TT race week came to a close today with the fight for the greatest prize of them all, the Senior TT. The Senior was the final event on the TT 2018 schedule and the 572 square kilometre island in the Irish Sea that is the Isle of Man again basked in gorgeous sunshine.
The major wins had been shared around thus far in race week with Dean Harrison winning a Supersport race, Peter Hickman scoring a Superstock win and new 134.403mph lap record for the class, while Michael Rutter set new records in TT Zero to add to his win tally.
Michael Dunlop had three wins in the bag, victories in the Superbike, Supersport and Lightweight categories putting MD third on the all-time TT win list, his tally standing at 18 ahead of the final race of TT 2018.
Dunlop’s three wins all coming on three different brands of machinery. A Tyco BMW S 1000 RR in Superbike, his MD Racing Honda CBR600R in Supersport and a Paton taking him to Lightweight victory.
The form of Peter Hickman on the Superstock bike was so strong that the Smiths Racing Team and Hickman were considering racing the Superstock bike in the Senior TT over the more powerful but harder to control Superbike. The Superstock bike obviously handling the course beautifully to put in that 134.403mph scorcher earlier in the week.
James Hillier had finished on the rostrum in the Superbike TT with a best lap of 131.543mph on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki and had also claimed a Supersport podium along with a fifth in Superstock.
South Australian David Johnson had been impressing many with his solid performance in the Superbike and Superstock TT races with a fourth place in each to his credit. Davo would no doubt be pushing just that little bit harder today as he strives to score his first TT podium.
Josh Brookes had carded two sixth places in Supersport with McAms Yamaha but in the litre class the ex Australian and British Superbike Champion was mounted on the ultra bling Norton which this year was again powered by a race spec’ V4 Aprilia engine. Brookes had finished tenth in the Superbike race on the Norton with a best lap of 130.753mph.
Michael Rutter can never be discounted and the veteran had already claimed a TT Zero win and lap record this week while Gary Johnson is plenty of capable of springing a surprise and Martin Jessopp is also a chance for a podium.
Dean Harrison had set a new lap record of 134.432mph from a standing start in the RST Superbike race that kicked off TT race week. The Englishman looked set for victory before a clutch failure robbed the Silicone Engineering backed Kawasaki of glory.
Unless Conor Cummins was to pull something out of his hat today, it looked likely that Harrison would be mounting the most convincing challenge against the BMW dominance in the six-lap, 364-kilometre Senior TT.
And they are away!
It was Conor Cummins on the Padgetts Honda first to be flagged away to signal the start of proceedings on schedule at 1245. Cummins seemingly the only real hope for Honda here in the Superbike category as the official Honda Racing squad had continued their disastrous run of form with the new Fireblade. Cummins and the Padgetts squad though had their Fireblade singing well enough for the tall Manxman to record a 132.589mph lap in the opening race of TT 2018 a week earlier.
Second away was James Hillier followed by Michael Rutter, Ian Hutchinson, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop.
Again it was Dean Harrison that fired out of the blocks with all guns blazing, nobody starts harder and stronger than Harrison, he is on it from turn one on lap one. By Ballaugh on the opening lap Harrison led Peter Hickman by five-seconds. Michael Dunlop was only two-seconds behind Harrison at the first split, Glen Helen, but by Ballaugh Dunlop was 10-seconds behind Harrison, so Dunlop had obviously made sort of mistake or had an issue between Glen Helen and Ballaugh.
By Ramsey though Peter Hickman had responded and halved the lead of Harrison, the gap brought back to 2.4-seconds. Michael Dunlop was in third place ahead of Conor Cummins. David Johnson was fifth ahead of Gary Johnson while Josh Brookes was seventh on the Norton.
Between Ramsey and Bungalow Hickman had pulled another second back on Harrison as the pair continued to pull away from Dunlop and Cummins.
David Johnson was having a great opening lap in fifth place, only seven-tenths behind Cummins and two-seconds behind Dunlop at Bungalow. The South Aussie must have experienced some sort of problem between there and Cronk-ny-Mona though as Johnson lost seven-seconds through that split, and seemed to be gesticulating to his team about some sort of problem before returning to pitlane.
While not ready for him, his mechanics seemed to struggle with the rear wheel for some time before deciding to call it a day, disconsolately pushing the Gulf BMW back to their pit garage for an autopsy.
Across the stripe for the first time it was Dean Harrison still leading by 1.4-seconds over Peter Hickman, who in turn had now built his buffer over Dunlop to a strong 12.98-seconds.
A 133.678 from a standing start by Harrison, a 133.492 for Hickman, and a 131.810 to Dunlop marginally quicker than Cummins’ 131.754.
The demise of Johnson had promoted countryman Josh Brookes to fifth place after the Norton man had managed to stretch away from Gary Johnson with a 130.191mph opening lap on the Aprilia powered but British built Norton SG6.
Dean Harrison had upped his pace early on the second lap, his buffer over Hickman out to 5.5-seconds by Ballaugh, but the BMW man then pulled a second of that back between Ballaugh and Ramsey, the gap was then down to 2.6-seconds by Bungalow, and then back to 1.4-seconds as they finished the second lap and entered pit-lane.
