After the disappointment of last night’s scheduled start to TT practice being scrapped; the wisdom of obtaining a contingency road closure for today was proved. The meeting fired into life at 2.20pm, after fifty minutes delay to allow damp patches around the Course to dry, at least partially and to move marshals into position to meet the manning rosters. It was a windy afternoon; good for drying the roads but tricky at places such as Mountain Box and Windy Corner. At Sulby, there were small crowd of enthusiasts at the bridge and at Ginger Hall; where wet, rather than damp, patches faced the riders on the opening lap. This is one of the places where uncared for hedgerows now block out the sun and make the drying of the circuit more problematic.
The first action that we saw was the speed controlled laps for the solo and sidecar newcomers; led the Travelling Marshalls and experienced sidecar crews. After this lap had been completed, the timed action began for Superpsport and Lightweight machines. Lee Johnston; Ashcourt Racing Yamaha and Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson lead the field out onto Glencrutchery road aboard their Supersport machines.
To the delight of the fans; with just a couple of parade laps at last year’s race meeting and victory in the Bennetts Senior Classic TT last August behind him, John McGuinness made his much awaited return to competitive TT action. He first went out on the Norton 650cc Superlight machine, for his first laps in the class. He then switched to the Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles Supersport Honda; returning to the Batley based team that he last represented in 2014. This last minute ride was only announced yesterday.
At Sulby Bridge, Dean Harrison was first through and had a few seconds lead over those that he had passed on the 20 miles blast from the start. He looked like he was on rails, smooth and fast as he blasted away through Ginger Hall and on towards Kerrowmoar. He duly posted the first official lap of the meeting with a speed of 121.97mph on his Silicone Engineering Supersport bike. Settling in and aware where the dampness was, he upped his pace to 124.39mph on his second lap. The Bradford rider then went out at the end of the session to complete his sixth Supersport lap. He looked to be on a mission and posted the fastest time in every sector – to record a lap of 126.09mph – comfortably the fastest lap of the afternoon.
Afterwards he revealed how he encountered traffic early in the session and found the conditions testing but that it gradually improved: “I hit traffic early in the session, but it as the session went on and we got some rubber on the track. And going into windy corner I was leant right over in a straight line! However, 126 on the first night is good going.”
Although conditions were challenging with high winds on the Mountain section of the course, a number of the riders took the opportunity to get multiple laps under their belts with many completing five laps.
Michael Dunlop on his MD Racing Honda Supersport bike also showed strong early form with 123.90mph on his third lap. Michael was very impressive at Sulby Bridge; right out to the wall on the exit; no one else goes as close to it. Conor Cummins described the conditions as ‘tricky’ but that didn’t stop the Ramsey man; super smooth through our section; clocking 123.71mph on his fifth lap of the session in the Supersport class board, ahead of Prez Racing’s Jamie Coward (123.19mph) and James Hillier who nudged into the top five with 121.90mph. Gary Johnson, on the sweet sounding triumph – 122.55mph in sixth – described the conditions as ‘the toughest in eleven years’.
In the Lightweight class, Jamie Coward followed up his strong Supersport performance earlier in the session to top the Lightweight leader board with a best lap of 119.96mph. After the session, he revealed that the team can still make improvements: “The Kawasaki definitely showed what it’s capable of but there’s still a few things that we can improve on. It’s a fair achievement on the first day.”
Defending champion Michael Dunlop moved into second overall, with a lap of 118.52mph ahead of fellow Northern Ireland rider Paul Jordan, on the RC Express Kawasaki, who completed four laps on the machine and showed that he will be a real contender with a best lap of 117.45mph.
Derek McGee, who finished runner up in last year’s race – will be looking to go one better this year. He was fourth fastest on the board with 116.19mph while Stefano Bonetti, fresh from his maiden international win at the North West 200, posted the fifth fastest Lightweight lap with 116.02mph – just over a second behind McGee – on the Paton SC Project Reparto Course. Gary Johnson signalled his intentions with a 115.80mph lap, putting his injury concerns behind him to move into sixth overall for the class.
2017 Race winner Michael Rutter, riding the Bathams KMR Kawasaki, posted a time of 113.60mph/19.55.660 while John McGuinness, who completed 3 laps – his fastest 111.77 – described his first laps in the class as ‘amazing’.
Maria Costello enjoyed her first Mountain Course sidecar lap before switching codes and clocking 109.40mph on her Paton in the Solo Lightweight class.
New Zealander Daniel Mettam, one of the newcomers, came off his Supersport machine at the Black Hut and was taken by Airmed to Nobles Hospital, but his condition was reported to be not serious. We send our best wishes to him.