Yeardsley stars at Pre-TT Classic; double for Gristwood / Smith.

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The first races of the 2024 Pre-TT Classic meeting were held on the evening of Saturday May 25th. The preceding practice sessions had been held in the afternoon sunshine. The session had given fine action for the spectators around the course with some fast times recorded. For those of us at Church Bends it was newcomer Rhys Callister who caused pulse rates to rise when he mounted the kerb on the exit on two occasions; fortunately staying on board each time. A gearbox failure during the session caused Adam McLean to pull out of the meeting; a course of action followed by Mike Browne, another contender for race wins.

By the time that the opening Singles Race was due to start; thick, black clouds hung over the Billown Course; there were some spots of light rain in the air and the temperature was more February than May. The race went as expected with Will Loder taking control of the race from the off on his rapid Greeves Oulton. He pulled away; set the fastest lap on lap 3; then eased his pace as the rain became more organized. Having eased his pace, he came home to win by 47.7s. behind him there was an excellent dice between Shelley Pike; leading 250cc rider Andy Hunt and Andrew Guy. They changed places many times before Guy’s machine slowed allowing Pike and Hunt to duel it out. Pike managed to grab the inside line at Castletown Corner on the final lap and she took second place by 0.109s. Hunt had the consolation of being the 250cc class winner. Guy took the final podium place for the 350cc machines. Barry Davidson; slowed by an oil leak from the start was second 250cc; with Angela Cragg third.

As the 1100cc Race began it was dry and less dark than it had been at Castletown Corner. The road was now damp rather than wet; but the oil leaking out of Barry Davidson’s machine in the Singles Race had caused the marshals to spend the interval putting down cement dust. Joe Yeardsley was quickest away from the lights on his 498 Enfield; but on the run from Ballakeighan to Iron Gate the rapid 750 Triumph of Andy Hornby went past Yeardsley “as if I was still in third.” The roads on this section and around Ballabeg were still properly wet and Yeardsley decided that it was not the evening for heroics on the brakes, or through the twisty and challenging run through Ballabeg and Ballawhestone; after which the roads were dry until Church Bends. Third on lap 1 was Richard Ford on the 920cc Bob Jackson Norton. These three held station throughout the race; which finished in rain that was fairly organized at Castletown Corner. Behind them Will Loder (Seeley), Barry Davidson (Honda) and Paul Cassidy (Manx Norton) had a great scrap; which ended in the order above. For Yeardsley and Cassidy this was their first race on “proper” classic machinery. Cassidy’s ride is especially meritorious considering his well-publicised off at the NW 200; he is one tough man.

As the Junior Superbike riders set off on their sighting lap the roads were drying; but that changed as soon as they   left the holding area; the heavens opened to give us rain that would not have been out of place in Texas on our section of the course. With a mixture of dry; damp and very wet conditions many of the riders took the decision to pull out. The Clerk of the Course called a 15 minute halt to allow those who wished to race to change tyres; if they so desired. Many, including the pole sitter did not wish to race and we were left with just 17 starters; most on full wet tyres on both wheels.

Last year’s winner, Rhys Hardisty, took the lead from the off and with a masterclass of wet roads riding duly took victory on his trusty 250 TZ Yamaha. Don Gilbert was second man on lap 1 at Castletown Corner and he maintained that throughout the race despite the efforts of late entry Darryl Tweed; 400 Kawasaki; for the first few laps. Chris Moore; TZ 250; was bogged down on the start line and last into Ballakeighan on the opening lap. He then got into the groove and picked off the field. He set the fastest laps of the race and with a nice move around the outside grabbed third at Castletown Corner on the fifth and final lap.

Sunday afternoon was cold and overcast; with heavy cloud overhead. The roads were in the main the main dry; except under the trees. The weather gradually improved; with the cloud thinning and the temperature rising. The Sidecars were first on track to enjoy the race postponed due to lack of time on Saturday. The race went according to the practice charts; Jack Gristwood / Alice Smith were first into Ballabeg; followed by the other MRE BMW of Mike Bellaby / Dave Gristwood. Danny Quirk / Sharon Reeves; 1300 Vincent; held third for the first two laps; but were then passed by Tony Thirkell / William Moralee; 1070 BMW. The race was good; but could have done with another half dozen outfits.

