Best-ever return for super Irish at Manx GP
The old song says 'The Craic was 90 in the Isle of Man' and that was so true for the large Irish contingent at the Manx Grand Prix last week, held over the famous TT Mountain Course.
It was without doubt the most successful Irish raid in the famous races, with Amhran na bhFiann played an unbelievable four times, and this has bypassed the great year of 2000 when Martin Finnegan and Seamus Greene stood on the top step of the rostrum, winning the Newcomers Junior and Senior races.
It was a feast of celebration, and while the Southern contingent scored the four wins, two more wins went North, with Darryl Tweed scoring two wins in the Ultra Lightweight class.
Mother Nature was not too kind to the organisers of the 2018 Manx Grand Prix, with very little practice held during the designated week, but when racing finally got under way there were some delays but all races eventually ran.
The Newcomers finally got racing under way on Tuesday, and it was the Newcomers 'A' race that saw first blood for the Irish contingent, with Thomas Maxwell clinching the race, and he followed some of the most famous names in road racing history including Robert and Michael Dunlop, Carl Fogarty, Phillip McCallen and Ryan Farquhar to win the rescheduled MGP Newcomers A Race.
Welshman Michael Rees took the honours in the 'B' Race after a thrilling duel with James Hind that saw the lead change hands six times.
Maxwell has been in great form this season, and after a number of attempts in the past to get to the Manx, when a severe lack of money was the problem, he made sure that his first attempt was going to be a memorable one, but it was not easy.
A dramatic Newcomers 'A' Race, in which two race leaders were forced to retire, was ultimately decided by a 30-second pit lane speeding infringement that cost Steven Haddow a potential race win.
Mike Browne has been in great form on the home roads this season, taking wins at Skerries and Faugheen, and he was the fastest qualifier in practice.
Browne was first on the road to Glen Helen on the opening lap and was almost four seconds ahead of second-placed man Harrison on the clock who in turn was five seconds in front of Maxwell who was holding the final podium place.
Race leader Browne looked to be dropping time through the Sulby speed trap and shortly after was confirmed as a retirement at Sulby Bridge, which left Harrison as the new leader from Maxwell, with Haddow moving into the top three.
Harrison was then reported as a retirement on the run-in to Kirk Michael on the second lap which put Maxwell in pole position ahead of Haddow, with Field up into third.
There was drama at the end of the second lap, with Haddow only six seconds behind race leader Maxwell, but he then promptly picked up a 30-second penalty for a pit speed infringement which left Maxwell out on his own at Glen Helen with a 38-second lead over Haddow and Field a further 23 seconds further back in third.
Haddow had cut Maxwell's lead to 24 seconds at the end of the third lap and the gap was only 14 seconds at Ramsey, but Maxwell was able to hold on to take the chequered flag by over 12 seconds with a last lap of 115.083 to Haddow's 116.118, with Field securing the final podium place.
After the race Maxwell performed the first 'burnout' of the week in the winner's enclosure and revealed that he had some fuel worries towards the end of the race.
'I'd eased off over the last two laps to conserve fuel and I was getting different pit boards and I was really nervous when it went down to 10 seconds. The bike felt down on power, so it might need a bit of an engine rebuild.'
In the concurrent MGP Newcomers B Race it was Michael Rees who took the win with a last lap speed of 109.832 to win by almost 25 seconds from James Hind (107.832), with Sheehan completing the podium. Paul O'Rourke finished in an excellent seventh place and took home a coveted replica for his hard effort.
The Chawke brothers from Limerick have been in great form this season and it was James who returned to the Manx, and he clinched victory in the Junior Manx Grand Prix after race leader Matt Stevenson, who held a 30-second lead at Ramsey on the second lap, dramatically crashed out of the race at the Creg Ny Baa.
After the race Chawke revealed that winning at the Isle of Man was the fulfillment of a long dream:
'I can't believe it. It's such a dream to come up Glencrutchery Road a winner and follow the likes of John McGuinness. I've been racing since 2009. What more can a man ask for? It's been a long struggle and I've worked so hard. I relaxed after the fuel stop at the second lap, but I've broken down every time in Ramsey and I felt something go again on the last lap. It's all I can ask for.'
