Isle of Man TT blog: McGuinness throws the gauntlet down

Published: 29 May 2012

So there I was, sat in my hotel room at around 10 yesterday morning crashing out the MCN back page bits and bobs from Snetterton BSB. We’d just jetted into Ronaldsway from Birmingham (always sounds better if you adopt a sweet home Alabama accent).

Okay, our bags were still back on the mainland thanks to a conveyor belt malfunction that meant every aircraft out of there that morning left without bags. But what the hell, I was enjoying this particular moment.

The window was wide open, gentle sea breeze wafting in, smell of fresh roast from the cup next to my MacBook Pro.

And outside, the burbling of a '67 Bonnie with reverse cone megas, the rumble of a big-twin Harley, the wail of some indistinguishable Japanese four-cylinder with an open pipe, mingled with the clip-clop of the horse-drawn tram. This, I thought, could only be the TT.

Fast forward to later in the afternoon up at the Grandstand. I’ve just turned my Walkman on and tuned to Manx Radio – just in time to hear Charlie Williams describing Guy Martin’s crash at Cross Fourways in the classic race at Billown.

I think I held my breath just as long as Charlie did until Guy was on his feet and walking to safety. Phew, got away with that one.

One of the first persons I saw when I wandered around the paddock was Hector Neill and he nervously laughed off Guy’s crash, saying he thought his rider had just been down at Billown ‘practicing.’ “He needed to get some miles to loosen up after his North West 200 crash,” said Hector.

John Simms, the engineering guru who built Guy’s tricked-out XR69 Suzuki, was up at the Paddock too and said the marshals had confirmed that Guy’s crash was due to someone else’s oil. He was looking for him to set his mind at rest.

The oil from a blown Trident, was apparently off line, but Guy had been battling with James Coward for the lead when they came up on two backmarkers - and he’d been forced onto a tighter line.

Conor Cummins was in the Tyco awning with Hector, two fingers and the bottom of his right hand in a cast raised above heart level in a sling to help reduce the swelling.

He said he was going to sit out tonight’s practice to allow the injury another day of healing. He seemed upbeat but you can only imagine his frustration after working so hard to comeback from injury and then suffer this through no fault of his own.

Saturday’s TT practice had only been for rookies and the Lightweight supertwins. But last night’s session brought all the top players to the stage for the first time and -  despite obvious nerves and apprehension - there were no first night blues.

Perfect conditions – apart from the low, setting sun and swarms of insects – produced an electrifying evening’s action as Michael Dunlop led off the procession of superbike stars down Glencrutchery Road. 

Martin, now dressed in white and blue riding the Tyco TAS Suzuki, and Cameron Donald kicked it off, crossing the line together at the end of the lap. Martin 123.96mph, Donald 125.06 on the Wilson Craig Honda. Hot start.

I never cease to be amazed how these riders just rock up to Glencrutchery Road, sling their leg over the bike and have that ability to pull the pin, where short circuit riders get a chance to settle in, get the tyres warm and gradually build to a lap time.

James Hiller flashed across the line on the Pr1mo Bournemouth Kawasaki at 124.40. Ian Hutchinson clocked a 121.92mph. Great start. I don’t know about the team but I felt relieved for the Swan Yamaha rider.

McGuinness though clocked 111.23 and pulled in. Something was clearly amiss. His crew changed the shock.

Donald’s next lap? 126.37. Everyone glued to the monitor in the pit area looked at each other with that knowing ‘game on’ look.

Michael Dunlop 123.32 on his McAdoo Kawasaki stocker. He’d done 123.87 on his Honda superbike. Gary Johnson 123.46 on the Padgetts superbike. The pits were a hive of activity. People were going out on 600s. William Dunlop did 122.90 of his Wilson Craig bike. 

Then we had a long wait until McGuinness came through again on his superbike. 126.16. But from the bottom of the pit area you could hear the TT Legends Honda racing on towards St Ninians. A flying lap. What would that bring?

It seemed a long wait but we were rewarded. 128.26.

McGuinness had done what McGuinness likes to do. Throw down the gauntlet. Topping the time sheets for him is important: It boosts his confidence. And takes a little of the wind out of his rival’s sails.

It wasn’t a record-breaking opening night but you wouldn’t expect it. But it was a pretty sensational evening just the same.

There’s a long way to go in the story of TT 2012. But this was some opening chapter. And like any good book, what’s on the next page is the subject of some really intense anticipation.

Well, I for one, can’t wait till it all happens again on tonight.