The Senior is always a good race; this year’s was no exception. Alan Oversby; Ruthless Honda; led the cavalry charge into Ballabeg on lap 1. Joe Yeardsley; Flitwick Enfield; was next; with Paul Cassidy; Manx Norton in third. Will Loder and Barry Davidson led the main wave. On lap 2 Yeardsley had small advantage from Oversby and Cassidy.  There was no change on laps 3 or 4; with less than 1s covering the first 3. On lap 5, Overby led Yeardsley by inches as they powered out of the tight corner. The next lap saw Yeardsley outbrake Oversby to grab the inside line and with it, the lead. With the aid of the best lap of the race Yeardsley took a fine victory; by just 0.08s; from one the best riders to ever contest the Pre-TT races. Cassidy continued his run of fine performances with another podium finish.

Next race was the 250 Classic and 125cc Post Classic Race. Dan Sayle’s crew managed to repair the blown engine on his 125 Honda; allowing the pole sitter to start. On lap 1 he was second; behind Owen Monaghan; 125 Honda; as they powered along Duck Street towards Ballawhetsone. Third place was held by Keith Shannon, 125 Honda; but he was soon passed by Richard Ford on the 250 Bob Jackson Suzuki. Despite having to change gear by hand for most of the race Dan Sayle pulled away from his chasers to win by 4.2s; setting a lap record in the process. Monaghan took 2nd with Ford 3rd on the first of the classic 250 machines.

The Junior has been the closest of the races on may occasions; this year’s version did not disappoint. Alan Oversby; Ruthless Honda; led the first lap charge into Ballabeg; he had Harley Rushton; Craven Honda; inches behind; with Nigel Moore; Honda; holding third. On lap 2 Oversby had a much increased lead; however, this was to be the last time that he would reach Ballabeg. Will Loder had moved up to second on the Greeves, with Rushton third. Moore was fourth; with Michael Titchmarsh 5th and Steven Elliott 6th. On lap 3 Rushton had the lead from Loder and Moore; with Hefyn Owen; Honda; up to 4th; recovering from a poor start. Lap 4 saw the finishing order established; Loder led from Moore and Rushton; with Owen 4th; Andy Hunt 5th and Elliott 6th.

The Consolation Race was led from start to finish by Colin Croft on his 600 Honda. John Cliffe and Sam Naughton took the podium places. The last race for the solos was the Post Classic Superbike Race. Last year’s winner Joe Yeardsley; Mistral Kawasaki; led the charge into Ballabeg. He had a few metres to spare from Marc Colvin; DRF Kawasaki; and Paul Cassidy; Green Racing Suzuki. Andrew Farrell; CK Ducati; was at the head of he main group of riders as they jostled for position. On lap 2 Yeardsley had opened a 6s lead over Colvin. Cassidy and Farrell were close behind; whilst Don Gilbert now led the main pack. It was a case of the best rider on the best bike as Yeardsley pulled away from the others.

Farrell was up to second on lap 3; with Colvin and Cassidy just metres behind. Yeardsley led by 13s on lap, but it was close behind with Farrell, Colvin and Cassidy in a tight group. There was no change on lap 4; but on lap 5 Cassidy was second and 20m ahead of Farrell and Colvin. This proved to be the finishing order; Yeardsley’s margin of victory being 18s. Cassidy took a fine second and the award for the best pre-1994 machine. Farrell took 3rd; 0.05s ahead of Colvin; behind them just 0.4s separated Aaron Hughes and Andy Hornby in the battle for 5th.

The final race was the second outing for the Sidecars. First to Ballabeg were Jack Gristwood / Alice Smith; closely followed by Danny Quirk / Sharon Reeves. Tony Thirkell / William Moralee were third. Steve Brooks / Sam Hersbrook; who retired at Ballabeg in Race 1; seemed to be on the correct line; but collided with the air fence on the exit; ending their race. Thankfully they were both okay; if a little shaken. Lap 2 saw no change at the head of the race as they left the hairpin at Ballabeg. However, Quirk managed to grab the lead on the run to Castletown Corner and led as they crossed the line. Back at Ballabeg there was a collision between the outfits of James Blackmore / Trevor Johnson and Mike Bellaby / Dave Gristwood. This caused the red flags to be brought out. Thankfully the competitors were all on their feet when the ambulance arrived. Check-ups were to be all that was required. With the remainder of the outfits having completed two laps when the flags were shown the result was declared; with Quirk / Reeves the winners.

This was another good meeting on the best road circuit. The changes made to spectator and some of the restricted areas were inevitable; they may not be popular but without them there would have been no racing. The cost of insurance and extra safety equipment remain the biggest threats to pure road racing; we must enjoy it whilst we still can.