Isle of Man TT 2023 Delivers stunning spectacle

Published: June 15, 2023

This year’s Isle of Man TT was one of the best ever and with a fortnight of glorious weather and sensational lap speeds, it delivered on all fronts. With a mixture of dominant performances and nail-biting racing, there was drama and excitement in equal measures, and it demonstrated in every aspect why people continually flock to the event in their thousands from all four corners of the globe.

Hickman and Dunlop dominate

With an enhanced schedule, increasing the number of solo races from six to eight, there was more opportunity for the riders to add their name to the most famous trophies in the motorcycling world. But the reality was that just two did – Peter Hickman and Michael Dunlop.

Peter Hickman IOM TT
Peter Hickman Image Credit Double Red Photography

There was little to choose between the two, but it was Dunlop who stole the early headlines as he unofficially broke the lap record in qualifying with a lap of 135.531mph. The fact that his personal best lap was set in 2016 and that he’d never lapped at more than 134mph before showed just how determined he was. And he more than proved that when he won the first two races.

The Supersport victory was expected but the Superbike success less so as Hickman was the man most people thought would come out on top. He could only manage second though as he struggled with the set-up of his FHO Racing BMW, and Dunlop took full advantage to record his first big bike win since 2018.

Michael Dunlop
Michael Dunlop Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

A leaner, fitter and fresher-looking Dunlop was clearly reborn on the Hawk Racing Honda and took further victories in the first Supertwin and second Supersport races to move on to a career total of 25. That saw him become the second most successful rider of all-time and just one behind the record held by his uncle Joey, but it was Hickman who took control in the second half of race week.

Outright lap record smashed

The first Superstock win was good but the second was even better by Hickman as he smashed his own outright lap record with a lap of 136.358mph. The fact it was set on what was essentially a road bike made it even more remarkable. It also demonstrated just how much pace he has around the Mountain Course and, with a healthy lead already, it came when he wasn’t being pushed. With several celebratory wheelies on the record lap, it could have been even quicker too.

That set everything up nicely for the closing Senior, the Blue Riband race and the one they all want to win. As it turned out, Hickman, who finally got the Superbike handling properly, dominated as Dunlop struggled to get into his rhythm after making a set-up change to his Honda. The fireworks failed to materialise and so the pairing, the dominant duo of TT 2023, ended race week with four wins apiece. They were, undoubtedly, the class acts of the field.

Best of the rest

The only other rider who got anywhere close to Hickman and Dunlop was Dean Harrison, with the Bradford rider finishing on the podium in all six of his races. He was alongside the other two riders in each of those races and although he didn’t have the outright pace of his rivals, he was the only other rider to lap more than 133mph.

His best lap was 134.735mph which demonstrates how close he was, but he ultimately had to settle for a second and five third place finishes. The Kawasaki ZX-10RR he rode in the Superbike and Superstock races wasn’t quite a match for the BMW and Honda, a fact highlighted by the fact that there were only two more of them on the entry list.

Dean Harrison Isle of Man TT
Dean Harrison Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

Unfavoured by many, the Kawasaki brand has slipped down the pecking order within the racing world but it’s a brand Harrison has been loyal to since 2016. He switched to a Yamaha this year in the Supersport class in a bid to topple Hickman and Dunlop there and although he still fell short, he may have to look to do the same next year in the 1000cc category if he’s to succeed.

26 podiums show just how good he is but with just three of those being wins, a rider of his talent should have won more. It’s hard to know if he’s missing the last 1% on a personal level or if it’s the bike that’s holding him back. Or if he’s simply unlucky to be competing in an era where there isn’t just one stand-out rider but two.

Supporting cast

After the fab three of Hickman, Dunlop and Harrison, there was a bit of a drop to the next group of riders, but the group featured five to six riders all lapping at similar speeds and all fighting for fourth place onwards.

Isle of Man TT
The fab three – Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

Davey Todd, James Hillier, Jamie Coward, Josh Brookes, Conor Cummins and John McGuinness were all part of that second group with all six having their moments of glory. Todd was the one expected to make up the step up to challenge the leading three given his performances at the Isle of Man TT last year and also the North West 200 but, ultimately, it didn’t pan out that way,

Whilst it’s true illness hampered him at the end of the week, he never quite looked himself during the two weeks and never got close to the pace required to challenge for the podiums let alone the win. He set personal best laps on all three bikes, but it was clear to see just how disappointed he was.

