Birchalls and Dunlop up the ante at TT 2017.
A beautiful day on the Isle of Man saw some rapid laps completed in practice sessions that were three times interrupted by red flags. Conditions for the riders were almost perfect; a strengthening breeze the only problem. The riders did not disappoint the huge crowds gathered around the course with the majority of the riders setting their best times to date. For the unseeded riders their actual starting position depended upon their best lap time of practice; so no pressure then.
Surprisingly there were few spectators on the Waterworks to Tower Bends section of the course; the ling walk or cool temperatures may have been major factors in that decision. Those who were there saw some superb action and a few near misses.
After what seems to be an obligatory delay; this time due to a medical issue at Glen Lough; the morning practice session fired up at 10.54am with David Johnson and Ian Hutchinson leading the field away on their Superbikes followed by James Hillier, Michael Rutter, Gary Johnson and Dean Harrison.
Conditions all around the 37.73-mile Mountain Course were ideal and Hutchinson was on a mission; he was first to Waterworks and the first to complete a lap on his Tyco BMW at 129.89mph although this was soon bettered by Michael Dunlop who set the best lap of the week at 131.062mph+ lap on the Bennett’s Suzuki. As last night the bike looked the part; very stable and nimble; it also looks lovely.
Dan Kneen was also quicker than Hutchinson; with Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison the only other riders above 129mph. Dunlop wasn’t able to improve his speed on his second lap but Hickman was; he went second quickest on the Smiths Racing BMW with a lap of 130.629mph.
Hutchinson moved up to third with 130.327mph but Kneen was only three hundredths of a second behind with a lap of 130.324mph, which was his quickest ever lap of the Mountain Course, albeit unofficially. Michael Rutter (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW) was the fifth and final rider to break the 130mph barrier with Bruce Anstey and James Hillier getting into the 129s.
David Johnson and Josh Brookes both lapped at just under 127mph on the Nortons; Brookes despite running very wide at Waterworks. Impressive laps were recorded by, among others, Derek Sheils, Jamie Coward, Phil Crowe and Andrew Dudgeon.
As the session wore on, the riders pitted to either make changes to their Superbike or switch to their Supersport or Superstock machines. Lee Johnston was on fire; he quickest in both the Superstock and Supersport. However, he crashed out towards the end of the session at Greeba Castle, sustaining minor injuries, and the session came to an early end as the red flag was shown. Those on track past the incident completed their laps under yellow flags. The red flag was shown to allow the track to be cleared up properly. It was later reported that Johnston would be transferred to Liverpool for further assessment and treatment. Joe Akroyd out on his Superstock machine was reported to have had a tumble at Glentramman and was also transferred to Liverpool, whilst Danny Webb sustained a shoulder injury in an incident at Laurel Bank. Hopefully all will make rapid recoveries from their injuries.
After a break for Sidecar qualifying, the solo machines were back on track at 2.20pm with a session for the Supersport and Lightweight machines but the session was soon red flagged after an incident involving Paul Jordan and Bjorn Gunnarsson at Sarah’s Cottage. Both were taken to Nobles Hospital with Jordan sustaining a wrist injury and Gunnarsson complaining of neck pains but both were later discharged.
At 3.25pm, the action resumed and William Dunlop was quickest out the blocks with a lap of 125.297mph to go to the top of the Supersport leader board. Dean Harrison wasn’t far behind with 125.188mph with Ian Hutchinson, James Hillier and Peter Hickman also over 124mph.
However, the session was stopped due to a non-racing incident at Union Mills eventually restarting just after 4pm.
Hutchinson went slightly quicker to maintain his third place with Gary Johnson improving to 123.336mph and seventh overall. A superb performance came from newcomer Adam McLean with a lap of 120.499mph whilst fellow debutante Joey Thompson also improved, his best lap being 117.287mph.
In the Lightweight class, Martin Jessopp set the fastest lap of the week with a speed of 116.535mph on the Riders Motorcycles Kawasaki. 2015 and 2016 winner Ivan Lintin was less than half a second behind in second with Hickman’s final lap of 116.239mph seeing him jump up to third on Ryan Farquhar’s KMR/IEG Kawasaki.
Dan Cooper also lapped in excess of 116mph to place fourth ahead of Stefano Bonetti. Michael Dunlop putt in his first laps of the week on the McAdoo Racing Kawasaki he slotted into sixth at 115.572mph. Gary Johnson, Josh Brookes and James Cowton were the other riders to lap at more than 115mph whilst McLean was again flying in tenth. The Lightweight could prove to be the most closely contested of the week.
After his pace setting lap Michael Dunlop said; “I’m happy to do the lap, but we have suffered with the lack of track time and we’re still working on setup. It’s the first time this bike has been round here, so we’ve been changing lots of things each time we go out. The time’s good but we’ve got to ride at that pace for six laps tomorrow, so we’ll see how we go.” From the evidence of the last two sessions he will be lapping at record pace tomorrow when the real action begins.
The sidecars were given two sessions and most crews were out in both as they were in near of track time. Their first sidecar session began at 12.40pm and, although Dave Molyneux/Dan Sayle elected to miss the session, the Birchall brothers made their intentions clear with an opening lap of 114.61mph.
However, on their second lap, the Mansfield pair stopped at the 11th Milestone to make adjustments. The increasingly impressive Alan Founds/Jake Lowther were quickest second time around at 112.703mph.
Alan’s brother Pete, with Jevan Walmsley in the chair, was also above 110mph as were John Holden/Lee Cain despite suffering from grip issues. Steve and Matty Ramsden were also in excess of 110mph whilst Lewis Blackstock/Patrick Rosney set a new, unofficial personal best lap at 109.091mph.
In what was an extremely busy day, the last main session of the evening saw the F2 sidecars out once more and the Birchalls got close to their own lap record with a lap of 116.675mph on their second lap of the session. Holden/Cain improved to 115.110mph to move up to second fastest for the week, with Founds/Lowther also going superbly with a lap of 113.746mph.
Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes and Peter Founds/Jevan Walmsley also broke the 113mph barrier.
The sidecar crews will have a final chance to prepare with a 1 lap qualifying session at 16.25 on Sunday ahead of Monday’s rescheduled Sure Sidecar Race 1.