Masterclass; Dunlop takes 22nd win; Birchalls break 120mph barrier.

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The first race day of TT 2023 had warm, dry and still conditions, ideal for racing. The crowds gathered around the 37.73 miles of the Mountain Course were treated to record breaking racing in both of the day’s events. Racing was delayed for several hours whilst a road traffic accident at the 33rd Milestone was dealt with by the emergency services.

The curtain raiser was a solos warm up lap; essentially untimed practice; on any machine that the riders chose. This proved to be the end of Mike Browne’s participation for the day; his Supersport machine blew its engine shortly after leaving the start line. Hopefully, he will be good to go in the second Supersport race.

The first race of the afternoon was the four lap Supersport 1 Race. Michael Dunlop has been the dominant force in the class in recent years and he headed the practice times. In perfect conditions, Davo Johnson (Jackson Honda) was the first man to take the plunge down Bray Hill. Dean Harrison (Russell Racing Yamaha) is always fast on the 9 miles out to Glen Helen, and it was he who led at the checkpoint by 0.55s from Michael Dunlop (MD Racing Yamaha). Peter Hickman (Trooper Triumph) held third 1.11s down on Dunlop. Davey Todd (Milenco Padgett’s Honda), James Hillier (Russell Racing Yamaha) and Jamie Coward (KTS Racing) Yamaha completed the top 6.

Dunlop was rapid on the sector to Ballaugh and led the race by 1.57s as he jumped the famous bridge. Harrison was second; Hickman third; Coward had moved up to fourth, ahead of Todd and Hillier. Rising young star Jim Hind (Bass Yamaha) held seventh. Dunlop set the fastest ever sector time to Ramsey, where he led by 3.676s. Tower Bends; above the Waterworks means a long walk from Ballure or the Gooseneck; but the S-bend provides a super vantage point. The slight remodelling of the road profile and new surface have made it faster. The action in this race was excellent for the connoisseurs who had gathered to watch it.

First to reach us was Dean Harrison; it still seems strange for him not to be in DAO colours; instead, it was the dark blue of the Russell Racing team. The flying Dunlop was next, and like Harrison, he kept it pinned through the bends. The action was excellent as Coward, Paul Jordan (Prez Yamaha), Davo Johnson, James Hillier, Davey Todd and the Peter Hickman, on the lovely sounding Triumph, charged past us. Dunlop set a sector record to the Bungalow and led by 4.49s at the top of the mountain. Harrison was now 4.16s in front of Hickman.

After a lap at 128.305mph, Dunlop led Harrison (127.643mph) by 5.49s as they raced past the Grandstand. Hicky was third, 4.63s down on Harrison. Coward, Todd, Hillier, and Hind were next; they all lapped at over 125mph. Best of the locals was birthday boy Mikey Evans in 11th.

Dunlop set another sector record to lead by 7.37s at Glen Helen; Harrison was also rapid adding 1.8s to his advantage over Hickman. By Ramsey, Dunlop was inside lap record pace and led by 11.22s. Hickman was now matching Harrison whose advantage was 6.46s. At the end of the lap Dunlop was just shy of his own lap record; with a lap at 129.136mph; his advantage entering the pits was now 13.44s; with Harrison 8.6s ahead of Hickman. Jim Hind dropped from 7th to 11th for being well over the pit lane speed limit. Julian Trummer suffered a similar fate for being just 0.1kph over the limit. A rapid pit stop gained Harrison 1.5s over Dunlop and 1s over Hickman.

In his early years at the event Dunlop would have continued to wring the neck off the bike; not now; he showed his maturity by riding to his boards and managing his advantage over Harrison. At Glen Helen the lead was 11.13s; with Harrison 10.60s ahead of Hickman. Coward, Todd and Hillier continued to fill the leader board places. Hickman upped his pace and began to edge closer to Harrison; the gap down to 8.3s as they began the mountain climb. At the end of the lap the lead was 17.53s; but the advantage for Harrison had been narrowed to 3.94mph.

