If you ask the racers at the Isle of Man TT which of the nine races they would most like to win, the Senior TT is always the answer. They call it the “blue ribbon” event, and that is because it features the fastest bikes on the grid, racing over a grueling six laps – it also has the largest trophy.
With the TT fortnight acting like a crescendo to Friday’s race, the Senior TT is final cacophony of noise at the Isle of Man, and today’s race was the epitome of that notion.
Once again, the weather smiled upon this tiny island in the Irish Sea, as it has all fortnight. This not only meant a day for perfect racing, but it also meant that racers had two weeks of honing their craft and their machines for the Senior TT race.
Lap times were going to drop; records were going to be broken, and benchmarks were going to be set, which is exactly what you should expect from the Senior TT.
All this being said, I still had my reservations this morning about publishing a story where Dean Harrison said that a 135 mph lap time was a necessity if he wanted to win the Senior TT. Just a few years ago, 135 mph seemed unthinkable. Two weeks ago even, a 135 mph lap seemed too far away.
My apprehension seems to have been unnecessary though, but even that wasn’t immediately clear at the start of The Senior.
On Saturday during the RST Superbike race, Dean Harrison smashed the outright Isle of Man TT lap record with a 134.432 mph lap of Mountain Course. It was the culmination of a long apprenticeship on the roads for the Bradford rider, and having claimed a second career TT victory this week, he’ll be out to impress once again during the Senior TT on Friday. Road racing is in his blood, his father Conrad is a sidecar race-winner, but for Dean the challenge has been to gain the experience to show what he can do on the 37-mile long circuit. That experience has been taking place on the roads, at home studying videos, and racing in the British Superbike Championship to understand more about what it takes to reach the limit of his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10RR.
After two years of stagnation, 2018 was do or die for the TT Zero electric race in terms of forward progress. Before the race even started, the race saw some drama, with Team Mugen’s three-bike strategy having to be rethinked due to news from John McGuinness and Bruce Anstey.
As such, Mugen ultimately would field a two-man team, with Michael Rutter and Lee Johnston on the helm of the Mugen Shinden Nana.
In total, only seven entries would lineup on Glencrutchery road for the TT Zero race, with all eyes wondering if we would finally see a 120 mph lap from the electric bikes.
With the sun shining at the Isle of Man TT, the Superstock TT go underway with the fire-breathing superbikes that feature treaded tires and near-showroom specs. That’s right, it’s the RL360 Superstock TT race.
The Superstock TT has been treading on Superbike TT territory for several seasons now, with not very much separating the two bike categories on the course. Chalk this up to the level that production superbikes have achieved, especially with electronics, and the diminish returns that come with horsepower.
With a Saturday’s Superbike TT race showing three big names – Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, and Michael Dunlop – Monday’s Superstock TT race promised to be a good scrap. As it turned out, TT fans were not disappointed.
There is no greater challenge than mastering the Mountain Course at the Isle of Man TT. It is 37 miles of mental gymnastics where any hesitation or uncertainty is punished.
Riders spend years learning their trade, and the biggest challenge is not to rush it. If it takes you two, three, or five years to learn the course and feel comfortable pushing to your limit, that’s the time it takes.
Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record of 133.962 mph leaves the 134 mph barrier firmly in sight for the top riders, and don’t be surprised to see that shattered this year.
The top riders all have a photographic memories when it comes to the course and can recall the tiniest of details that go into making a perfect lap.
It took ten years and nine days, but the last of the pole records set on qualifying tires has finally been beaten. And not just once, but three times.
On their final laps in the Q2 session of qualifying, three riders streaked across the line and dived under Jorge Lorenzo’s now ancient pole record at Qatar, set in 2008.
History was made, and the final specter of the 800 era was cast out from the all-new, utterly rejuvenated MotoGP class. The slate has been wiped clean.
That Lorenzo’s record stood for so long and that it was broken at all are both remarkable feats. The old qualifying record was set in Lorenzo’s very first MotoGP qualifying session – though in 2008, the system was a little easier for the riders, one hour of qualifying with a generous supply of both race and qualifying tires.