That second lap a 133.704 to Harrison and 133.703 to Hickman, making it a gnat’s foreskin the difference between the Kawasaki and BMW man after that 37.73 mile second lap of what would be a six-lap race.
Conor Cummins remained in third place a further 23-seconds behind Hickman but with 7.7-seconds over Dunlop, who in turn had 21-seconds on fifth placed Josh Brookes as the riders had their first pit stop.
Waved yellow flags early on lap three slowed the competitors slightly for some oil down on the track. By Ballaugh though Harrison had again stretched away from Hickman to the tune of 5.5-seconds, but this time around the BMW man had not pulled that ground back through the next sections.
By Ramsey Harrison had 8.3-seconds on Hickman, while Cummins was now half-a-minute behind the pair in third place, but with a handy ten-seconds over Dunlop. Josh Brookes was a further 30-seconds behind in fifth place.
As they started lap four Harrison led Hickman by 5.8-seconds with Cummins a further 30-seconds behind in third place but with 13.6-seconds over Dunlop, who now had 35-seconds on fifth placed Brookes.
Michael Rutter stopped at Ramsey Hairpin to check something on his machine but then continued on seemingly satisfied that nothing was too much awry with the Bathams BMW.
Peter Hickman put in a stunning climb towards the Bungalow to pull back 2.5-seconds on Harrison between Ramsey and the next split. The gap had been 6.977 at Ramsey but was down to 4.477 by Bungalow after the Smiths BMW man set a new record time through that split. That gap was then down to 3.083-seconds at Cronk-ny-Mona and then only 1.402-seconds at the line as they entered pit-lane for their second and final stop.
That 134.456mph fourth lap a new outright TT lap record to Hickman, eclipsing the 134.432 set by Harrison in last week’s Superbike TT. The record breaking lap time a 16-minutes and 50.202-seconds.
Michael Rutter then retired in that round of pit stops while Dean Harrison seemed to get the best of the pit stops amongst the front runners, the Kawasaki man’s lead over Hickman back out to 6.267-seconds at Glen Helen as they started lap five. By Bungalow Hickman had pegged that gap back to 3.639-seconds.
Conor Cummins remained in third place but was now more than a minute behind that leading duo, but with a 40-seconds advantage over fourth placed Michael Dunlop. Josh Brookes was still in a strong fifth position, 40-seconds behind Dunlop but with the same buffer over sixth placed Gary Johnson.
As they started the final lap Hickman had pulled more ground back out of Harrison to reduce the gap down to under two-seconds. 60.72-kilometres remaining. Cummins looked safe in third and it seemed little would change in regards to Dunlop in fourth and Brookes in fifth, but it was certainly very much game on for the race victory between Harrison and Hickman.
Again though Harrison had a stellar opening sector between Grandstand and Ballaugh to stretch his buffer out to 5.7-seconds, in fact it was a new sector record between those two markers to Harrison. Could Hickman again pull most of that back on the run up to the mountain?
Hickman did exactly that! The gap back down to 2.007-seconds by Ramsey to signal the fight for victory was far from over and setting up a scintillating battle all the way to the end of this 364-kilometre race.
Hickman took the lead at Bungalow! Hickman’s buffer a slim 0.834-second but the BMW man had time and again proven his speed across the final few sectors of the circuit and looked on course to again re-set the outright TT lap record on this final run around the mountain course.
Dean Harrison was the first to re-set that lap record at 134.918mph as he took the chequered flag, but Hickman was ahead on the timing monitors and still had some ground to run to the line…
Hickman did it! A final lap of 135.452mph setting a new benchmark around the TT and ends what is perhaps the most exciting Senior TT ever, and what will certainly be the most celebrated victory of Hickman’s career.
Harrison complained of getting held back by lapped traffic on the final lap but said he had to take the rough with the smooth and it is what it is.
A brilliant victory for Hickman though and along with that new outright lap record the Smiths BMW man also completely
smashed the race lap record.
Conor Cummins completed the podium and seemed quite happy with that result for the Padgetts Honda squad.
Michael Dunlop took fourth place ahead of Josh Brookes who scored a highly creditable fifth place for both himself and Norton.
A 131.745mph lap for Brookes on the final lap of that six-lap race also, by my reckoning, makes him now the fastest ever Australian around the mountain course.
The win for Hickman also completed a BMW trifecta across all three 1000cc events at TT 2018 as the German brand again stamped their authority around the Isle of Man.
“That was a tough race as I knew Dean (Harrison) and Michael (Dunlop) were going to be fast right from the start but Michael dropped back and my first board said I was in second place with an eight second gap to Conor (Cummins) in third. I was actually quite happy with that as I was within a few seconds of the lead and am a steady starter. I have been strong on the Mountain all week from Ramsey back to the Grandstand so I come into my own a bit when we get to that. The pit stops went pretty well and I figured if I was within five or six seconds from Dean by the time I got to Ballaugh I could have a good run over the mountain and have a stab at the win.
“I saw on my board I was in the lead by just under a second and thought as long as I kept my head down and not make any mistakes I would be on for the win. We came here to try to win one race and we have come away with two, including the big one plus the lap record so what more can I say, it’s been a mega two weeks. I can’t thank the Smiths BMW Team and all the sponsors enough for putting such a good bike together for me; she has been as sweet as a nut. It’s been an emotional two weeks!”
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