Dan was one of the sport's true nice guys
It is a rare sight to have continuous good weather on the Isle of Man for the TT races, but this year it was looking really good right from the start of practice to at least the middle of race week.
Practice started with a mighty buzz as Michael Dunlop took out the Patton twin for the first time, and smashed the lap record. The Island was buzzing.
By Wednesday evening the speeds were into the 130mph bracket, as the riders were using the good weather to their advantage, getting in as many laps as possible to test their bikes to the limit. I spent Wednesday in the paddock, something I rarely ever do, but it was a lovely evening, and I was looking forward to it.
Just after the practice started for the Superbike class, the red flags went out, and the word filtered back, that Dan Kneen, a Manx rider and former Irish Superbike Champion, had crashed at Churchtown, an extremely fast section of the TT course. Shortly after that we heard that Dan had lost his life, and that eerie feeling descended over the paddock, and the rest of the practice session was cancelled.
Dan Kneen was one of the nicest lads you could meet in a race paddock. He rode in Ireland for the Burrows Engineering race team, and he was a team mate of Micko Sweeney. You would never see him without a smile on his face, and he was a great favourite of the race fans, as he was so approachable.
What happened after Dan’s accident on another part of the 37.75 mile course was nothing short of a debacle. The protocol after a red flag goes out on the TT course, sees riders stopped at various points. Sometimes they are escorted against the course under the control of the travelling marshal, as the organisers don’t want them going by the scene of the accident.
Micko Sweeney was in a batch of riders who were instructed to go back against the course, but without the control of the travelling marshal, and as they came through Rhencullen, a course car going with the course, and carrying a policeman to the scene of the accident, crashed into one of the leading riders in the group, Steve Mercer, and he sustained serious injuries, resulting on him being transferred to hospital in Liverpool.
Luckily he was the only rider injured in the debacle, and it has to be one of the worst incidents, and totally unnecessary, that I have known about at the TT. Speaking to Micko afterwards, he was totally shocked to firstly loose his former team mate in Dan, but this really shocked him so much so, that while he took part in Fridays practice, he decided to sit out Saturday’s Superbike race, and said that he will go out in Mondays Supersport 600 race one, and decide what he is doing for the rest of the race week, after that.
As we go to press, there is an ongoing inquiry into what happened, but what will come out of it, is anyone’s guess.
The Kneen family gave the TAS/Tyco team their full blessing to race on, and Dan’s teammate Michael Dunlop did so in style.
The 6 lap Superbike race got going on Saturday, albeit over an hour late, but from the start it was Dean Harrison who lit up the race, and he was really flying. At Glen Helen on the opening lap, Harrison had already opened up a 3.7s lead over Dunlop with Peter Hickman a further 1.9s behind in third. Hillier, Cummins and Gary Johnson completed the top six. But Harrison was really pressing on, extending his advantage to 5.6s at Ballaugh and adding another 2.2s by the time he reached Ramsey.
With a sensational opening lap of 134.432mph, a new outright lap record and from a standing start to boot, Harrison held a 11.3s lead over Dunlop with Cummins moving up to third as Hickman dropped back, eventually retiring in the pits. Derek Sheils was just ahead of Derek McGee in 12th place.
Second time around, Harrison was 14.7s clear of Dunlop who in turn was 10.7s ahead of Cummins. With the fastest ever times in all six sectors now under his belt, having not held one before the race, Harrison led by 17s at Ramsey and as he came in at the end of the lap for his first pit stop, he stopped the clocks at 134.180mph. His lead was a healthy 16.3s over Dunlop, who lapped at 133.513mph. Cummins was still in third after setting a new personal best lap of 132.589mph.
Sheils had slipped back one place to 13th, with McGee also slipping back to 18th with Brian McCormack moving up to 19th.
At half race distance, Harrison’s lead had been cut by 11.5s as Dunlop began to make his charge, the Ballymoney rider taking back one of the fastest sector times from Cronk ny Mona to the Grandstand.
The race was really hotting up and by Glen Helen on the fourth lap, Dunlop had taken a further 2.5s out of his deficit, the difference now just nine seconds.