Hickman was on a mission; he set the best ever sector time from Glen Helen to Ballaugh to be just 2.34s down as they approached the half distance marker. With Dunlop managing the lead at around 16s, all eyes were on the battle for second. At Ramsey, Harrison’s advantage was down to 1.12s; at the Bungalow it was just 0.12s. At Cronk ny mona Hickman had grabbed second place; 0.275s ahead of Harrison. Hickman was the fastest on the last 1.1 miles to the finish; to take second place by 0.394s after 4 laps of the most demanding course in the world.

The lap record remained intact; however, Michael broke his old race record with his average of 126.880mph. Hickman’s average was 126.516mph; with Harrison’s 126.504mph. Coward took a superb fourth; edging out Todd by 2.84s. Hillier completed the leader board at the end of a scintillating race. Race 2 promises to be just as close, if not closer. Mikey Evans was best local in 12th; Ryan Cringle was the best newcomer in 22nd; he averaged 117.979 mph and his best lap was over the magic 120mph barrier; a superb first race.

The second race of the day was for the Sidecars; a class dominated by Ben and Tom Birchall; they have won every race that they have completed since 2013. They grabbed the early initiative; leading by 3.962s from Pete Founds / Jevan Walmsley at Glen Helen. Ryan and Callum Crowe; getting faster with each lap after their first practice mishap; held third. John Holden / Maxime Vasseur; Gary Bryan / Philip Hyde and newcomer driver Daryl Gibson with Tom Christie completed the nascent leader board. Four of the 25 outfits did not reach Glen Helen; three were past winners; Dave Molyneux; Tim Reeves and Conrad Harrison.

At Ballaugh, the lead was up to 5.095s; with the Crowe brothers 7.9s down on Founds / Walmsley. Founds was not going to lie down; he and Walmsley were fastest on the run to Ramsey; cutting the lead to 3.552s. The outfits were superb at Tower bends; tight to the wall on the inside of the right hand part of the s-bend; tight to the grass verge on the inside of the left hand part and out close to the wall on the exit. The Birchalls were quickest on the mountain climb widening the lead to 4.84s. Founds was quickest on the final two sectors cutting the lead to 3.36s at the Grandstand. The opening laps for the leading crews were; 118.577mph; 118.230mph and 115.875mph.

Having settled into their rhythm, the Birchall brothers pulled the pin on the second lap. They set the fastest ever sector time to Glen Helen; 1.6s inside lap record pace, to lead by 6.778s. The Crowe bothers were now 27.5s behind Founds / Walmsley, in a (seemingly) safe third place. Two more sector record times saw the Birchalls leave Ramsey 12.545s ahead of Founds / Walmsley. They set new sector records for Ramsey to Bungalow and Bungalow to Cronk ny Mona; with Founds / Walmsley taking that honour on the final stretch. At the end of the historic first ever 120mph sidecar lap the Birchall brothers led by 16.009s. The new record is 120.357mph; almost unbelievable for those of us who can remember Dick Greasley / Mick Skeels putting up the first 100mph lap, on a 700cc Yamaha outfit. The Crowe brothers were forced to retire at Keppel gate; this promoted John Holden / Maxime Vasseur to the final podium place. The Ramsdens held fourth, Gibson / Christie 5th and Bryan / Hyde 6th as the final lap began.

The Birchalls eased their pace slightly on the final lap; keeping their lead at around the 20s mark. They duly came home to their 10th consecutive win at a record average speed of 119.365mph; 24.066s clear of Founds / Walmsley (118.529mph). Holden / Vasseur took third place; how heartening to see a French competitor on the podium. Steve and Matty Ramsden (father and son) finished fourth; Bryan / Hyde eased past Gibson / Christie on the mountain climb and took sixth by just 2.43s.

The next race is the Superbike TT; scheduled for Sunday afternoon.