Record blitz ends qualifying at TT 2023

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Friday afternoon brought another warm, sunny afternoon; dry roads and a gentle breeze. The final qualifying session for TT 2023 would allow all classes to take to the track. It was expected to be in the main a session for running in race engines; bedding in other new parts and testing suspension tweaks. That expectation proved to be wide of the mark, as what may have been the most amazing session in history unfolded before our eyes.

The session was slightly delayed to allow some road sweeping in the Milntown area. Some of the news items were that Conor Cummins had been detained in Nobles Hospital for treatment to the infection afflicting him. It is hoped that he may be able to take part in some races next week; get well soon Conor. Dom Herbertson and the Cowton racing team could not cure the ills with their Supersport Kawasaki; with the team’s blessing; Dom is to take up the offer of a ride on the Dafabet Yamaha left vacant by Matt Stevenson’s misfortune. Similarly, Rennie Scaysbrook and the Wilson Craig Team could not sort their Honda’s handling issues; as a consequence, he left the team and has now picked up a ride on the Team Kibosh BMW.

For once, the chairs were allowed to go on track first. Last night’s record setters, Ben and Tom Birchall had put their new race engine into the outfit. They pulled in at Ballacraine; made adjustments and re-started, once the other outfits had gone past. Their pace from there onwards was similar to last night’s. The first outfit to reach Glen Tramman, a sweeping left hand bend, midway between Sulby and Ramsey, was that of Peter Founds / Jevan Walmsley. They were fast and on the perfect line; as were their nearest pursuers, Ryan and Callum Crowe. Tim Reeves / Mark Wilkes were impressively fast, as were Gary Bryan / Phil Hyde and John Holden / Maxime Vasseur. Dave Molyneux / Dan Sayle failed to reach us yet again; their miserable week complete.

Founds / Walmsley were first to complete the lap; their speed an impressive 117.807mph. The Crowe brothers are speeding up as confidence returns; they lapped at 116.452mph. Reeves / Wilkes improved their best for the week to 113.509mph. Bryan / Hyde and Holden / Vasseur lapped at over 112mph; Steve and Matty Ramsden hit 111.442mph. Newcomer driver Daryl Gibson and passenger Tom Christie broke the 110mph barrier with a very impressive 111.148mph. Reeves / Wilkes continued for a second lap but were forced to park the outfit on the Mountain Mile. The Ramsdens did complete the lap; at 112.719mph.

The next part of the afternoon saw the Supersport and Supertwin machines on the circuit. The pre-race favourites for the Supertwins Races had wildly differing fortunes. For Michael Dunlop; first on the road at Glen Tramman; it was a case of déjà vu; he set another unofficial lap record from a standing start, at 123.474mph on the MD Racing Paton. His second lap ended prematurely at Union Mills. He was soon back at the pits and jumped aboard his Supersport Yamaha and proceeded to repeat his table topping performance with a lap at 127.510mph. Peter Hickman had to park the PHR Yamaha at Greeba Bridge; a place from which return to the pits if not easy. After scrambling under the low road bridge; he borrowed a bike and rode back in time to go out in the final section of the practice on the Trooper Triumph.

Jamie Coward, so nearly a winner in the Supertwin class, set the second best time on his KTS Kawasaki at 121.080mph. French rider Pierre-Yves Bian; resplendent in his King of the Mountains helmet; in only his second TT (after 1 MGP); was third best at 119.131mph. First time Supertwins competitor Josh Brookes upped his pace yet again to 118.523mph on his Dafabet Kawasaki. Podium contenders Rob Hodson and Paul Jordan lapped at 118.266mph and 117.455mph respectively.

Dean Harrison has put in some spectacular laps but has tended to be under the radar due the speeds shown by Dunlop and Hickman. He was very fast through Glen Tramman and holding a tighter line than the other two. Seeing him on the Russell Racing Supersport Yamaha takes some getting used to; but the new machine seems to suit him; he was just behind Michael at 127.216mph. Davey Todd; double winner at the NW200; lapped at 125.715mph on the Milenco Padgett machine. He looked to have something in hand; like James Hillier he knows that nothing can be won in practice; but it can be lost. Mike Browne produced his first 125mph lap on the Supersport.

The cherry on the cake came from the big bikes. They were simply beyond belief; the speeds took the breath away and there were some interesting overtaking manoeuvres into and out of Glen Tramman. Shaun Anderson was first on the road; followed closely by Sam West and Davey Todd. Next was Michael Dunlop; he took a very fast sweeping line around the corner and into the little left right flicks at the entrance to the Churchtown Road. As with the Paton; he had the Hawk Honda on class (Superbike) lap record pace. He passed the others on the mountain and set a stunning standing start speed of 134.270mph. Todd set his personal best lap of the week at 132.194mph (4th best in the final overall chart); Dean Harrison almost matched it with 132.123mph. Due to his escapade at Greeba and consequent late finish for his Supersport lap Peter Hickman encountered traffic on his opening lap; despite this he managed 133.195mph.

Michael Dunlop’s second lap had everyone listening intently to the commentary. The lap was the fastest ever seen on the hallowed course; he broke the tape to set a new unofficial outright lap record of 135.531mph. Hickman matched Dunlop’s pace out to Glen Helen; then dropped 5s on the run to Ramsey. He matched Dunlop from then onwards to take second on the overall lap chart at 134.910mph. He later said that he the bike was not handling exactly as he would like it to; but overall was content. Dean Harrison showed that he will be a real contender for a win with his lap at 134.216mph. Other notable laps came from Josh Brookes with 131.098mph; 23 times winner John McGuinness with 131.003mph, Jamie Coward with 130.945mph. Best Newcomer is Jamie Cringle with 121.844mph.

Very few chose to ride the Superstock machines; the only notable improvement in performance came from Mike Browne who lapped at 129.664mph.

If the weather holds; a well rubbered in track could allow all class lap records to be broken as happened in 2016. The action begins on Saturday with the Supersport 1 and Sidecar 1 races; Dunlop and the Birchalls will start as favourites for victory.