It’s fair to say this year’s Isle of Man TT races have, so far, been challenging for all concerned, with some of the worst weather known during practice week, especially, with schedules having to be constantly torn up and re-written.
Only two of the scheduled six practice sessions took place and although additional contingency sessions were added, they too fell foul to the inclement weather that hit the island each day.
It wasn’t until Monday this week that the first races took place and conditions were still far from perfect with strong winds and damp patches to contend with. It all meant the riders went into the Superbike and Supersport races with very few laps under their belts and predicting the outcome was near impossible.
Hickman impresses – again
Dean Harrison topped the practice leaderboard in three of the four solo classes and he came into the opening Superbike race as the firm favourite particularly as Peter Hickman was forced to use a ‘hybrid’ machine.
Problems with the Smiths Racing BMW S1000RR Superbike resulted in him and the team opting to use the Superstock-spec bike instead albeit with the front and rear ends of the Superbike attached to it.
However, despite only having lapped at 128.50mph in practice, the 32-year old put together a simply superb race and lapped at close to 133mph, an incredible feat given the conditions, as he took his third TT victory.
Hickman always maintains the British Superbike Championship is his priority and he goes road racing for ‘fun’ and seeing him laughing and joking on the grid just minutes before doing 180mph down Bray Hill, it’s hard to find anyone more relaxed. He’s taken racing at the TT to a new level and whilst he’s certainly not unbeatable, more wins are certainly heading his way – and probably this week.
With the Superbike race being stopped early due to an incident, the first Supersport race also came to a premature conclusion when rain began to fall on the west part of the circuit on the second lap.
At that point, only a handful of seconds covered the leading five riders and the second half of the race could have seen the result go anyone’s way. Some riders were braver than others through the damp sections and it came as no surprise when the race organisers put the chequered flag out at the end of the second lap.
It was an unusual end to a TT race but the winner was one of the most popular of recent times as Lee Johnston took his first TT victory, fully vindicating his decision to set up his own team, Ashcourt Racing, with people he’d worked with – and enjoyed success with – in previous years.
Two years in the relative doldrums, the last one with Honda Racing, had already been forgotten with victory at the North West 200 but it was the TT where the Ulsterman really wanted to taste success and having overhauled early leader James Hillier on the first run over the Mountain, he never looked back.
The gap to the Kawasaki rider may never have been more than three seconds and we’ll never know what would have happened in the final two laps, particularly with Hickman on a charge, but Johnston was the fastest when, ultimately, it mattered most and you’d be hard pushed to find a more popular victor.
As predicted here previously, both James Hillier and Conor Cummins enjoyed productive opening days with the former finishing second and fourth and the latter third and sixth.
Hillier’s 13th TT podium came with second place behind good friend Johnston and maintained his record of finishing on the rostrum at least once every year since 2012. It was his seventh second place finish around the Mountain Course but although he still only has the single win to his name – the 2013 Lightweight – he remains one of the finest TT racers of his generation.
His consistency not just with his results but also with the same Bournemouth Kawasaki team, who he’s been with since 2010, continues to see him reap the rewards and the same applies to Cummins.
Despite the weather, he was only 0.4mph off his personal best time around the 37.73-mile course as he took third place in the Superbike race and in his third year with the Padgetts team, he’s found his spiritual home. He’s enjoyed some of the best results of his career with the experienced Batley team and we can expect his good run of form to continue.
More to come
As mentioned above, it was Harrison who topped the times in the Superbike, Supersport and Superstock classes on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki but although he took second and fourth place finishes on the opening day, he would no doubt have been slightly disappointed.
No rider goes into a TT race expecting to win but the Bradford rider would certainly have hoped for more although he still has three more bites of the cherry and will no doubt be targeting victory in at least one of them.
The same applies to Michael Dunlop who took fifth and sixth in the Supersport and Superbike races. It’s easy to forget the 18-time winner is coming back to racing after a long lay-off but a technical issue with his Tyco BMW Superbike on the final night of practice would have affected his preparations considerably.
It also came on the first lap that night, leaving him stranded at the Black Hut on the Mountain, and the lack of laps will have hurt his Supersport bid too. He hasn’t come to the TT to finish fifth or sixth, something his rivals will be all too aware of in the second half of the week.
Unfortunately, the dark side of the sport reared its head on Monday when Daley Mathison sadly lost his life during the Superbike race. The incident occurred near the Snugborough Trading Estate, just two miles into the third lap after the Penz13.com rider had made his pit stop.
The County Durham rider was one of the bright, young talents in the sport and had already lapped the Mountain Course at more than 128mph whilst he’d also taken three podiums in the TT Zero races of 2016-18.
A seeded rider for the first time this year, the 27-year old looked set to have his best ever TT campaign in 2019 and everyone from Devitt wishes to express their sympathy to his wife Natalie, daughter Daisy and all his friends and family at this sad time.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.