In the midst of the tire wars, the Michelin (and Bridgestone) qualifiers were worth well over a second a lap, and sometimes two.
Lorenzo’s pole lap smashed the previous record by 1.075 seconds. But that pole position, taken on his MotoGP debut, was Jorge Lorenzo serving notice that he was something a little bit special.
Wednesday’s second race for the day saw the small bikes of the Bennetts Lightweight TT take to the Mountain Course for the 2017 Isle of Man TT.
The four-lap race saw Michael Rutter finish on the top step of the podium, giving Italian marque Paton its first manufacturer win ever at the Isle of Man TT. In the process of that victory (Rutter’s fifth total), Rutter set a new Lightweight TT record, posting a 118.645 mph lap.
Rutter lead the entire race, from the starter’s flag to the checkered flag, with Martin Jessopp finishing second, and Peter Hickman finishing third.
It is hard to overstate just how important pole position is at Misano. It is a tight and tortuous track, with few opportunities to pass. Small differences in practice and qualifying become magnified during the race: the holeshot is worth its weight in gold here.
Get a gap, and you can be gone. The smallest winning margin at Misano was 1.578 seconds, which was the deficit of Jorge Lorenzo to Valentino Rossi in 2014. A second of that was lost on the final straight, however, as the Italian celebrated a significant victory with a monster wheelie.
It doesn’t mean that races can’t be exciting. The 2014 race saw an epic battle between Rossi and Marc Márquez, which lasted half the race until the Spaniard asked too much of his front tire and crashed out.
Races can be hard-fought, but eventually, one rider will wear the rest down and open an unbridgeable gap. That is easier when the rider starts in front.
The first corner is another reason that pole matters at Misano. The hard right then left combination is notorious for pile ups, and the further back you are, the more likely you are to get caught up in the melee.
A front row start is your best hope of making it through unmolested, though a second row start will do at a pinch. Any further back and unless you can secrete a small bottle of nitrous somewhere on the bike in search of a rocket-assisted start, carnage awaits.
After he and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo had looked well in control of proceedings after the first day of practice at Brno, Valentino Rossi warned the media against drawing premature conclusions.
“I think it’s just Friday, it’s a long way to Sunday,” he said. We in the media ignored his warnings, of course, and painted a technicolor picture of a race where the Movistar Yamaha riders took back a hefty bunch of points from Marc Márquez, reigniting the championship.
Then Saturday happened, and Valentino Rossi turned out to be right again (and not for the first time, I might add). Friday had been just Friday. It was indeed still a long way to Sunday. Saturday, a stepping stone on the way to Sunday, helped turn a lot of things around.
Jorge Lorenzo is still fast. So is Valentino Rossi, though not quite as fast as he had hoped. Andrea Iannone is a genuine threat for the podium, or even his second win in a row.
Maverick Viñales could still get up front and complicate things, though he has a hill to climb after a problem with the brakes saw him qualify on the third row of the grid.
But any illusions the Movistar Yamaha men had of clawing back points from Marc Márquez will have to be shelved. Not only will the Repsol Honda rider start from pole on Sunday, but he also has the race pace which was missing on Friday.
All thanks to a breathtaking lap of Brno, and a large set of wings which helped cure some of the worst problems with the Honda RC213V.
To say that Michael Dunlop rode to an impressive win on Friday’s Senior TT, might be an understatement. While winning the Senior TT is his second TT race win for the 2016 Isle of Man TT, Dunlop’s true accomplishment can be found on the time sheets, with his record-breaking pace. A fortnight of records dropping, this year’s Senior TT was no different, and Dunlop set not only the fastest lap of the Senior TT race, but also the fastest lap of any Senior TT race ever held at the Isle of Man TT: 133.962 mph. This mark is also the fastest lap ever recorded during an Isle of Man TT race, and is the fastest outright lap ever at the Isle of Man TT. In other words, this is the new mark that all other riders will aspire to surpass in the coming years.