TT 2018 got underway at 1300 local Manx time after an hour delay for haze across the mountain. It was a warm and somewhat humid afternoon as the Conor Cummins left the line and slungshot down Bray Hill for the first time to signal what would be a six-lap Superbike race to start race week proceedings at the Isle of Man.
Dean Harrison continued his headline form of practice week by blasting his Silicon Engineering backed Kawasaki ZX-10R to a record breaking 134.432mph from a standing start to break away to an early 15-second lead over Michael Dunlop who was then followed by Conor Cummins.
Peter Hickman had made a great start but retired at the end of lap one with some sort of problem on the Smiths Racing BMW.
Harrison backed up his 134.432 opener with a 134.180 second sprint around the 37.73 mile mountain circuit. Despite running laps under the magic 17-minute barrier Michael Dunlop could make no inroads on the #5 Kawasaki of Harrison while Conor Cummins was flying the Honda flag with honour a further 15-seconds behind Dunlop.
James Hiller was running in fourth place as the race broached its halfway point but more than 30-seconds behind race leader Dean Harrison. David Johnson was running in fifth place ahead of Gary Johnson, Josh Brookes, Michael Rutter and Lee Johnston while Martin Jessopp rounded out the top ten. However, there was still another 100 miles of racing to go!
As the race approached its second half Michael Dunlop started reeling in Harrison little by little. The gap was 17-seconds, then 16, then 15 and by lap four the 15-time TT winner had the gap down to 14-seconds.
Conor Cummins was maintaining third place with a handy buffer of James Hillier while Dave Johnson remained a strong fifth place, 34-seconds head of sixth placed Gary Johnson. Josh Brookes seemed to have lost a little bit of time in pit lane and was pushed back to ninth place.
There was bated breath on the fourth lap as Dean Harrison’s transponder was not registered through Sulby, thus the race leader was momentarily missing from the leader board… He was then not sighted at Ramsey Hairpin… News then filtered through that Dean Harrison had retired at Sulby crossroads, a diabolical blow to the man from Bradford just when it looked as though he had this race in his hands. A clutch failure was the cause of Harrison’s demise and he said he had felt it slipping from lap one and was trying to nurse it home but eventually it cried enough and left him with no more drive.
Cold comfort will be the new outright 134.432mph lap record that the 29-year-old scored here today as he and the team rue what could have been.
Of course with the unfortunate demise of Harrison it was now Michael Dunlop out front with a huge 38-second lead over Conor Cummins who in turn had 20-seconds on James Hiller. David Johnson was now in fourth place with a massive buffer over Michael Rutter who in turn led Lee Johnston, Phil Crowe, Jamie Coward and Josh Brookes while Martin Jessopp rounded out the top ten. Ian Hutchinson had retired at Governor’s Bridge.
Conor Cummins had lost a little time on James Hillier while in pit lane for the final pit stop which gave the JG Speedfit Kawasaki man added encouragement on the road to try and claw back some of the 11-second buffer the Honda man had over him.
David Johnson was still in fourth place with a full-minute over fifth placed Michael Rutter. Josh Brookes had lost some more ground on the Norton and had slipped to 10th as they started the final lap.
Michael Dunlop brought it home though with a 51-second victory over Conor Cummins who in turn had 21-seconds over James Hillier.
The riders chose not to spray the champagne on the podium on reflection of the loss of their compatriot Dan Kneen who lost his life early in the week during TT practice.
South Australian David Johnson rode a consistent and fast race to deliver his Gulf BMW squad a strong fourth place, almost two-minutes ahead of fifth placed Michael Rutter.
Josh Brookes rounded out the top ten on the Norton after running as high as seventh during the early parts of the race.
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