Isle of Man TT: Gary Pinchin's blog - TT finally comes alive

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The Isle of Man TT 2008 finally came alive tonight (Thursday).

Sunshine, blue skies and near perfect conditions, apart from a few damp patches out on the course, meant we saw some of the fastest times so far this week.

Guy Martin set the pace on his Hydrex Bike Animal Superbike with the fastest time of this year’s practice sessions with a 127.08mph lap, 3.2secs quicker than John McGuinness on the Padgetts Honda.

Third overall was Ryan Farquhar who did a 126.65mph on his Kenny Harker Kawasaki ZX-10 superstocker that he’s also running in the superbike class following his spilt from McAdoo Racing.

It was great to wander through a park ferme rammed with bikes after the virtual silence of the last two evenings. It was busy too, with riders darting in and out of the pits desperately trying to get as many laps in as possible now that time is running out for them to practice.

And it was a bad night to be a fly. I’ve never seen fairings and visors so plastered in dead insects.

Nice touch this year is a new row of tents for all the top teams to work from. Yeah it sounds a bit Heath-Robinson compared to luxurious garages of MotoGP but it’s tidied the entire paddock area. Just another step forward in the wholesale, on-going professionalisation of the Isle of Man TT.

One other modernisation is a new electronic information board, warning riders of conditions on the circuit. It’s a huge piece of kit, on wheels, powered by a generator! The chalk board is now redundant.  Tonight’s information reminded them of new tarmac patches at Kirkmichael, and warned of sea mist at Waterworks.

There was drama just as the riders were about to set off. With just 15secs to go the start was aborted when medics at Union Mills were called to deal with a civilian emergency.

The session finally got under way about 20 minutes late. But that’s racing on public roads for you.

Martin was quick doing 126.19 from a standing start following by his 127mph lap, but McGuinness looked to be struggling with a paltry (by his standards) 121.58 but that was down to trying a different rear tyre and, after a quick change to something they were  familiar with,  he did 123.63 and then a more familiar  126.69mph.

This time last year, John had done 129mph and really stamped his authority on the event during practice, which put his rivals on the back foot. But he’s on a brand new bike this year so it’s going to take a little more time to get the bike set up just how he likes it.

Even so, McGuinness wasn’t his buoyant self at the end of practice and remarked how close the whole thing is this year. At the moment.

Martin was rocking though, running the rebuilt World Superbike-spec motor tonight after using his regular British Superbike engine. Well you’d think that looking at the times. But Guy said later he was only using five gears because the motor was lacking grunt, although it was strong on top end.

Ian Hutchinson – one of the main players last year, looked up against it early in the evening. He had a desperate time on the AIM Yamaha at the North West, and hadn’t been able to get out on it until tonight.

The Yamaha R1 had caught fire in park ferme on Monday night when the brimmed fuel tank vented, spilled fuel all over the bike and then burst into flames when they tired to start it.  

His first two laps tonight were off the pace, and there were concerned faces all around the AIM Yamaha pit, but a different spec new rear tyre put him right in the ballpark with a 126.29mph lap to go fifth fastest behind Bruce Anstey’s Relentless Suzuki at 162.47mph.

Hutchy’s had a so, so season on short circuits to date, and then that miserable North West with his superbike and I think people were writing him off a little. But that 126mph lap has put him right back in the mix.

Anstey’s Aussie team-mate Cameron Donald shouldn’t be discounted either. He was sixth quickest with a 126.07mph, saying that he still needs more laps to feel fully comfortable.

Bruce Anstey topped the Supersport times with a 122.65mph lap but didn’t go out on the stocker.

Ryan Farquhar did 122.03mph, from Steve Plater 121.847, Keith Amor 121.62. Seriously impressive was Swede Mats Nilsson who was seventh overall, at 120.05 in his first Isle of Man TT, though he does have a couple of Manx GPs under his belt.

No one got close to Farquhar’s Superstock 126.65 benchmark. Martin was second quickest with his single lap of 124.59. Dan Stewart did two laps on his Wilcock Consulting Yamaha and went third quickest with 123.95.

McGuinness took his first lap on the Honda Racing Blade and clocked 122.03 and described it as a big comfy armchair. But with it’s huge McGuinness trademark screen, red paint, stick on pretend headlights it has to be one of the ugliest Isle of Man TT bike every created! Especially when it’s parked next to his sleek Padgetts superbike.

The Sidecars started turning it up too tonight with Dave Molyneux and Dan Sayle clocking 115.06, the best lap of the week.

Nick Crowe and Mark Cox were 22secs adrift with 112.94, only marginally faster than their Monday best. Tim Reeves and Pat Farrance continue to impress. The triple World Sidecar Champion Reeves clocking 107.95mph for seventh best. 

I can’t wait for tomorrow night (Friday). Tonight, the track surface was good but there were those damp patches and the two days of rain had really cleaned the track too much.

With more rubber down and more fine weather we could see some really sensational times. I don’t think any of the top solo guys are entirely happy with their motorcycles or tyres yet and I’ve a feeling there’s a lot, lot more to come.

After all, Guy Martin reckons he’s been ‘steady away’ so far. And that’s brought 127mph. Imagine what will happen when he and the rest of his rivals really starts to get their heads down. 

Gary Pinchin

By Gary Pinchin