A sunny Sunday afternoon gave us a superb start to racing at TT 2017. This race was in doubt right until the chequered flag was waved; there were more twist and turns than in an Agatha Christie novel. At the end of a breathless 106 minutes of wonderful action it was Ian Hutchinson took his 15th victory; one that moves him ahead of Mike Hailwood; when he took a thrilling RST Superbike race victory by just 5.7s from Peter Hickman, after Hickman had reduced the gap to 1.6s, 24miles into the final lap. This was always a race of fine margins as the riders struggled with machines that were not perfect due to the lack of practice sessions. This was Hickman’s first visit to the TT podium; the fastest ever newcomer showing that he has matured into a fine TT rider. The final podium place was taken by Dean Harrison; one of several early leaders in the race.
James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) seems to be master of the first section and it was he who led at Glen Helen on the opening lap by 0.8s from Harrison with Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop tied for third. On the run to Ramsey Hairpin, Harrison was 1.3s quicker to turn his deficit into a lead of 0.5s. Dunlop was now in third, 0.7s behind Hillier, with Hutchinson, Hickman and Conor Cummins completing the top six. The returning Guy Martin on the Honda Racing machine was out due to having crashed, fortunately without injury at Doran’s Bend; after finding a false neutral when changing down to 4th. Guy did not seem at ease on the new Fireblade during practice; clearly there is much work to do if the machine is to realise its full potential and not be consigned to the dustbin of history.
There was a large crowd gathered at the Gooseneck to enjoy the action; the unseasonably cold wind the only negative point. Davo Johnson was the leader on the road but by just 10m from Anstey as they took the sharp; rising right hand bend where the ditch on the inside is a popular spot for press photographers. The action was superb; with Josh Brookes probably the fastest through the corner below and around the Gooseneck itself; possibly because it is like a short circuit section.
On our timing only 8s covered the first seven. It had Dunlop as the marginal leader (0.1s) from Hillier and Harrison. Hutchinson, Hickman, Cummins and Dan Kneen completed the magnificent seven.
At the Bungalow, Dunlop was the third leader of the race. He was rapid down the mountain setting an opening lap of 131.135mph; this gave him a lead of 1.85s over Harrison. Harrison in turn was 0.53s ahead of Hillier; with Hutchinson and Hickman holding onto fourth and fifth. The leading five were all above 130mph with Dan Kneen up to sixth; just 0.034s ahead of fellow Manxman Cummins as they charged away towards Bray Hill for the second time.
Dunlop still led at the Glen Helen commentary point; but Harrison was quicker over the first nine miles reducing the lead to 1.4s. For Dunlop the race was over shortly afterwards; he was forced to park the machine at Handley’s Corner. As the riders took the famous bridge in Ballaugh the clock showed that Harrison was leading Hillier by 5.3s.
At Gooseneck we had Harrison leading by 7.4s from Hutchy who in turn was just 0.6s ahead of Hillier. Hutchy was rapid on the mountain climb and at the Bungalow he had nibbled a little out of Harrison’s lead which stood at 6.5s.
A second lap speed of 130.907mph meant Harrison’s lead was 5.4s as he entered pit lane with Hillier still in second and 1.6s clear of new third placed man Hickman. Hutchinson had dropped back to fourth but Hillier lost a chunk of time with what seemed to be a very slow fuel filler and the machine being a tad reluctant to fire up again. Had he not lost this time he would have been at least on the podium. The Manx pairing of Cummins and Kneen were now in fifth and sixth but they too had trouble at the pits. Cummins lost over 1 minute due to having a lengthy stop caused by problems with the wheel change and Kneen picked up a 30s speeding penalty. Hutchy was the beneficiary of a slick stop; his team gained him at least 4s over all of his main rivals.
Early on the third lap, the leader board read Harrison, Hutchinson, Hickman and Hillier; Kneen had been dropped back to ninth and Cummins 17th. Their misfortune allowed David Johnson to move up to fifth on the Norton and Michael Rutter sixth on his BMW.
By half race distance, Hutchinson led for the first time but only by 0.4s and only ten and a half seconds covered the top four with Hickman and Hillier holding station in third and fourth. Johnson and Rutter were still in fifth and sixth as Kneen, Bruce Anstey, William Dunlop and Brookes completed the top ten.
On lap four, there was little between the leaders. Harrison moved back into the lead at Glen Helen by 0.6s and had the same margin at the next point through Ballaugh. However, by Ramsey Hutchinson was marginally back in front with just 0.07s separating the leading pair. Hickman was only five seconds further back in third. Bruce Anstey stopped at Ramsey Hairpin before continuing with a very raucous exhaust hinting at what his problem was. Notable retirees were Steve Mercer (how good to see him racing after his off at the 11th Milestone in practice) and Gary Johnson were out at Cruickshank’s and Sulby Bridge respectively.
Coming into the pits at the end of lap four and there were just ten seconds covering the leading quartet but Hutchinson’s prowess on the Mountain section gave him a 4.1s lead; but it was now Hickman in second. His gap to Harrison was only 1.6s with Hillier a further four seconds back in fourth after setting the best time for the lap. Rutter and Kneen completed the leader board.
Another rapid pit stop saw Hutchinson’s lead up to 10s lead over Hickman; Hillier was back up to third with Harrison losing time and dropping back to fourth. Indeed, Hillier was up to second at Glen Helen as he circulated on the road with Hutchinson and the latter’s lead stood at 9.5s. Two more retirements though were Cummins and last year’s Privateer’s Champion Dan Hegarty.
Going into the final lap, Hutchinson still led by 8s; the gap to Hickman was an almost identical 7.9s at Glen Helen but by Ballaugh it was only 2.5s; cold Hickman snatch a stunning victory? Harrison was now in third as Hillier experienced fuel problems and the thrilling race still saw just 9.5s covering the top four.
Hickman had reduced the gap further still at Ramsey Hairpin to 1.6s and it was all going to come down to the final run up and down the Mountain. As stated already: Hutchinson is the master of the mountain section; his rapid trip helping him to record a final lap of 130.738mph. So it was that Hutchinson prevailed by 5s despite Hickman being the quickest man on track on the final lap; recording a speed of 131.103mph.
Harrison claimed third ahead of Hillier with Kneen overcoming his pit lane penalty to take fifth from Rutter albeit by only 0.135s. Johnson and Brookes were next on the silver clad Nortons ahead of William Dunlop and Martin Jessopp who upped his personal best to over 129mph.
Horst Saiger rode superbly to be the first privateer home in 11th ahead of Sam West (12th) and Philip Crowe (14th). This was an excellent race that provided compelling viewing and listening for fans where ever they may have been.
It has been announced that the rider involved in a major incident at Greeba Castle was Davey Lambert; whose condition is described as critical. We hope and pray that he will be able to make a full recovery and offer thanks to those who assisted him at the scene.
The weather forecast is atrocious; it appears that racing could be very problematic both on Monday and Tuesday; hopefully the forecast will prove to be overly pessimistic.
RST Superbike TT
- Ian Hutchinson Tyco BMW 128.170mph
- Peter Hickman Smith’s BMW 128.068mph
- Dean Harrison Silicone Engineering Kawasaki 127.907mph
- James Hillier JG Speedfit Kawasaki 127.873mph
- Dan Kneen Penz 13 BMW 125.960mph
- Michael Rutter Bathams SMT BMW 125.957mph
- David Johnson Norton 125.273mph
- Josh Brookes Norton 125.011mph
- William Dunlop Temple Yamaha 124.787mph
- Martin Jessopp Riders BMW 124.728mph