The 2018 Isle of Man TT races burst into life on Saturday evening with the opening night of practice taking place around the 37.73-mile Mountain Course – what a night it was.
With perfect conditions across the island, the evening’s session, some two hours in length, saw one of the fastest ever seen with three riders lapping at more than 125mph in the Supersport class – Dean Harrison, Michael Dunlop and Conor Cummins – as many of the competitors took full advantage of the weather to put in five, or even six, laps.
However, arguably the biggest talking point of the night came in the Lightweight class where Dunlop unofficially broke the class lap record set by James Hillier in 2015. Riding the Paton for the very first time, the 15-time winner lapped at 120.875mph to lay down an early marker and suggest the lap record will be obliterated come race day.
Harrison and Cummins impress
Whilst Dunlop impressed on the evening on both of his bikes, both Dean Harrison and Conor Cummins also impressed as they ended the night first and third on the Supersport leaderboard.
It was Cummins who was the fastest out the blocks, the Manxman arriving on the island on the back of a strong North West 200, and the Padgetts Honda rider’s second lap was an impressive 125.152mph which certainly suggests he’s going to pushing for the podium at least, in the two middleweight races.
Harrison eventually topped that with a lap of 125.797mph and the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider has to be considered a race winner in any of the classes. Riding in the British Superbike Championship week in, week out has certainly sharpened his riding and having been pushing for victory throughout the North West 200, he could well be the one to take the fight to Dunlop.
Behind the top three, the remainder of the top ten was completed by all of the usual suspects including Peter Hickman hitting the top of the 124mph mark whilst Lee Johnston, James Hillier, William Dunlop, Josh Brookes and Ivan Lintin weren’t too far behind and would have been more than happy with their night’s work.
All of the above have the potential to finish on the podium with a number of them – Hillier and Hickman for definite – more than hopeful of the race win. With the weather as good as it was, all of them will have been pleased to have put in all the necessary qualifying laps, and more, which will allow them to focus on the Superbike and Superstock machines on Monday evening.
Steady night for Hutchinson
Having made his comeback at last week’s North West 200, there can be no doubt that Ian Hutchinson is a long way off his best with his broken leg only recently healed. The strength is clearly not there but, as always, the Bingley rider’s determination is coming to the fore again.
The North West 200’s busy programme left him drained of energy but whilst the TT course is obviously longer, he may be able to build his form, fitness and speed up as the fortnight continues. The opening night saw him post a best lap of 121.327mph to place 15th on the leaderboard and although it’s good to have him back racing, it will need a minor miracle to stand on the podium come race week, let alone win.
Not just a one horse race
Despite Dunlop’s record-breaking lap, albeit unofficial, the Lightweight race won’t be a one horse race with 2015 and 2016 winner Ivan Lintin (Dafabet Devitt Racing Kawasaki) only two seconds behind the Ulsterman on Saturday after lapping at 120.660mph.
There’s plenty more practice sessions to go which should see a number of other riders increase their pace but early indications are that the KMR Kawasaki trio of Peter Hickman, Derek McGee and David Johnson, Dunlop’s team-mate Stefano Bonetti and last year’s race winner Michael Rutter will all be major players.
Devitt would like to extend their condolence to the family and friends of Dan Kneen who sadly lost his life during practice of Wednesday (30th) evening, the day after setting his fastest ever lap of the TT mountain course.
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 Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. 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.
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