Thursday, May 23, 2024

Top 5 This Week

Blistering start to TT 2023 sees Dunlop top of all solo classes; Founds / Walmsley head sidecars.

The 2023 isle of man TT was blessed with perfect conditions for the opening practice sessions. In a departure from the long established norm, the sessions were run in the late morning and afternoon; meaning that the low evening sun was not a factor. The Gooseneck was warm and had attracted a decent number of spectators.

The sweeping left hand bend below it was the chosen position for the first; untimed session. The inside of the rising right hand bend the position for the first timed sessions. The escorted laps for the newcomers was the first matter to be attended to. All completed their lap apart from Derek Lynch / Anthony McDonnell who had a mechanical issue. They completed the mandatory lap at the end of the timed sessions. The idea of the untimed first session was to ease pressure on the riders and allow them a way to ease into the event and take note of the changes made around the track; perhaps the most important being the resurfacing of part of Sulby Straight.

Michael Dunlop was first on the road in the Supersport / Lightweight session and he was certainly not easing in; he was well clear of the pack and right on the pace as the swept through the left hander and then braked hard before the rising right hander. Most of the seeded riders chose to use their Supersport machines for the opening lap. Josh Brookes was out the Dafabet Kawasaki that was scheduled to be ridden by Gary Johnson; who is unable to ride after his accident at Horice. The Superbikes and Superstocks were next on track and again we had a well-attended session, and the riders were not exactly easing their way in; they were rapid, no doubt confident that the track was in good order. Conor Cummins had to retire at Ballacraine; whilst Paul Williams was brought off at Laurel Bank by a pheasant, he escaped injury.

The Sidecars completed their untimed session with the Birchall brothers leading the pack; with Peter Founds / Jevan Walmsley and the Crowe brothers close behind.

After a brief lunch interval, the serious action began with the timed sessions; run in the same order as the morning sessions.  The temperature at trackside had risen and that on the track was about to astound us. Dean Harrison was first to break the afternoon peace as he came into view on his Supersport and then took the corner in fine style before blasting away up the mountain climb. Michael Dunlop was on his Lightweight (Supertwin) machine and had the commentary team excited because he was on lap record pace. The action was fast and furious; one of the early arrivals was Davo Johnson; he has the number 1 plate; it was good to see him back after he missed last year with an injury. Another noted as going rapidly was multiple MGP winner James Hind. Local star Conor Cummins was just about the fastest around the corner; he was on his Supersport Milenco Padgett Honda.

The commentary team was right to be excited; Michael Dunlop was on record pace; he went around at 122.907mph; his official mark from 2018 being 122.750mph; that was set in the race, on a well rubbered in track. This left him clear at the top of the speed charts from Jamie Coward (119.758mph) and Brian McCormack (118.971mph). Josh Brookes settled quickly on the unfamiliar twin to set a best of 116.470mph. One thing is clear, Peter Hickman’s Yamaha is going to have to be very special if he is to beat Michael in this class.

Peter Hickman was for some time the fastest man in the Supersport class; his second lap of 126.604mph being his best. Dean Harrison recorded 125.494mph and Davey Todd 124.604mph. Having parked his Paton; Dunlop jumped aboard his Supersport Yamaha and scorched around the course to set the best lap of the session at 127.019mph.

The big bikes were out next and what a spectacle they provided; the speeds simply amazing for the first session. Phil Crowe was first to reach us and going very quickly. Next was Dean Harrison on the DAO Kawasaki Superbike; he was on 130mph pace; a few places behind; Michael Dunlop was at an almost identical pace on his Superstock MD Honda. It seemed that everyone was achieving the kind of pace not normally seen until the (what was traditional until now) Thursday afternoon session. Dean Harrison had the honour of recording the first 130mph lap at this year’s meeting; his speed was 130.752mph. Seconds later, Michael Dunlop brought his Superstock into the paddock after his table topping lap at 130.426mph. John McGuinness sounds very comfortable with his bikes and eased his way in with a lap at 127.881mph. Josh Brookes has settled straight back into the TT and he set a lap of 125.742mph on his Superbike; later he set 126.404mph on his Superstock machine. Peter Hickman was one of the later starters but that did not prevent him from taking second place in the Superbike chart with his lap of 130.272mph on his FHO BMW.

Michael Dunlop switched to his Superbike and unsurprisingly lapped at over 130mph. Dean Harrison then raised the bar to 131.764mph; with Hickman posting 131.254mph. Dunlop was not to be outdone; he put the Hawk Fireblade around at 131.782mph. He was very neat at the Gooseneck and the bike was an absolute missile going up the climb towards Guthrie’s. Michael has put down a marker that he is fit; strong; has a settled team; great bikes and is ready to increase his tally of wins.

There were some good speeds from the newcomers; the best being Erno Kostamo at 115.468mph; Matthieu Lagrive and Ryan Cringle both topped 111mph.

The sidecars were impressive; one or two were a tad over enthusiastic; but great to watch as always. There are some interesting fairing designs; perhaps they will allow the 120mph barrier to be broken. The slight surprise was that Ben and Tom Birchall did not top the chart. Fastest were Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley at 117.431mph; with Ben and Tom recording 117.153mph. Daryl Gibson was Dave Molyneux’s passenger last year; he clearly knows how to drive the outfit; he set a lap of 107.497mph with Tom Christie in the chair.

We can now draw breath and wait for tomorrow evening’s session which fires up at 6.30pm.

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