Padgetts Honda team-mate Cummins also struggled with illness, missing both Supersport races and the Superbike race. Like Todd, his best finish was a fourth and they’ll both have to wait another 12 months before trying again to claim their maiden TT win. Hillier, meanwhile, had five finishes ranging from fourth to seventh and not only set a personal best lap of almost 133mph but became the fastest Yamaha rider around the Mountain Course in the process.

Top privateer

All the above named are either fully professional riders or enjoy manufacturer support with only one being able to call themselves a fully-fledged privateer – Coward.

Isle of Man TT
Jamie Coward Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

A civil engineer by day, Coward is improving all the time and, riding the KTS Racing machines, he was a permanent thorn in the side of the official teams and riders as he set personal best lap speeds in every class to once again lift the Privateers Trophy.

Whether it was the big bike, where a switch from Yamaha to Honda saw him break the 132mph barrier for the first time, the Supersport bike where he finished fourth, or the Supertwin category where he finished on the podium, Coward again proved what a class act he is and must surely be at the top of the factory team’s shopping lists for 2024.

Returning star

Brookes last competed at the TT in 2018 when he lapped at 131.745mph on the largely unfancied Norton. After a five-year break, it was going to be a tall order for the double British Superbike champion but, as many predicted, he once again shone.

Josh Brookes Isle of Man TT
Josh Brookes – Picture by Phil Magowan / Double Red

Having picked up a last-minute ride in the Supertwin class, third and fifth were taken in the two races as he claimed his maiden Isle of Man TT podium but, arguably, better rides came in the second Superstock and Senior races where he took a brace of fifths. Riding as team-mate to Hickman, the latter saw him add almost a full mph onto his personal best, which now stands at 132.529mph.

Many insiders say he’d be running the same pace as team-mate Hickman if he’d done the TT year on year and that’s still a possibility as when you look at his CV, he’s, arguably, the most talented rider on the grid. The good news is, he’s almost certain to return next year.

Life in the old dog yet

McGuinness again spearheaded the official Honda entry and had enjoyed a solid build up, but winning races looked highly unlikely. Nevertheless, he was immediately lapping quicker than what he did in the entire 2022 meeting and this year showed there’s life in the old dog yet.

John McGuinness Isle of Man TT
John McGuinness Image Credit Pacemaker Press International

Competing in the 1000cc races, his three finishes saw him take sixth, seventh and eighth with his best lap of the fortnight, 131.183mph, set on the last lap of the Senior, the perfect way to end his 2023 campaign. He may have slipped to third on the all-time winner’s list, but he was the first to congratulate Dunlop when he bettered his 23 wins and he remains a fans’ favourite.

100th anniversary celebrated in style.

It wasn’t just the solo class where there were record-breaking feats but in the sidecar class too, which celebrated it’s 100th anniversary at the TT in 2023. First held in 1923, a lot has changed in the three-wheel class in the following century, and it was again Ben and Tom Birchall who dominated this year.

Ben and Tom Birchall Isle of Man TT
Ben and Tom Birchall Image Credit Tim Keeton (Impact Images Photography)

The Nottinghamshire brothers won both races to move on to a career total of 14 and, after threatening in previous years, they finally set the first ever sidecar 120mph+ lap around the 37.73-mile circuit. The feat was also achieved by Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley who finished second in each race.

However, the future of the class hangs in the balance with less than 25 outfits entered this year. The two races saw just 16 and 19 finishers and with several of the leading drivers hanging up their leathers after this year’s event, it’s hard to see where the increase in numbers will come from.

Final word

After the multiple tragedies of 2022, the TT needed a good year and that’s exactly what it got. The dangers of competing at the event were again highlighted though when Raul Torras Martinez lost his life on the final lap of the first Supertwin race. The Spaniard was a highly popular and highly respected figure in the paddock and Devitt would like to express our sincere condolences to all his family and friends.

Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for almost 20 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News, Classic Racer and Road Racing Ireland, as well as being 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 PBM Ducati, John McGuinness, KTS Racing and Jackson Racing. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races working with the race organisation, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing the TV and radio broadcasting teams with statistical information.


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