The Isle of Man TT gets more competitive as the years roll by, none more so than this year with 15 riders more than capable of winning the Blue Riband Isle of Man TT Poker Stars Senior race which takes place on the last Friday of the TT spectacle on the island.
Rumour and gossip is always rife at the beginning of practice and this year was no different than any other, the main talking points were John McGuinness was past his best and Ian Hutchinson was not fit enough to compete at such a high level of racing but the most intriguing one was that Michael Dunlop was to drop his Milwaukee Yamaha ride in favour of a BMW supplied by Buildbase.
Within days the rumour turned into fact when Michael and the Milwaukee Yamaha team announced their withdrawal from this year’s events, I won’t speculate or make any assumption as to why as there is enough being written elsewhere concerning this story!
Suffice to say that by midweek of practice Michael was out on track aboard the Buildbase Superbike and the Milwaukee garage had been dismantled and were on their way home. Unfortunately for Michael having suffered a coming together with a back marker early on, his race week by his own standards was a disaster, along with the injuries he was carrying baulking his fitness and ability to ride his machines to their full potential.
After five horrendous years of getting back to fitness after being seriously injured & nigh on losing his left leg during a return to the British Championship series at Silverstone, the talk turned to Ian Hutchinson.
Ian Hutchinson was to prove that he was back and back with the confidence we had last seen when he became the first man in the entire history of the event to win five races in one week. The pain and suffering he endured was to be worthwhile as he gradually showed his cards during the practice sessions. Those who doubted his ability were to be proven very wrong when it came to the races.
Ian took two convincing wins in the Monster Energy Supersport class and one win in the RL360 Superstock race thus making everyone take note that he was back to riding at his very best and a possible winner for the Blue Riband Isle of Man TT Poker Stars Senior race on Friday.
Talk then reverted back to who can beat Ian, John McGuinness was the main talking point at this stage along with Bruce Anstey, the current TT record holder with a lap of 132.298mph set in last year’s thrilling Superbike race. Could John overcome the challenges of these two in form riders along with the young up and coming riders who were proving more than capable of taking their maiden wins this year!
By John’s standards the previous year, competing whilst carrying an early season injury was a big setback for him, unable to compete at his best, people had written him off before he even got aboard his machine for this year’s event, bookies had him down to 16/1 for him to win this year, odds that John found quite surprising!
In my previous write up where I visited John during a practice session he said himself that the competition this year was vast and it was his intention to go out and do his best against all comers as he so politely put it “There’s more than 15 riders out there all wanting what I want, it’s not going to be an easy task, it never is”.
Asking John how fast he could go on the Mountain Course he said “I really don’t know, you only ever push yourself to win a race not to break any records, If records come that’s a bonus but we shall see what happens on the day, conditions have to be right for a record and you have to be as smooth as you possibly can, Its going to be a tough year this year that you can be sure of “.
I have known John for many years now and believe I have a good understanding on how riders approach these events and with this in mind it was the reasoning why I stated in my previous write up that you should never discount John’s ability to put it all together on the day and go out and win.
Throughout practice week I watched John intently, he was smooth never out of shape and sticking to his lines during each session. Having spoken to him in the paddock he appeared calm and collected and looked determined. Never for one moment did I think that John was not up for a race win come Friday, although I guess John wanted to get to Friday more and more each day.
Wednesday arrived and it was the turn of the Electric machines to take to the track and John was to take his 22nd win on the TT course with not only a convincing win but a new lap record to his credit just short of 120 mph aboard the Mugen machine. Was this to be an omen for John or was it to be his only win for TT 2015?
Friday arrives and it’s the Blue Riband Isle of Man TT Poker Stars Senior race, conditions were perfect all around the course we all knew something rather special was about to happen you could feel it hanging in the air.
John McGuinness was first off the line carrying the number 1 plate (John loves the number 1 position – nothing in front of him with only the clock to beat) followed by the in form James Hillier and Michael Dunlop in 3rd position, Ian Hutchinson was leading as the race was red flagged on the second lap due to Jamie Hamilton Crashin out just before the 11th milestone, (It has been reported that Jamie is now off the critical list and on his way to recovery – get well real soon Jamie) this saw all the riders return to the pits and now had the opportunity to change their bike settings to suit the road conditions.
Come the restart it was the same order off the line and setting the pace in what was to be a 4 lap race, conditions were perfect, McGuinness registering an average speed of over 131mph from a standing start, but the best was yet to come. In the past John would try to break the confidence of his competitors by going as hard as he can in the first 2 laps to build a lead and then controls the race from there, today was to be one of those days.
John was living up to his nickname of The Morecambe Missile, I have never seen him push so hard around every inch of the mountain course he wanted this race win and he wanted it badly. He blitzed the outright lap record with a 132.701mph average speed on the second lap as he came in for the one and only pit stop of the race some 11 seconds ahead of second place man Ian Hutchinson. One has to wonder what the lap time would had of been had he not required the pit stop.
John sticks to the job in hand and extends his lead to 17.5 seconds over the mountain on the penultimate lap, the crowd around the course erupts waving their programs as John passes by, behind him Guy Martin, after a disaster of a start also breaks the previous lap record with a 132.701mph average speed boasting his fastest ever lap.
Stretching his lead further John pressed on with Ian Hutchinson fading somewhat allowing the Quattro Plant Muc-Off Kawasaki of James Hillier to slot into 2nd place.
The day was to be John’s day taking the chequered flag to a huge cheer from the grandstand and setting a new outright race record securing his 23rd race win The King of the Mountain was back.
Equalling Mike Hailwoods record of 7 senior race wins and now just 3 race wins short of Joey Dunlop’s all time race winning total John said “ I feared something was wrong when I arrived for the fuel stop at the end of the second lap and then realised I had smashed the lap record. All the fans right around the course were waving and cheering as I passed by, I was thinking what’s wrong for the whole of lap three. The conditions were perfect out there and the Real John McGuinness turned up today”.
James Hillier held onto 2nd position with a speed of 132.414mph on his final lap with Ian Hutchinson holding Guy Martin off aboard his Paul Bird Motorsport Kawasaki taking 3rd position and winning the Joey Dunlop Trophy for the best accumulative results throughout the week.
Finishing in 5th position was Michael Dunlop, a disappointing finish for Michael with a 132.515mph average he also joins the ranks of only 5 riders in the 132mph club.
Had John not stopped on the second lap for refuelling the record would have undoubtedly gone over the 133 mph mark and below a 17 minute lap, this is now the marker for TT2016 is it possible? Who knows but never right off that man John McGuinness!
*Thoughts are with the family and friends of those whom gave their all especially Franck Petricola who succumb to his injuries and passed away, also for those injured I hope you all make a speedy and full recovery*
Words and images by Glynne Lewis
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