In a year that saw the worst weather anybody could be remember in an awfully long time, this year’s Isle of Man TT Races ended on a high and whilst we didn’t see the stunning lap records from twelve months ago, the racing was still of the highest order.
Difficult conditions were faced by everyone and it resulted in the busiest day in TT history with no less than five races taking place but it’s a credit to everyone connected with the event that we saw all the racing that we did.
Hickman reigns supreme
All the talk coming into this year’s TT was of Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison after their record-breaking feats of 2018 but although the latter would win the Senior TT; the former proved that he’s currently the best rider plying his trade on the roads.
Having already won the opening Superbike race, Hickman went on to become one of the select group of riders to win two races in a day when he took the Superstock and second Supersport encounters. Had it not been for an overheating BMW, he would have won the Senior too but with three wins, a second and a third, he was again the rider of the week.
The last three years have seen Hickman take five wins and nine additional podiums, all but one of those coming with his Smiths Racing team, and it’s hard to see him not dominating the event over the next few years. He seems to be able to do 134mph+ laps at will and with a relaxed, but confident, demeanour, his approach to the Mountain Course is continually seeing him reap the benefits.
Harrison takes dramatic Senior
One man who will dispute that is most definitely Harrison, the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider, taking full advantage of Hickman’s misfortune in the Senior, when he had an 18-second lead, to take his third TT win.
Although he won the Lightweight race in 2014 and the second Supersport race last year, prior to the Senior, Harrison had taken no less than nine second place finishes at the TT – four of them behind Hickman – and he was in danger of getting the ‘nearly man’ tag.
After storming out of the blocks in practice, he readily admitted he had lost his way during race week when the delays and shortened races affected him and although he was perhaps fortunate to win the Senior, it will have been a morale-boosting ride for the Bradford rider.
He’s seemingly the only rider, at present, to take the fight to Hickman but equally knows he still needs to improve over the Mountain section. It was clear in 2018 that this was where Hickman was the stronger and so it proved again as he regularly pulled five to seconds clear each time they went over Snaefell. If Harrison can improve here, we should see some more thrilling races between the two in the years ahead.
Dunlop makes it 19
After almost a year away from racing, Michael Dunlop wasn’t his usual self at this year’s TT with his results far from what we have become accustomed to. True, he did finish all of his races inside the top six but his two best results of fourth, in the Senior and Superstock, saw him a long way adrift of the race leaders.
It was a similar story in the two Supersport races, a class which he holds the lap record in, and it was only in the Lightweight race where we saw the real Michael Dunlop.
The race saw him go head to head with Jamie Coward but just when the latter looked like he’d claim his first TT win, Dunlop’s final lap – just a fraction of a second outside his own lap record – saw him prevail by just 1.2s.
It saw him claim his 19th TT win and, in doing so, make it 50 wins in total for the Dunlop family. 2019 has been a big, and emotional, year for Dunlop but we’re sure to see him back to his best in twelve months time.
Maiden podium for Johnson
Having signed to ride for Honda Racing, his first contract with a factory team, David Johnson was determined to take his first TT podium after finishing fourth on three previous occasions.
A poor North West 200 combined with the lack of track time in practice didn’t help his cause and whilst he may have targeted the Superbike class for his maiden rostrum, it was somewhat of a surprise to see him finally achieve it in the Superstock race when he finished third behind Hickman and Harrison.
The Honda Fireblade has long been unfancied in Superstock-trim, with BMW and Kawasaki dominating, but the Australian rode superbly and did what many others have failed to do – get the better of Michael Dunlop in a last lap shootout.
Nine years since making his debut, you’d have been hard pressed to find a more popular finisher at TT2019 than Johnson and his reaction both in parc ferme and on the podium showed exactly what it means to riders when they achieve their dream. His unbridled joy and satisfaction showed what it means to riders to compete – and succeed – at the TT.
A year after making his debut at the Isle of Man TT, when he became the second fastest newcomer ever to have lapped the Mountain Course, Davey Todd more than confirmed that potential this year, the highlight being sixth place and a lap of 131.491mph on the Penz13.com BMW in Friday’s Senior race.
Having earlier finished eighth and tenth respectively in the Superstock and Superbike races, Todd joined the 130mph Club on the opening lap of the Senior when he lapped at 130.229mph and had worked his way up to fifth at two thirds race distance. A charging James Hillier pushed him back to sixth on the final lap but Todd only lost out to his more experienced rival by 2.6s.
It was a difficult two weeks for Todd and his team, not just because of the inclement weather but also because his close friend and Penz13.com team-mate Daley Mathison lost his life in the Superbike race, and it’s a credit to all of them that they continued and did so in an ultra-professional manner that ultimately saw them rewarded.
Todd also took seventh and ninth in the two Supersport races where, riding the Milenco by Padgetts Honda, he set his best ever 600cc lap of 125.686mph. This year’s TT may only just be over but he must be high on the list for the factory teams in 2020.
Old guard struggle
John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson came into this year’s TT with a mightily impressive 39 wins and 73 podiums between them but save for second place for the former in the TT Zero race, it was a meeting to forget for the pairing.
McGuinness struggled all week with his Norton machinery, failing to finish the Superbike, Senior and Lightweight races and although he saw the chequered flag in the two Supersport races, he was a long way off the pace in 15th and 17th.
Having not competed at the TT since 2016, the Morecambe man had a big hill to climb and, this year at least, it proved insurmountable. As we have seen, Hickman and Harrison have raised the bar massively so only time will tell what McGuinness does next.
Hutchinson, meanwhile, was on the back foot right from the second practice session when he was lucky to escape uninjured from a crash at the 11th Milestone. He fared slightly better than his long time rival, with a tenth place finish in the first Supersport race his best result, but question marks must be raised about his immediate future with Honda Racing.
Five races in a day
With all the delays and cancellations during race week, we arrived to the penultimate day with only two races having been completed and in danger of seeing some of the remaining six cancelled.
Clerk of the Course Gary Thompson and his team made the bold decision to try and run five of those races on the Thursday due to more poor weather being forecast on the final day.
It looked ambitions and hopeful, to say the least, and needed everything to run like clockwork and without hiccup to work – and that’s exactly what he did. It was a punishing day for everyone with little time or respite between the races but ultimately it paid off.
It was certainly a tough and challenging TT but it all came good in the end and Thompson is to be applauded for his efforts each and every day of the fortnight.
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.