Saturday morning was bright and sunny; with a light breeze as the day’s events started at the Centenary Manx Grand Prix. The warm up lap was first on the agenda; this was well attended with riders bedding in new parts ready for the racing to follow. We than had a test lap for the new Hoosier tyres that are to replace Avon for the Sidecar TT. Ryan and Callum Crowe were certainly not holding back as they passed through Ramsey. Next came the Centenary Lap to celebrate those who went on from the MGP to achieve great things in the world of motorcycling; shame that two World Champions were not included; nor one runner-up. To be perfectly honest, it failed to have any real interest to most of those watching at the trackside.
Eventually we moved on to the main events of the day; the races. First race was the Senior (up to 500cc) Classic. This race used to attract over 100 entrants; today’s race had just 26 starters. Despite the low number it was quality at the front and some good viewing for the spectators. John McGuinness on the Winfield Paton set the early pace; he led by 2.1s from Dean Harrison on the Craven Manx at Glen Helen on the first of the three laps. Mike Browne was third on the Granthan Lodge Norton; with Shaun Anderson holding fourth on the Beugger Paton.
Dean Harrison and John McGuinness were neat and fast through Schoolhouse Corner, Ramsey. Mike Browne and Shaun Anderson used a wide sweeping line to keep the speed; both going into the bus stop alongside the track itself; both fully under control. Browne had moved ahead of his rivals on the watch; he had an advantage of 0.8s over McGuinness, with Harrison third, 2.8s down on McGuinness. Anderson, Adam McLean (Flitwick Enfield) and James Hillier completed the leader board. Browne was rapid over the mountain; he led by 4.6s after a lap 110.035mph. The Achilles heel for the Patons is their fuel consumption; McGuiness had to top the tank; whilst the Norton’s required none.
Harrison was increasing his pace’ whilst Browne began to suffer machine problems. At Glen Helen Harrison led by 0.9s; with McGuinness 26s in arrears due to the need for fuel. Harrison and McGuinness again used just over half of the road at Schoolhouse; whilst Browne and Anderson took to the bust stop. Harrison had edged further ahead to lead by 1.7s as they passed us. McGuinness was third; but being pressured by Anderson. A lap at 111.395mph; the best ever by a 500cc single; gave Harrison a lead of 11.13s as he began the final lap. Browne lapped at 109.975mph and had 22s in hand on McGuinness.
On the final lap Browne’s problem increased and his pace eased; at Glen Helen he was 28s adrift of Harrison. McGuinness retained third but by only 0.4s from Anderson. At Ballaugh, Anderson had taken third. Having had a pit board, Harrison eased his pace on the final tour over the mountain. Browne continued to have issues with his machine; despite this he was certainly trying at Schoolhouse. He had fallen behind Anderson and McGuinness at the Bungalow; but was gifted third when Anderson encountered a problem and dropped back to fourth at the finish.
Harrison took victory by 52.5s from McGuinness at race average of 110.653mph. Browne’s troubles dropped his last lap speed down to 106.958mph; he took third 4.3s down on McGuinness. Anderson, McLean and Michael Russell (Izzard Norton) completed the top 6.
Race of the day was the four lap Junior Manx Grand Prix; essentially the Supertwins. This race had 55 starters; not the 100+ that we saw 50 years ago; but close to the new race limit. This record breaking race had its share of disappointments and finally gave us the first MGP win for a Spanish rider and the first all European podium in the 100 years of the event.
The first check point at Glen Helen showed that young local newcomer Joe Yeardsley (ILR Paton) had continued his practice form to lead by 1.2s from Maurizio Bottalico (Younix Paton) with Victor Lopez (ILR Paton) in third 0.2s further back. Marc Colvin (RC Kawasaki), riding at number 1; was first to reach Ramsey; then Andrea Majola (Mancini Paton) swept through; he had taken 6s of the starting interval out of Colvin. Jamie Williams (NCE Kawasaki) was next, with Lopez close behind. Then Joe Yeardsley hustled his machine around the corner, with one of the pre-race favourites Daniel Ingham (Castings Technology Aprilia) a couple of metres behind; but 10s down on the watch. Yeardsley was on lap record pace from a standing start in his first race on the Mountain Course. He led by 5.1s from Lopez; with another young local newcomer, Marcus Simpson (LMR Kawasaki) 5s down on Lopez in third. Bottalico, Ingham and Majola completed the top six; with just 1 s covering fourth to sixth.
