Michael Dunlop (Tyco BMW) completed his sixteenth victory today at the Isle of Man TT, setting a new race record around the famous mountain course.
The build up to the race had been overshadowed by the devastating news on Wednesday night, when the news broke that fellow Tyco-BMW rider Dan Kneen had been tragically killed in a crash during practice. An extremely popular rider, both with fellow competitors and fans, Dan Kneen will be sorely missed. His younger brother (Ryan) paid a simple yet heartfelt tribute during the final qualifying session on Friday, riding a single lap wearing his brother’s helmet. With the blessings of the Kneen family, today’s race would go ahead as planned.
Today, it was the turn of Michael Dunlop to make his tribute.
Setting off from sixth in line the Ulsterman was forced to push from the start, as Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) tore off at the front with a blistering pace. The Yorkshireman, from a standing start, shattered the lap record, scorching a phenomenal 134.432 mph average speed – which translates around the 37.74 mile mountain course into a time of 16 minutes and 50.384 seconds. After the opening lap, Harrison had the overall lead of the race, and a healthy 11 seconds’ advantage over second-placed Dunlop. The two riders pushed themselves and their bikes to the very limit, as by the second descent of the mountain, they were already passing backmarkers.
By the first round of pit stops at the end of Lap 2, Harrison’s lead (courtesy of another 134 mph lap) had grown to 17 seconds. New slicks, a full tank of fuel, and Dunlop began his charge. The time splits around the course at Glen Helen, Ballaugh, Ramsey and up at The Bungalow consistently showed that the 15x TT race winner was closing the gap. By the time the leaders had dived down Bray Hill for the fourth time, there was only 9 seconds between the pair. Harrison had to respond, and at Ballaugh he’d done enough to ensure the gap remained the same.
Disaster struck the British rider on the Sulby straight when the bike gave up the ghost. He retired the bike at the crossroads, where it later transpired that the clutch had completely burnt out. Frustration all round for himself and the team, but make no mistake, he’ll have the chance to settle the score during Friday’s Senior TT.
Dunlop was now clear at the front to romp away to victory. Following a smooth final pit stop, he did exactly that. Such was the consistency and the speed from the 29-year old, that he had built up an insurmountable lead of 52 seconds to his nearest rival, Conor Cummins (Padgetts Honda) in second place. However, being a time trial and the competitors starting at intervals, the pair would conclude the race together on the road. Dunlop was content to allow the Manxman to lead on the final lap, until the final blast down the Glencrutchery Road. Today, nobody was going to stop Michael Dunlop from finishing first.
It is fair to say that the pace from Harrison and Dunlop had blown the rest of the competition out into the Irish Sea. James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) completed the podium, finishing 21 seconds behind Cummins. It had been a solid week during practice for the Englishman, and today’s result sets both he and the team up for the rest of race week. Behind him, David Johnson (Gulf BMW) and Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW) rounded out the top five. Lee Johnston (Honda TT Legends) came home in P6 – the first runner on a Fireblade, and the only rider from the factory team to go the distance.
There was a tremendous scrap for the final places inside the top ten between Martin Jessopp (RidersMotorcycles-BMW), Ivan Lintin (Kawasaki), Philip Crowe (BMW) and Josh Brookes (Norton SG6). The quartet continuously swapped places with other – both in the overall standings and on track – during the closing stages of the race. Jessopp and Lintin in particular took centre stage on the final lap as the two traded their best sector times over the mountain road, from Ramsey Hairpin to the highest part of the course at Brandywell corner. In the end, just 2 seconds separated the pair at the finish line. As close as you like after 226 grueling miles of racing.
Such is the physical and demanding nature of the course, both for man and machine, the race of attrition inevitably claimed some high profile names. Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) was dealt the cruellest hand, being forced to retire the bike at the end of the opening lap. In a cheeky tweet to his followers, the Lincolnshireman was at a loss to explain what had happened to his beloved ‘Beryl’. He’ll be back on Monday in the first Supersport TT race, as he attempts to tame the mountain course.
It was also difficult day for multiple TT race winner, Ian Hutchinson (Honda TT Legends). The ‘Bingley Bullet’, as he is known, is clearly still not 100% fit following his crash during last year’s Senior TT race. After lap three, and languishing down well outside the top ten, enough was enough and his race came to an end at Governor’s Bridge. Monday’s Supersport race should at least be kinder on his body.
The day belonged to Michael Dunlop and the Tyco BMW team. The race win was the perfect tribute to Dan Kneen and his family. Speaking to Manx Radio TT in victory lane, the now 16x TT race winner thanked the team for the bike, and dedicated this race to his teammate:
‘I Just wanted to do that for Dan. Hopefully that’s for the family.’