After longest spell of continuous bad weather in the history of the TT; one that has caused four days of frustrating inaction, there was finally a glimmer of light. The third practice session of the event was held on a very windy afternoon; but only after the persistent mist had taken 90 minutes out of the schedule; causing practice for the Lightweight machines to be cancelled.
The course was badly affected by damp patches from the earlier rain and strong winds around the course, particularly on the Mountain section where there had been no sun to aid drying.
Ballaugh Bridge had a large crowd of enthusiasts gathered to watch the action. It was a sunny afternoon; but the very strong winds ensured that outer garments remained on. There was also a large group of photographers hoping to grab some shots all of the classes at the most iconic location in motorcycle racing. The Sidecars were the first out on the course and, as on Tuesday, the Birchall brothers led the field away followed by John Holden/ Lee Cain.
Holden/Cain were the quickest to Glen Helen, three seconds quicker than the Birchalls, but newcomers Ryan and Callum Crowe, who set a stunning 109mph lap in their opening lap on Tuesday night, stopped early at Snugborough and although they made adjustments, they were unable to continue.
At Ballaugh; the Birchalls were first on the road; hotly pursued by John Holden / Lee Cain. Next through was pairing of Tim Reeves / Mark Wilkes; their bad luck continued and they were forced to retire at Churchtown. Another of the seeded pairs; Lewis Blackstock / Patrick Rosney also had a frustrating afternoon; their machine expiring at Sulby.
Holden/Cain continued to set the pace on the Silicone Barnes Racing Honda, overtaking the Birchalls on the road, and they were first to complete the lap with a speed of 114.99mph, which was almost identical to their lap from Tuesday evening.
The Birchalls lapped nearly twenty seconds slower at 113.19mph with Peter Founds / Jevan Walmsley on 111.80mph. Alan Founds/ Jake Lowther went fourth quickest with a lap of 110.49mph followed by Dave Molyneux/ Harry Payne at 109.43mph; the latter being markedly slower that the other leading pairs on the Sulby Straight; losing 15mph there loses races.
Allan Schofield / Steve Thomas slotted into sixth on the leader board with a lap of 107.77mph with Gary Bryan / Phil Hyde and former race winners Conrad Harrison/Andy Winkle also lapping in excess of 107mph.
Second time around it was the Birchalls who were in the ascendancy and with three of the quickest sector times they increased their pace to 114.93mph. Holden/Cain were slightly slower than their opening lap with a speed of 114.30mph but Founds/Walmsley lapped quicker at 113.36mph. Harrison/Winkle 108.24mph and Estelle Leblond/Franck Claeys 106.96mph also upped their speeds but Molyneux’s second lap was a more sedate 104.22mph. Gary and Daryl Gibson had an official best of 104.66mph; but if the time of their stop at Ballaugh was removed they were over 109mph.
After the two laps of the sidecars it was time for the Superbikes, Superstocks and Supersports to take to the track. The track still had damp patches in the usual places where overhanging trees (that simply should not be there) slow the drying process; plus more at the top of the mountain. Add this to the increasingly strong winds that were causing leaves and twigs to fall onto the track and conditions were challenging to say the least.
The first men to jump the famous bridge at Ballaugh were Superbike mounted Peter Hickman, Michael Rutter and Dean Harrison. The action was frantic as the riders pressed on to take advantage of the now abridged practice time. Heartening the locals was the performance of the Ramsey Rocket; Conor Cummins; on the Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles Honda; he set the quickest lap of the session, clocking 128.92mph; although Peter Hickman posted the fastest opening four sectors of the session ( indeed of the 3 sessions held ) on his Superstock machine, before slowing over the final two sectors.
On the opening lap, Harrison was the quickest to Glen Helen, by 4.5 seconds, from Michael Dunlop (Tyco BMW) with Hickman half a second further back in third. Cummins was close behind in fourth with Jamie Coward and Rutter completing the top six. James Hillier and Gary Johnson topped the early Superstock and Supersport times respectively.