A new official lap record of 116.906mph gave Yeardsley a lead of 6.83s as he headed for the plunge down Bray Hill for the second time. Bottalico was up to third, 7.67s down on Lopez. Majola, Simpson and Ingham filled out the top 6; with 2,7s covering them. Yeardsley’s lead was up to 9.s as he started the climb out of Glen Helen for the second time. Shortly after came the news that Yeardsley was out of the race; the engine had failed at Kirk Michael. Lopez led on the road at Schoolhouse, and he was trying; knee slider firmly planted onto the track as he powered through. Soon afterwards we had a tightly packed trio of Bottalico, Simpson and Samuel Mousley (Heattech Yamaha) flashing past. Action like that kept the crowd entertained for the duration. Lopez had a lead of 9.4s from Bottalico at Ramsey; with Majola third; just 17s further behind.
A lap at 116.574mph gave Lopez a lead of 9.4s from Bottalico as they came for their fuel stops. Majola was third 1.75s down on Bottalico; but 13.s ahead of Ingham, who had just 0.36s advantage over Simpson. A very long fuel stop ruined the race for Ingham; he was down to 11th leaving pit lane.
The effect of the pit stops was seen at Glen Helen where Lopez led by 2.7s from Majola; with Bottalico 4.2s further back. Colvin was up to fourth; Simpson and Michael Rees (Rapidgrip Paton) finished the top six. At Schoolhouse, there was less than 0.5s between Lopez and Majola. Bottalico was 5.7s down on Majola; so not out of contention. Lopez must have been alerted to Majola’s charge because he started to turn the tide. He was fastest on the Bungalow sector and as he began the final lap his lead was up to 1.7s.
Lopez was now on lap record pace; he led by 3.8s at Glen Helen; at Schoolhouse he had doubled his advantage. He was fastest over the mountain; with purple sectors and crossed the line as the race winner and new lap record holder at 117.645mph. Both Majola and Bottalico lapped at over 116mph. A race average of 115.639mph gave Lopez a winning margin of 14.82s over Majola. Bottalico was 4.83s behind in third. Marc Colvin edged out fellow local and newcomer Marcus Simpson by just 0.177s to claim fourth. Simpson rode superbly to average 114.143mph and looks set for a great career in the sport. Michael Rees took sixth, Ingham seventh and Mousley eighth.
The promised cloud was arriving from the northwest when the Lightweight Race started. Michael Dunlop’s run of misfortune in the race continued; he was forced out by machine failure at Union Mills. For Paul Jordan it was worse; his machine managed less than I mile. The race pattern was set immediately; Mike Browne (LayLaw Yamaha) led from teammate and team boss Ian Lougher at Glen Helen by 3.4s; with Dan Sayle (BazGas Honda) in third. Dan only made it to the bottom of Bray Hill in the morning’s warmup lap. He then pushed the stricken machine through the streets and back to the grandstand for it to be rebuilt for the race. In the Ultra Lightweight sub-class local man Paul Cassidy (Island Fuels Kawasaki) led from Michael Rees (CSC Yamaha). The two had a good battle with just 5.3s separating them at the finish.
Browne was flying and had taken the 10s starting interval out of Lougher by Ramsey, where a small gathering of hardy spectators remained. The lead was 12s staring the mountain climb, with Sayle a similar time down on Lougher. His lap of 116.980mph gave Browne a lead of 11.4s as they came in to top up the tanks. Browne had a leisurely stop and left the pits after Lougher. Behind them their teammate Adam McLean was hit with a 60s penalty for not going into the pits; as required; even if he did not need fuel. Browne soon had the lead on the road and stretched away from Lougher. As the leaders approached the end of the lap the decision was taken to cut the race to two laps due to lowering cloud on the mountain section. Browne, in Eddie Laycock tribute helmet, brought the Yamaha home to win his second successive Lightweight MGP by 30s; at an average of 115.174mph. Dan Sayle took third on the hastily rebuilt Honda. Paul Cassidy prevailed in the Ultra lightweights; with Daniel Ingham third on the Jones Honda.
It was a pity that many riders were denied the chance to complete two laps; let alone the scheduled three. Yet again; time that they could have used was given to ancillary events that could have been moved to the end of the schedule. There was a high degree of annoyance amongst the stopped riders; spectators and marshals at how the day’s events had been prioritised. The riders and their sponsors had put in a significant amount of time and finance to take part and it is unfair that for the second year they seemed to have been treated as second class citizens.