Race day 2 at the Manx Grand Prix gave a warm, day with sunny intervals and some fine racing. After delays to allow the track to dry from overnight rain and then a road traffic crash at the Bungalow we were underway. There was decent sized gathering of enthusiasts at Ballaugh; but marshals appeared to be thin on the ground. We were treated to some good action; some good leaps of the bridge; some steep front wheel landings; two crazy overtaking manoeuvres and one lucky escape on the exit when a pavement was clipped.
After a one lap warm up session we were good to go. It was 1.30 when fastest man in practice for the Senior; Stephen Smith gunned his Cowan Kawasaki away from the start line. With a clear track he was expected to be the leader on time at Glen Helen. His engine had a brief misfire in the Glen Vine / Crosby section which cost some time. It was local man Jamie Williams (NCE Honda); consistently second fastest in practice, who was the early leader. He led by 2.34s from David McConnachy (Dobson Triumph); with Smith 0.3s back in third. Daniel Ingham (Brook Yamaha), Chris Cook (Kawasaki) and Victor Lopez Santos (Xecretia Yamaha) filled the initial leader board.
Smith was first to Ballaugh, he took the bridge fast and low; with a perfect rear wheel landing. Santos Lopez and Tom Robinson gave us the highest leaps among the early runners. Smith had been rapid on the run from Glen Helen and was now the leader on time; by 0.32s from Williams. Holding a fine 9th place number 52 was Jack Fowler (Triumph); Paul Cassidy (Island Fuels Yamaha) was the leading newcomer in 10th. Smith was fastest on the 7 miles to Ramsey; his lead at the Hairpin (actually the beam is at White Gates) was 2.9s. Williams was 2.5s ahead of McConnachy. Ingham was 0.3s further back and held an advantage of 1.6s over Cook. Lopez was losing touch; now 8.6s behind Cook.
Smith was easily the quickest on the climb up to the Bungalow; his lead was now 9.7s; Williams remined second but lost a couple of seconds to next three riders. An opening lap 120.973mph gave Smith a lead of 13.79s as powered away towards Bray Hill. Williams was second, 2.2s ahead of McConnachy. Ingham, Cook and Lopez filled the leader board. A lap at 115.380mph saw Amalric Blanc as the leading newcomer in 11th.
Smith was easily fastest on the run to Glen Helen and led by 18.2s as he went past the commentary box. There was good action again at Ballaugh; with Lopez highest jumper amongst the leading group. Smith was fastest from Glen Helen; the lead up to 22.7s from Williams. Cook was increasing his pace; he had displaced McConnachie and had been faster than Williams on both of the first two sectors. Smith was the fastest on the sectors to Ramsey and the Bungalow; where his lead was up to 29.8s. At the half distance pit stop, a second lap at 121.796mph gave Smith a comfortable lead of 37.5s. Williams remained in second, with Ingham up to third 0.5s ahead of Cook, largely due a rapid final sector.
The effects of the pit stops were revealed at Glen Helen; Smith led by 24.5s from Williams; who had 4.3s advantage over Ingham. A tardy stop routine had dropped Cook to 6th.Smith was the fastest on all sectors bar the final short dash from Cronk ny Mona to the Grandstand; his lead was 41.2s as he set off to plunge down Bray Hill for the final time. Smith increased his lead by2s on the run to Glen Helen; whilst Ingham took 2.9s out of the advantage that Williams had over him. At Ballaugh all of the leading group took the bridge fast and low; Smith 42.02s ahead of Williams. Ingham set the best sector time, and this moved ahead of Williams by 0.64s. Williams was fastest of all on the run to the Hairpin; where he trailed Ingham by just 0.2s with 13.7 miles to go.
Ingham was 1.2s quicker than Williams on the mountain climb; fingernail biting time had arrived. Williams 0.038s faster to Cronk ny Mona; then he was 1.294s faster on the short final dash; but it was just not enough Ingham took second by 0.069s after 4 laps of high speed racing around the iconic mountain Course.
Smith had eased his pace on the last part of the lap to complete it at 119.501mph to give a race average of 119.033mph to give him a margin of 43.62s. Ingham’s final lap was at 120.211mph; with Williams at 119.771mph. McConnachy took 4th and Lopez 5th; both lapped at over 120mph on the final tour. Cook completed the leader board. Amalric Blanc was the best newcomer, he finished in 8th; with a best lap at 117.399mph; truly wonderful. Newcomer Maurizio Bottalico took 12th; his best lap was at 116.074mph; another potential winner for next year.