Cummins set the quickest sector time on the run to Ballaugh before Hickman had the honour of getting from Ballaugh to Ramsey the quickest but as they completed the opening lap, Harrison was initially the quickest overall with a lap of 126.53mph.
That was nine seconds quicker than Rutter 125.42mph with Hickman slotting into third at 125.04mph as he completed his first lap of TT2019 on his Superbike before pulling straight in to switch to his Superstock BMW.
However, Cummins went to the top of the leader board with a lap of 126.54mph, which was a tenth of a second quicker than Harrison. Hillier 124.33mph and Johnson 122.59mph were the quickest of the Superstock and Supersport machines but 18-time TT Race winner Dunlop was in trouble and he stopped at the Mountain Box. This is one of the locations from which it is impossible to make a return to the grandstand; meaning a frustrating afternoon for Michael.
Coward 124.82mph, John McGuinness 123.33mph and Derek Sheils 123.10mph were the other riders to lap at more than 123mph. Ian Hutchinson appeared a tad tentative at Ballaugh; but lapped at 121.95mph as he got back on track after his spill at the 11th Milestone on Tuesday evening.
The second lap saw Cummins and Harrison set near identical times on the run to Ramsey but the Manxman edged it and with an improved speed of 128.92mph on the Milenco by Padgetts Honda, he retained his position at the top of the Superbike leader board.
Harrison 128.29mph, Rutter 127.55mph and Coward 127.22mph all upped their pace although the wind and the damp patches, combined with the lack of track time, continued to keep speeds down.
Hickman was another rider impressing on the second lap and he set the quickest Superstock lap of the session with a speed of 128.50mph. Hillier 125.36mph moved up to fifth place on the Superbike leader board with Gary Johnson 123.75mph slotting into seventh while Davey Todd 122.94mph moved up to third overall in the Superstock class. Newcomers Lucas Maurer 117.13mph and Raymond Casey 113.27mph also set their best laps of the week so far.
The big news of the session though came on the third lap as Hickman, still on his Superstock machine, set the fastest sector times on the run to Ramsey but just as it looked like he’d set the first 130mph lap of the week, he lost time between the Bungalow and the Grandstand and cruised across the line at 126.82mph. His Bungalow to Bungalow time was in excess of 130mph.
He remained quickest in the Superstock class ahead of new second place rider Cummins 127.17mph and Gary Johnson 124.97mph. There was a change for third though towards the end of the session as David Johnson pushed Rutter down to fourth after an impressive lap of 128.24mph on the Honda Racing machine that he getting to grips with.
Rutter, Coward and Hillier completed the top six in the Superbike class and, along with Hickman, were the only other riders above 125mph but Sam West 124.96mph wasn’t far behind as McGuinness, Brian McCormack and Phil Crowe posted late laps of 124.72mph, 124.33mph and 124.31mph respectively.
Understandably, most riders focused on the big bikes but Lee Johnston 122.93mph moved ahead of long time leader Johnson 122.59mph and Coward with 121.36mph ended the session in third overall. These speeds were down on the previous sessions; with the gale force headwind on the mountain a major negative for the riders.
It has been announced that racing will begin tomorrow (Monday) with a 3 race programme that is: Superbikes over 4 laps; Sidecar Race 1 over 3 laps; next we will have 2 laps of Lightweight practice and 1 lap of practice for the TT Zero bikes. Then in the early evening we will have the Supersport Race 1 over 4 laps. The mixed weather forecast for next week; with Tuesday a complete washout; has no doubt been a factor in the decision to race after just 3 practice sessions; one of those having been much shortened. I have found myself agreeing with every decision made so far by the Clerk of Course; until this one. There simply has not been enough time to set bikes up properly to race over this testing and dangerous circuit. Better to lose some races than to send riders out to race ill prepared; in my opinion. Hopefully; the Clerk of the Course will be proven to have been correct.