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Following a wonderful 90th birthday parade of past winners, the Junior Manx Grand Prix started right on time. At the end of it Michael Sweeney; who had played second fiddle for almost the entire race; became the fourth member of the club of riders who have won two Junior MGPs; the others being Austin Munks, Ken Bills and Doug Pirie. The Irishman emulated his 2010 Junior MGP result with a dramatic last gasp victory after race leader James Cowton ran out of fuel in the last mile.
Northern Ireland’s Stephen McKnight, who finished third in both the 2011 and 2012 Junior Manx Grand Prix races, had the honour of being first away from Glencrutchery Road but at Glen Helen on the opening lap Yorkshire man James Cowton, starting fourth, had established a lead of almost a second over Ireland’s Michael Sweeney who was the fastest qualifier. Stephen Harper was a further two seconds back in third with McKnight and Tim Poole completing the top five.
McKnight was the first to tackle the tricky, bumpy, rising right hander that is Cruickshanks Corner. He was right on line and going rapidly on the blue and white R6. The action was good for the crowd of connoisseurs gathered in the afternoon sunshine to watch the race unfold before their eyes. Mike Minns was next; then it was Cowton who had already taken the 10s interval and more from Michael Russell. The watch suggested that Cowton led by 4.9s from Sweeney, who was 2.5s ahead of McKnight. Harper, Andy Lawson and Russell completed the putative leader board, with Mike Minns and Tim Poole tied for seventh.
McKnight continued to lead on the roads at the grandstand after a lap at117.8049mph. Cowton was the fastest on the opening lap at 119.659mph which gave him an 11.25s lead over second placed Michael Sweeney, who lapped at 118.485mph. McKnight (117.804mph) was third and Andy Lawson (117.620mph) held fourth, pushing Stephen Harper (117.467mph) was fifth; with Michael Russell (117.424mph) sixth. The race was tight with fifth to twelfth covered by 10s.
Cowton continued to eke out his lead as the second lap progressed. At Cruickshank’s his lead was 14.3s over Sweeney; McKnight was 10.6 further back and in a close battle with Russell. Entering pit lane at the end of the second lap; Cowton’s lap at 118.926mph gave him a lead of 18.4s from Sweeney. Russell, McKnight, Colin Stephenson and Lawson completed our top six. A slick refueling routine from Sweeney’s team allowed him to close the gap by an estimated six seconds with.
Cowton continued to be the fastest man on the track and by Glen Helen had increased his advantage to 18s. At Cruickshank’s he increased it further to 22.3s; with Russell now 20.3s behind Sweeney. Cowton’s third lap at 113.920mph saw him going into the last lap with a 25 second lead over Sweeney with Russell retaining third.
Cowton maintained his pace and his advantage as the final progressed. He led by 28.2s as they accelerated away towards the mountain climb for the final time. At The Bungalow the lead was 26s; but Cowton’s machine was beginning to suffer from low fuel. He knocked off the revs to try to conserve what little was left. It looked like victory was his when he reached Cronk ny Mona with 16s in hand. However, in a dramatic conclusion to the race Cowton, was reported to be stopped, out of fuel at the Nook, just a few hundred yards from the finish of the almost 150-mile race.
Sweeney came through to win in 1:17:20.911 at 117.070mph, with Michael Russell 1:18.01.810 moving up into the runners-up spot and 2009 Newcomers’ Race C runner up Andy Lawson 1:18.11.598 grabbed third after lapping at 117.478mph. Stephenson’s fine ride was rewarded with fourth; whilst McKnight took fifth. A final lap of over 118mph saw Michael Moulai snatch the final leader board placing at the expense of Harper by just 4.75s.
Sweeney was surprised and delighted to be told that was the winner; whilst Cowton took it philosophically: surely his day will come; perhaps it will be in the Senior on Friday.
Junior Manx Grand Prix
1. Michael Sweeney 600 Yamaha 117.070mph
2. Michael Russell 600 Yamaha 116.047mph
3. Andy Lawson 600 Kawasaki 115.805mph
4. Colin Stephenson 600 Yamaha 115.701mph
5. Stephen McKnight 600 Yamaha 115.605mph
6. Michael Moulai 600 Suzuki 115.554mph