Matt Stevenson was dominating the opening lap, and coming through the grandstand at the end of the first lap the Yorkshire man was clocked at 119.807 which gave him a lead of almost 14 seconds over new second-placed man James Chawke (118.378). Osborne's 118.217 put him in the final podium position.
Dave Butler was manually timed in fourth place through the grandstand, with Humble completing the top five at the end of the opening lap.
Stevenson's lead was up to 18 seconds on Chawke and, despite running wide at Ramsey Hairpin, had extended his lead at Ramsey, with Butler now unofficially reported to be holding third place. However, Stevenson came off his peoplesbike.com Yamaha out-braking at the Creg Ny Baa, and although he was reported not to have sustained any injuries he was out of the race.
Coming into the pits at the end of the second lap, Stevenson's accident meant that James Chawke was the new race leader 11 seconds ahead of Dave Butler, with Stephen Parsons third and Dean Osborne and Brad Vicars completing the top five.
There was more drama on the last lap when news came through that Darryl Tweed had run out of fuel at Quarry Bends, which saw Parsons move into the final podium place. Chawke took the chequered flag with a last lap of 117.701 to win by over four seconds from Osborne (118.534), with Parsons (118.701) clinching the final podium place.
There were two Skerries riders in the field, Andy Farrell and David Lumsden, and they finished in seventh and eighth respectively. They seemed to use this race as a warm-up for the Lightweight that was to come, although 'The Hammer' admitted to Manx Radio after the race: 'I fell asleep to be honest on the first lap, and by that stage a number of riders had passed me, so I knew that a good result was gone away from me, so I just kept going and finished for my sponsor Martin Bullock.'
Damien Horan finished in 12th, with Dave Butler in 13th, and Newcomer race winner Thomas Maxwell was the highest placed newcomer in 16th place with an overall race time of 113.406mph. Denis Booth finished in 28th, with Tommy Henry 41st and Jordan McFerran in 51st.
Over the years we have been blessed with great local success at the Manx, with Martin Finnegan winning the newcomers. Micko Sweeney took two Junior race wins, we had David Yeomans and Keith Costello on the podium and in the past few years David Lumsden has also been on the podium.
Last year he joined the 'Tommy Club' after lapping at over 120mph, and Andy Farrell has had a number of podiums as well, and was just pipped for the win last year by Darren Cooper.
Andy Farrell raised the Tricolor over the iconic TT grandstand for the third time in two days when he took the chequered flag in the Lightweight race. Indeed, Ireland enjoyed a lockout on the Lightweight podium, with Irish riders taking the first four places.
In the concurrent Ultra Lightweight, Ballymoney rider Darryl Tweed put the disappointment of retiring from the Junior race while running third to win the Ultra Lightweight Class.
Farrell, runner-up in the Lightweight Race in 2017, was looking to go one better this year and was in front on the road and looking to get into James Chawke's lead which had now increased to 2.5 seconds. Whether it was the extra power of the Kawasaki over the Mountain or the clear road, Farrell had moved in front of Chawke to lead by three seconds at the Grandstand with his opening lap of 114.060 to Chawke's 113.776, with Vines (113.660) almost a further second back in third and Lopez Santos and Lumsden completing the top five.
The same pattern emerged between the leading pair on the second lap, with Chawke faster on the run to Ramsey and cutting the gap to the race leader to less than half a second, but then Farrell again powered over the mountain to lead by 7.8 seconds after the second lap. Vines retired from the race at the 33rd milestone which saw Lumsden move into the final podium place at the Grandstand.
Farrell was also much faster in the pit, almost nine seconds quicker than Chawke, which saw Farrell extend his lead to 20 seconds at Glen Helen on the third and final lap. Farrell duly held on with a last lap of 110.239 to win by almost 16 seconds from Chawke, with Lumsden claiming the final podium position with his last lap of 109.825. Dave Butler took a fine fourth place, with Tommy Henry finishing in 20th. Farrell had the fastest lap of 114.274mph, just outside the lap record.
In the concurrent Ultra Lightweight Race, Darryl Tweed, who was the fastest qualifier, was already 11 seconds ahead of Alex Sinclair at Glen Helen on his opening lap, with Daniel Ingham in third but already 16 seconds behind the race leader. Tweed's opening lap of 106.453 gave him a commanding lead of almost 24 seconds over Alex Sinclair, with Daniel Ingham a further five seconds back in third.