Harrison still led on the road at Ballaugh but all was not well as he lost over five seconds on the run from Glen Helen and the gap was just 4.6s over the famous hump-backed bridge. Shortly afterwards, news came through that Harrison’s superb race had ended with retirement at Sulby Crossroads, as the clutch had expired on his Kawasaki. Dunlop completed lap four with a lap of 133.240mph and a 40.3s lead over Cummins with Hillier now in third some 20.5s in arrears.
Dunlop duly took the chequered flag for his 16th TT win with Cummins equalling his best ever result in second as he took his seventh TT podium. Hillier rounded out the podium, the 11th time he has been on the TT rostrum. Lee Johnston took the factory Honda home in an excellent 6th place, which was great to see after the terrible problems the famous marque had last year.
An emotional Dunlop dedicated his race win to Dan and his family, and none of the podium riders opened their champagne in respect.
Further back Derek Sheils was having suspension problems, and finished in 14th, with Derek McGee just behind in 15th. McCormack’s bad luck continued as he retired on lap five, while in ahead of McGee. Shaun Anderson rode a terrific race finishing in 13th place and a coveted silver replica, while newcomer Davy Todd, who was the best newcomer at the North West, came home again as the best newcomer in a brilliant 16th place, as he lapped at 126.268mph to become the third fastest newcomer in TT history.
Davy Morgan also rode an excellent race coming home in 30th place and taking home the last of the replicas, with NW Racing’s rider Darren Cooper finishing his first TT Superbike race just behind Davy in 31st.
For the statistics, there were 277 laps completed covering a total of 10451 racing miles.
The Sidecar race was next and unfortunately this was red flagged before the finish of lap one, as an outfit had crashed at Sky Hill. It was reported that Tony Baker and Fiona Baker-Holden were taken to hospital by air-med, with a broken leg the worst injury.
The race re-started at 7pm and it was Ben and Tom Birchall who took their seventh Isle of Man win, when they blitzed the record books in the opening Formula Two Sidecar race, shattering both lap and race records.
The Mansfield brothers broke their own lap record on each of the three laps, moving the outright lap record to an astonishing 118.694mph, and they came home 47.1s clear of John Holden/Lee Cain with Tim Reeves/Mark Wilkes completing the podium in third.
After the race Ben revealed that they had to work hard for the win and paid tribute to his brother and team. He said ‘You never know what pace you can run on the Isle of Man. Tom’s been incredible, just faultless. We had a bit of a moment at Windy Corner I’m blaming the wind he said with a laugh. We’ve got a great team and Chris builds some great engines.’
The Birchall’s led from start to finish and at Glen Helen on the opening lap, their advantage over Holden/Cain was a slender 2.1s with Reeves/Wilkes only a further second back as Alan Founds/Jake Lowther, Pete Founds/Jevan Walmsley and Dave Molyneux/Dan Sayle completed the top six.
As the lap progressed, the Birchall’s continued to extend their lead through all the timing points and it was clear they were on a fast lap, as they flashed across the line at the end of the lap, they broke their own lap record with a speed of 117.502mph.
That gave them a more than healthy lead of 13.1s over Holden/Cain and although Reeves/Wilkes continued to hold onto third, there were problems for Founds/Lowther who pitted to make adjustments and Molyneux/Sayle who retired from the race whilst holding onto sixth.
The pit stop dropped Founds to 21st place but there were no such problems at the head of the field and the Birchall’s were setting a sensational pace and by the end of the lap, they’d doubled their lead to 26.1s, and little wonder as they’d smashed the lap record with a stunning lap of 118.694mph.
Holden/Cain became only the second crew to lap at more than 117mph with a lap of 117.370mph and they were now 19 seconds clear of Reeves/Wilkes. Founds/Walmsley were up to fourth with a new personal best lap of 114.613mph ahead of Conrad Harrison/Andy Winkle and Founds/Lowther who had amazingly climbed all the way back up to sixth.
On the third and final lap, the gaps between the front runners continued to widen and with a final lap of 117.771mph, the Birchall’s came home for their seventh TT win and fourth in a row. Holden’s runner-up spot was his ninth podium in a row and 19th in total, while passenger Lee Cain became the fastest Manx passenger while Reeves/Wilkes came home in a good third place.
Founds/Walmsley took fourth place with brother Alan and passenger Lowther taking a brilliant fifth place given their earlier pit stop and it was Harrison/Winkle who completed the top six.
Keep ‘er lit!