Bruce Anstey won one of the most thrilling races in Isle of Man TT history when he took the first Supersport race on Monday afternoon from fellow Antipodean Cameron Donald by just 0.77s. Once long time leader Michael Dunlop retired on the third lap, there was never more than a couple of seconds between Anstey, Donald and Gary Johnson with an amazing 0.62 separating the trio at Ramsey Hairpin on the final lap. However, Johnson ran out of fuel on the final drop down the Mountain and Anstey’s final lap of 126.634mph was enough for him to come home for his 9th TT win, ten years after his first back in 2002.
“That’s my 9th win but it’s probably the hardest one,” said Anstey. “I saw ‘P6’ on my board early on and thought ‘oh no, not again’ after my slow start on Saturday. I wasn’t going fast enough and was a bit angry with myself so got my head down and really went for it. I ran wide once, can’t remember where, but really went for it on the last lap. I was trying really hard but my board was still saying either ‘+1’ or ‘-1’ although I’d worked out it was Cameron who I must have been dicing with. I got a glimpse of him a few times so used him as a gauge and I just managed to squeeze home.”
After a two hour delay, conditions were perfect all around the Mountain Course perfect and through Glen Helen on the opening lap it was Michael Dunlop that led albeit by just 0.25s and, in typical Supersport fashion, it was close all the way down the top ten. Johnson was in third, 1.5s adrift, and he was followed by Donald, Anstey, Ryan Farquhar and John McGuinness with just a further 1.5s splitting 3rd to 7th.
An opening lap of 126.258mph gave Michael Dunlop a 10.07s lead over new second place rider Donald with William just 0.35s back in third. Johnson, Anstey and local hope Dan Kneen completed the top six but it was still close with only six seconds separating second to eighth. One man not in the mix though was Guy Martin, the Tyco Suzuki rider pulling in at the end of the first lap and with Conor Cummins having again withdrawn from the day’s racing, it wasn’t a good day for the Irish team.
Irish eyes were smiling on Michael Dunlop though at the head of the field and with the fastest lap of the race, 126.948mph, his lead increased to almost 22 seconds at half race distance. It was Johnson who had taken over the runner-up spot when they came into the pits to refuel and William was still in third with Anstey now up to fourth ahead of Donald. Kneen, McGuinness and Farquhar were still in contention and despite 75 miles having been completed, there was still only 11 seconds separating the seven riders in 2nd to 8th.
However, things changed on the third lap as Michael Dunlop stopped at Ballig Bridge and Dan Kneen crashed on the exit of Governor’s Bridge when lying in fifth. He escaped with minor back injuries.
Going into the final lap, it was clear we were going to have a grandstand finish as there was just two seconds between Johnson, Anstey and Donald. As the leaders tore around the final 37.73 miles, positions were changing at almost every timing point and although the order remained the same at Ramsey, the gap between the trio was now a staggering 0.62s. The race was anyone’s but at the Bungalow, Anstey had taken over the lead as Johnson dropped back but as Donald crossed the line first, the result was still in doubt. Anstey flashed over the line to grab the win from Donald by 0.77s, the second closest finish after Mark Baldwin’s 0.6s victory over the late Mick Lofthouse in 1995.
Donald was magnanimous in defeat saying, “what an incredible race. If I’d have held my breath somewhere I might have nicked it but if I couldn’t have finished second to a nicer bloke. Bruce and I have been mates for a while so I’m proud to be sitting here in second and next to him. I gave it everything I could on that last lap and knew it was going to be a nailbiting finish but we came up just that little bit short. It’s another podium and a brilliant start to the week though.”
Johnson was in trouble though and as he ran out of fuel on the drop down the Mountain, he pushed in to eventually finish in 28th place and so it was William Dunlop who took the final podium spot, his first top three finish around the Mountain Course. Farquhar had overtaken McGuinness as he circulated with Donald but the Irishman also ran out of fuel on the final lap at Creg ny Baa and so it was McGuinness who took fourth ahead of James Hillier, who took his best ever TT finish, and the consistent Ian Lougher.