On the hottest day of the 2023 TT Festival, we had a scorching hot Milwaukee Senior Race to keep us on our toes. The very bright sunshine meant that going into shaded areas would be problematic for the riders. The track was dry and well rubbered in after two weeks without even one drop of rain. There were fans on top of the very low bank along the length of Sulby Straight, from the houses alongside the kink in the middle of it, to the bridge. Quite how anyone was allowed to put up a grandstand at the exit to the kink, I will never know; bikes are doing 200mph and people can sit totally unprotected less than 5 metres away from the track (safety officers look at Le Mans 1955) then think again.
The race began on time, with Davo Johnson (Jackson Honda) the leaf blower and bird scarer for the others. With Michael Dunlop having won 4 races and Peter Hickman 3, it was expected that this would be a duel in the sun between the pair. They were both Superbike mounted; as was Dean Harrison; third placed finisher in all of his races. Davey Todd; bravely came to the line; but he was far from recovered from the virus that had afflicted him.
The pace to Glen Helen was rapid and it was Dean Harrison (DAO Kawasaki) who set the best sector time; he was 0.5s faster than Hickman (FHO BMW); with Dunlop (Hawk Honda) third; 2.7s further back. James Hillier (OMG Yamaha), Conor Cummins (Milenco Padgett Honda) and Davey Todd (Milenco Padgett Honda) completed the top 6. The margins were tiny; 3.9s covered 6th to 10th.
Hickman then opened the taps and reached Ballaugh in just 2m 59.883s to set a sector record. His lead was up to 3.48s. Cummins set his best time ever to grab 4th from Hillier by 0.65s. For Jamie Coward the race was over at Ballaugh. Dean Harrison was first to Sulby Bridge; then it was Davo johnson; John McGuinness; then Michael Dunlop with James Hillier. Josh Brookes was next; then Hicky, who passed Todd on the approach to the bridge. The action was excellent as the riders slowed from 190mph+ to take the tight right hand bend over the bridge and then power away to Ginger Hall.
4 miles further along at White Gates the lead for Hickman was 4.75s, after another sector record. At the Bungalow, he led by 6.135s after another sector record. The fastest ever standing start lap at 135.349mph gave Hickman a lead of 6.12s from Harrison (134.529mph). Dunlop (133.999mph) was third; Cummins (132.058mph) was 4th, Hillier 5th and Josh Brookes 6th; the latter two lapped at over 131mph. Johnson, John McGuinness (Honda), Dom Herbertson (APERO BMW) and Craig Neve (Batham’s Honda) held 7th to 10th. Newcomer Ryan Cringle was going very well; he lapped at 125.987mph. For Mike Browne the ill luck continued; he retired at the pits.
Next to retire was Dom Herbertson, at Ballacraine. At Glen Helen; Hickman led by 7.4s having set another sector record. Dunlop was 3rd; 4.2s down on Harrison. Hickman continued to edge away from Harrison and led by 10.57s at the top of the mountain climb. Going into the pits, Hickman led by 11.862s; his lap speed of 135.507mph; a new lap record for the Senior TT. Harrison had the fastest pit stop and gained at least 3s on each of the other top 6 riders.
At Glen Helen on lap 3; the lead for Hickman was 8.02s. Dunlop was 12.59s was behind Harrison. Cummins, Brookes and McGuinness completed our top 6. A very slow pit stop had dropped Hillier to 10th. At Sulby Bridge, we had the spectacle of Cummins and teammate Todd coming into the corner a couple of metres apart; two courageous men; neither fully fit. At Ramsey; the lead for Hickman had grown to 9.96s; it was 9.92s at the Grandstand; try as he might Hickman could not shake off Harrison; despite the latter’s bike being 13mph down on top speed.
Hickman added tenths on each sector to lead by 13.1s at the top of the mountain on the fourth lap. As he entered the pits for the second stop his lead was 12.38s. Harrison had increased his advantage over Dunlop to 23.64s. Cummins, Brookes and McGuinness kept their, by now, established positions. Harrison again had the best of the pit stops; gaining 2s on all of his rivals.
On lap 5 at Glen Helen, the lead for Hickman was 9.3s; nowhere near enough to allow him to ease off. At Sulby Bridge, we had the sight of Hickman and Dunlop circulating a couple of metres apart; Hickman having made the pass on the first part of the straight. Hickman had joined his teammate Brookes in doing the “Doctor’s Dangle” whilst braking for the bridge. Four miles down the road the lead was 12.69s. At the end of the lap, the lead was 15.935s; comfortable, but not entirely secure.
At Glen Helen on the final lap Hickman led by 18.4s; Dunlop was using the tow from being right behind Hickman to take some time back from Harrison; the deficit being 25.2s. Harrison was the first rider to take the acclaim of the crowd at Sulby Bridge; he then had a moment when the machine tried to throw him off as he opened the taps going away from the corner; thankfully, he saved it. Hickman and Dunlop were together coming down Sulby Straight to rapturous applause. The enthusiastic crowd gave generous applause to all of the riders and they deserved after their performances. Hickman’s final lap was at 134.842mph; this gave him a record race average of 132.526mph. He was 19.98s ahead of Harrison (132.097mph). Dunlop was fastest on the last lap; he finished 20.433s down on Harrison; his race average 131.661mph. Conor Cummins (129.755mph) took a fine 4th; Josh Brookes (129.27mph) was 5th and James Hillier (128.506mph) was 6th; those riders all lapped at over 132mph on the final lap. McGuinness, Johnson, Todd and Rob Hodson completed our top 10.
Amongst the local riders; Mikey Evans (Suzuki) was 18th at 122.885mph; his best lap was at 126.595mph; Best Newcomer was Ryan Cringle; he was 19th at 122.794mph.
Hickman was delighted to win and equal Michael’s tally for the week. His crew had finally been able to make the machine do what he wanted without him having to wrestle it. Dean was happy to be second; his was the ride of the day given his lack of top end speed. Michael was fairly downbeat; unable to explain why nothing was quite as it had been for his wonderful Superbike win. He will have to come back next year to equal his uncle’s record of 26 wins; can’t wait.