 650 expired at the Bungalow whilst leading the race.
Peter Hickman shone in the second half of race week lifting a magnificent Superstock double, the Supertwin 2 race and the Senior TT. And he set an outrageous new outright lap record becoming the first man to break through the 136 mph barrier – achieved on his Superstock BMW M 1000RR (136.358 mph).
Our supported riders acquitted themselves admirably but Lee Johnston continues to recover following his serious accident at the NW200 and was sorely missed this year by his legions of road racing fans.
Dean Harrison had a super strong fortnight finishing on the podium in all six races he entered with five thirds and the runners-up spot in the Senior TT. Although he didn’t add to his three wins, he extended his total number of podiums to twenty-six – the eighth highest total of all time. His bikes ran well and the DAO Racing squad performed supremely well in the pits. If his ZX-10RR Superbike could find another 10 - 12 mph top end he would give the two front runners an even closer run for their money. In Supersport, his BPE / Russell Racing R6 also ran well: he posted his fastest ever 600 lap of 129.694 mph in the second Supersport race. So how about a Supertwins ride for next year? With the additional twins race this year, he’s now potentially missing out on two TT wins / podiums every year by not having a twin at his disposal.
John McGuinness had a strong fortnight. He finished qualifying week sixth fastest in Superbike and had three top ten finishes during race week along with one DNF - a technical fault in Superstock 1. In what was his 108th TT start he recorded his fastest lap this year in the Senior TT (131.183 mph) and in so doing became the only rider in their 50s to post a TT race lap in excess of 131 mph.
Sadly, Conor Cummins, the fastest Manxie ever round the Mountain Course, had an utterly wretched TT. He contracted a viral infection and spent the first weekend in Nobles Hospital on a drip. He made it back for Superstock 2 on the Friday and in the Senior, still feeling well below par, he managed a hugely impressive 4th place finish behind “the Big Three.”
Dunlop grabbed the headlines during practice week leading the way in all four solo classes and setting unofficial lap records in Superbike (135.531 mph) and Supertwins with a staggering lap of 123.474 mph! His form continued in the first half of race week when he basically became the focal point of the TT. He stormed his way to a thrilling victory in the opening Supersport race - at one point establishing a lead of nearly 30 seconds and which he was then able to comfortably “manage” to save the bike and take the win by 12.3 seconds.
The Bull was looking leaner and meaner than he has for a long time. He must have had the heavy bag, speed ball and “16 ouncers” out from the turn of the year. His general conditioning was self evident after he removed his helmet following his dominant RST Superbike win on the Sunday. He looked more like he had completed a couple of demo laps round Knockhill – not blasted 226 miles around the most dangerous roads course in the world. There was hardly a bead of perspiration on his brow! Two days into TT ‘23 and he had bagged two wins to equal John McGuinness’s tally of 23 wins. Untethered.
On the Tuesday he was out on the Paton Supertwin – the machine he had set an astonishing “unofficial” lap record on of over 123 mph during qualifying.
BOOM! He blitzed the field in an emphatic start to finish win by 26.7 secs over Mike Browne (2nd) with Jamie Coward (3rd). Third win of the week, twenty-fourth of his career and now the most successful living TT racer just two behind his late Uncle Joey's all-time record. The buzz amongst the crowds was palpable: road racing fans realised they were witnessing something very special. And whilst the TT history books and websites were being rapidly updated, the motorcycle press was running out of superlatives for what the 34 year old from Ballymoney was achieving!
The following day Dunlop was back on his own MD Racing R6 and took the Supersport 2 race in majestic style, completing the back-to-back "Supersport double" (2022 & 2023), raising his total 600 class wins tally to eleven and becoming the first man ever to break through the 130 mph barrier for the class with a new outright lap record of 130.403 mph. (Hicky also achieved a 130 mph lap on his Triumph triple on the final lap of the 4 lap race) – but Dunlop could rightly lay claim to being “the first.”
If Dunlop’s Supersport double was mesmerising, Hickman’s Superstock double was equally impressive. Hicky effectively opened his “account” on the Tuesday taking the flag in the first Superstock race by a comfortable winning margin of 23 seconds over - Dunlop. His first lap from a standing start was just under 134 mph and his third and final lap just over - 134.331 mph. He was never pushed. On the Friday he completed the double in what turned out to be an astonishing display of super controlled aggressive riding. In his final lap (lap three) he pushed his Stock BMW M1000 RR to a new TT outright lap record of 136.358 mph to win by 17.1 secs from Dunlop with Harrison again in third. And by the close of play that day he had raised his tally to three wins by effectively inheriting the second Supertwins race following firstly Dunlop’s retiral then Mike Browne’s. But whilst their Patons expired, Hicky’s Yamaha R7 stayed true to the task. The race’s high attrition rate also resulted in retirals from several leading riders including Dom Herbertson, Jamie Coward and Paul Jordan. French rider Pierre Yves Bian took second and Josh Brookes picked up his first TT podium in third.
Given how race week had progressed, the blue riband Senior TT was “billed” as a straight “heavyweight bout” between the two guys who had shared all the other race wins. Hicky v Dunlop – over six laps, not twelve rounds. In reality, it ended up being, if not an emphatic Peter Hickman win, a comfortable victory for the Lincolnshire racer. And, on this occasion, it was Dean Harrison who ran him closest in a hugely deserved runners up place with Dunlop third.
Dunlop seemed to struggle with a couple of set up changes made to his bike’s suspension and appeared to accept during the race itself that he would need to wait until next year before he could again challenge for his next TT win.
But Hickman was staggeringly fast again. Much is made of the fact that he often takes time to build up to speed in TT races, (in relative terms!), before he hits his groove and starts pulling out super-fast laps. But in this year’s Senior, Hickman put the hammer down from the word go. At 135.53 mph, his first lap was the fastest ever from a standing start which he then backed up with a 135.507 mph on lap two - a new Senior TT lap record. He maintained phenomenal form to set the fastest ever six lap TT race in history. It was a huge statement.
If bike preparation and set up can at times seem more akin to a bit of rocket science, the racing itself is a matter of who’s fastest on the day. And when one looks at the stats for this year the picture’s fairly clear. Of the top ten fastest laps of TT 2023, Hickman posted six, Dunlop four. And the four fastest belonged to….. Hickman.
There were so many other fine performances to mention it’s impossible to do justice to them all. Nevertheless, big “shout outs” for……..Josh Brookes - returning to the TT after five years and taking his first TT podium and achieving a new PB of 132.5 mph; Pierre Yves Bian’s second in Supertwin 2; the brilliant Birchall Brothers – double win and first 120 mph lap (repeated in race two); Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley who also lapped at over 120 mph in Sidecar 2; Cork’s Mike Browne who secured his first TT podium and who looked like a “shoe-in” for a first win following Dunlop’s retiral in Supertwin 2 – only for his own Paton to pack in; Jamie Coward for a podium (his second) in the opening Supertwins race and winning “top privateer” award third year in a row.
But the final “bow of respect” has to go to the “Big Three.” Because in Hickman, Dunlop and Harrison we’re witnessing a golden period – a “Federer, Djokovic and Nadal” - like era in motorcycle road racing.
TT 2024 anyone? We can’t bloomin’ wait.
Sincere condolences to the family and friends of Spanish rider Rual Torras (05/09/76 – 07/06/23) who lost his life competing in the opening Supertwin race.