Tweed took the chequered flag with a last lap of 103.293 to win by well over a minute from Daniel Ingham, with Alex Sinclair clinching the final podium place.
Lightweight Race Two
Skerries rider Andrew Farrell won a dramatic Lightweight race 2, following up his victory in the first race earlier in the week, but the race was decided on the last lap when race leader James Chawke retired while leading by over 50 seconds. There was also a second win for Darryl Tweed in the concurrent MGP Ultra Lightweight Race.
James Chawke, looking for his second MGP win of the week, was first to Glen Helen on the opening lap, a second ahead of Dave Butler, with Gary Vines a further second back in third, fractionally ahead of Dave Lumsden. Wednesday's Lightweight Race winner Andrew Farrell was over three seconds behind the early race leader in fifth place.
James Chawke was blackflagged at Sulby. However, nothing was found to be wrong with the bike, so he was credited with the time lost and continued to lead by five seconds from new second-placed man Gary Vines, with Dave Butler third. Farrell had moved into fourth at the Bungalow on the opening lap, with Lumsden completing the top five.
Farrell was first through the grandstand with his opening lap of 112.695 which put him in third place, but he was already over 10 seconds behind James Chawke after his opening lap of 113.664. Gary Vines was second to Chawke, 8.4 seconds behind the race leader.
At the end of the second lap Chawke set a new lap record of 114.993, all the more remarkable because he was slowing down to come into the pits, which put him 15 seconds ahead of Gary Vines. Vines lost time in the pits, while Andy Farrell, running in third, also lost time on the race leader with a stop of over a minute by overshooting his pit.
However, there was drama on the last lap, with Chawke retiring at Ballagarey, which meant that there was now a thrilling battle for the Lightweight win. Farrell was the new race leader at Glen Helen on the last lap, three seconds ahead of Vines, with Butler less than half a second further back in third.
Farrell powered over the mountain to take the chequered flag with a final lap of 114.650 to win by six seconds from Gary Vines, with Dave Butler a further three seconds back in the final podium place. David Lumsden was fourth, with Barry Sheehan 25th.
In the concurrent three-lap Ultra Lightweight Race, Darryl Tweed continued his form from Wednesday's race with an opening lap of 105.839, which gave him a lead of over 30 seconds from Steve Moody, with Tom Snow (103.193) holding third and Ingham and Sinclair fourth and fifth respectively.
Tweed's last lap of 103.026 gave him victory by almost 30 seconds from Tom Snow, with Andrew Cowie clinching the final podium place.
Skerries rider Paul O'Rourke was taken by air-med to Noble's Hospital following an incident at the Bungalow where he was reported to have sustained hand and hip injuries. As we go to print he is still in Nobles Hospital following surgery on his hand.
Mike Browne was unlucky in the Newcomers 'A' race, blowing up his engine when leading on lap one, but there is no doubt that the talented rider opened people's eyes with a stunning display in the Senior race, becoming the fastest Newcomer and lapping at 119.788 on the final lap to finish ahead of some very established riders. He came from seventh on lap one to finish in a brilliant fourth place, and no doubt he is a rider of the future around the TT course.
The race was a cracking affair, with the lead changing many times during the race, and at the flag it was Matt Stevenson, who joined the Tommy Club with the first 120mph lap of the meeting on his opening lap, becoming the 17th MGP competitor to achieve that mark in the process. Stephen Parsons finished in second just over five seconds behind Stevenson, with regular Irish rider Stephen Proctor third. Browne just missed out on the 120mph lap, but Andy Farrell rounded out the top five, also clocking a 120mph lap at 120.247mph, and he capped off a brilliant week.
James Chawke was sixth, with David Lumsden seventh, Denis Booth 22nd, Darryl Tweed 27th, Ryan Maher 29th, Andy McAllister 40th, Tommy Henry 43rd, Nigel Rea 44th and Noel Carroll 51st.
It was an emotional Manx, and it restored my faith in road racing, and it was such a joy to see so many Irish wins. Well done to all concerned.
Keep 'er lit.