The final race of the meeting was the Classic Superbike Race. This was, on paper, set to be Michael Dunlop on the Suzuki against a horde of rapid Kawasakis. The practice times suggested that this would be a close run affair and so it proved to be; with a few machine failures thrown into the mix. At Glen Helen, it was Craig Neve (Cowan Kawasaki) who had been fastest on the 9 miles run from the start line. He led by 0.87s from Michael Dunlop on the big XR69 of Team Classic Suzuki; he was in turn 0.87s ahead of Brian McCormack (Greenall Kawasaki). The leader board was completed by Nathan Harrison (Greenall Kawasaki), Rob Hodson (Greenall Kawasaki) and the 2019 winner Davo Johnson (Cowan Kawasaki). At Ballaugh it was the usual nose first landing for Dunlop; it suits him and certainly does not slow him down. Neve was the leader at the famous old bridge; by just 0.3s from Dunlop with Hodson in third. The margins were tiny and catching a slower rider in the twisty sections could cost a couple of places.
The leading duo matched each other over the bumps on the run to Ramsey Hairpin and the start of the mountain climb. The Kawasakis had the better of the mountain section; Neve lapped at 125.185mph to lead Hodson (125.046 mph) by 1.09s. Dunlop (124.978mph) was third, just 0.59s down on Hodson. Johnson, Harrison, and McCormack completed the leader board.
At Glen Helen on lap 2 Neve continued to lead; his margin out to 1.5s. the first hint of trouble came with him dropping to fifth. Neve was quickest on the dash to Ballaugh and added 0.6s to his advantage. Hodson was second, with Harrison up to third, but by only 0.13s from Johnson. A move to Sulby bridge brought less frenetic viewing; apart from Phil Crowe’s superb backing in his big Suzuki. Johnson was first through and on the perfect line over the bridge and off towards Ginger Hall. Hodson was next; similarly neat and fast. Rutter was next, having re-passed Dunlop on the road; clearly the latter was having issues with the bike and had dropped behind McCormack on our watch.
The margins remained tiny; Neve led by just 0.8s at Ramsey. Hodson was the fastest on the mountain climb and had edged ahead on the watch as he crossed the tram lines. He was quicker down the mountain and with a lap at 125.935mph he led Neve (125.496mph) by 2.6s as they entered the pit lane to refuel. Harrison was 3rd 0.s ahead of Johnson; McCormack was 5th; Rutter 6th. Dunlop crossed the line in 7th; but that was it for him; shaking his head he walked away from his troublesome mount to complete a week of miserable luck.
The main talking point of the pit stops was the slowness of Harrison’s; he dropped 10s and more to all of the leading contenders. Neve’s stop was faster than Hodson’s and this meant that at Glen Helen the lead was just 0.67s. Johnson was up to third courtesy of Harrison’s longer fuel stop; his advantage being 12.2s. McCormack and Crowe joined the growing list of retirements at Ballacraine and Pear Tree Cottage (Greeba) respectively. Neve had inched closer at Ballaugh, where the lead was 0.3s. At Sulby, our watch set the lead at 0.66s. Behind them Harrison had reduced his deficit to Johnson to 9.16s.
Hodson was the quicker of the leading duo over the mountain; his lap of 118.910mph gave him a lead of 1.935s as they set off for the final 37.73 miles of their duel. Johnson was third but was being closed down by Harrison; Ryan Kneen (Herheim Kawasaki) and Rutter completed the leader board. The fight at the front was soon over; Neve was forced out by an engine blow up at Greeba. Barring his machine failing, Hodson had the race in the bag. The interest now switched to Johnson and the flying Harrison and their battle for second. Harrison was setting best sector times and by Sulby he had cut Johnson’s advantage to 5.6s with 17.73 miles of racing to go. Harrison edged ever closer, but Johnson had over 1s in hand at Cronk ny Mona. A final push; the best final sector time and the fastest lap of the race at 126.326mph allowed Harrison to snatch the place from Johnson by just 0.617s after 150.9 miles of high speed action.
Hodson’s race average of 123.660mph gave him victory by 15.34s. Kneen, Rutter and Michael Sweeney completed the leader board. Lee Johnston brought the lovely looking Ashcourt RC45 home in 7th; with a best lap at 122.886mph, not far short of what the likes of Phillip McCallen did on it when it was Honda’s tool of choice for the TT. I was never a big fan of the RC45; but it was special to see this one. The real treat was seeing the Hizzy replica Norton of Richard Wilson complete the race in 11th. For those of us who saw the epic Hizzy / Foggy due in 1992, it was lump in the throat time.
We will dissect the meeting later; but initial thoughts are that it was subdued, lacked entries and that so severely shortening the time frame was a mistake that should not be repeated.