Mountain man Hickman wins first 600 TT
The 2019 Isle of Man TT finally got under way with the Superbike race - delayed from its original slot on Saturday - and it was cut from six laps to four on Monday morning, with conditions all around the 37.73-mile Mountain Course dry and bright.
It was Dean Harrison who led initially by 1.5sec at Glen Helen on the opening lap, and although he still led at the completion of the first lap, Peter Hickman's lap of 132.343mph meant he was just a second adrift as the riders headed out onto the second lap. Harrison marginally extended the gap by the time they reached Glen Helen and at Ramsey it was up to four seconds.
However, 32-year-old Hickman used his prowess over the Mountain to not only reduce the deficit but also turn it into an advantage, and with what proved to be the fastest lap of the race, 132.947mph, he came into the pit stop with a lead of 1.782sec. It proved to be the winning margin as the race was stopped on lap three following a fatal accident involving Daley Mathison and the result declared at the end of the second lap.
Conor Cummins finished third behind Harrison and Michael Dunlop was sixth, with Brian McCormack finishing in an excellent 11th, Lee Johnston 15th, Derek Sheils 16th, Paul Jordan 18th, Shaun Anderson 20th, Micko Sweeney 25th, James Chawke 31st, Davy Morgan 38th and Thomas Maxwell 49th.
Daley Mathison crashed at Snugborough just over two miles into his third lap in a high-speed part of the course. The red flag came out as there was a major fire incident. The 27-year-old from Durham was an experienced rider who cut his road racing teeth here on the Irish roads, and was a seeded rider for this year's TT. He had three successive podiums in the TT Zero class, and he is survived by his wife Natalie and daughter Daisy.
The Sidecar race one was next in the schedule and it was the Birchall brothers Ben and Tom who once more dominated the class as they swept to victory by 48.116sec from John Holden/Lee Cain, with Alan Founds/Jake Lowther completing the podium in third.
With a new race record at 118.317mph, it was the sixth win in a row for the Birchall brothers and ninth in total as Tom became the most successful passenger in TT history, bettering the previous best of eight wins he had jointly held with Rick Long and Dan Sayle.
At the head of the field, an opening lap of 117.709mph gave the Birchalls a lead over Holden/Cain of 14.904sec who were in turn more than 15 seconds clear of the battle for third that continued to rage.
It was Founds/Lowther who continued to hold onto the final podium position, though, with the gap to Founds/Walmsley having increased slightly to 1.687sec. The big news came in fifth place, though, as the Crowe brothers lapped at 112.56mph to become the fastest sidecar newcomers ever, bettering the mark of 112.031mph set by Tim Reeves in 2008.
However, the race saw two big name retirements early on as Tim Reeves and Mark Wilkes only got as far as the Bottom of Bray Hill, with Dave Molyneux/Harry Payne not faring much better as they retired at Braddan Bridge.
On the third and final lap, the Birchalls continued to extend their lead through the timing points and they duly crossed the line at 118.12mph to win from Holden/Cain by 48.116sec.
Founds/Lowther took their second TT podium as they edged out Founds/Walmsley by just 5.5sec, the duo both lapping quicker than the previous lap at 116.37mph and 116.44mph respectively. Ryan and Callum Crowe took a brilliant fifth place and Irish newcomers Terry O'Reilly and Eamon Mulholland finished in 24th place.
The first of the Supersport 600 races started later that evening and again this race was shortened owing to the weather, but that didn't bother Lee Johnston as the Fermanagh rider took his maiden victory by 3.6sec from James Hillier, with Peter Hickman taking third.
In the post-race press conference an emotional Johnston explained that running his own operation rather than being factory backed suited him. "Because we built and designed the bike from scratch, it means a lot more; it's a personal thing," he said.
Hillier had set the initial pace before Johnston took control at the end of the first lap, but conditions on the second lap saw rain falling on the west part of the circuit and organisers took the decision to end the race after two of the scheduled four laps.
Hillier led at Glen Helen on the opening lap - his lead over Johnston 1.3sec, with Gary Johnson slotting into third, a further 1.2sec in arrears. Dean Harrison was lying in fourth as Jamie Coward and Michael Dunlop moved into fifth and sixth.
At the head of the field, Hillier was pressing on but it was still extremely close and Lee Johnston had brought the deficit down to 0.6sec at Ramsey Hairpin, with Gary Johnson still in third two seconds further back. Less than five seconds covered the leading six riders as they started the Mountain climb for the first time.
Johnston was on the move, though, taking the lead as they swept over the tramlines at the Bungalow, and an opening lap speed of 126.03mph gave him a lead of 1.989sec over Hillier, with Hickman the new third-place rider only a further 1.9sec adrift. Gary Johnson dropped back to fourth as Harrison and Dunlop ended the lap in fifth and sixth.
However, rain was beginning to fall on the west part of the circuit and the chequered flag came out at the end of the lap, with Johnston getting his maiden TT victory by 3.6sec from Hillier, with Hickman taking his second podium of the day in third. Harrison, Dunlop and Conor Cummins took fourth to sixth. Derek Sheils finished in a creditable 11th place on his Roadhouse Macau-sponsored Yamaha, while Paul Jordan was just behind the Dubliner in 12th place.
Micko Sweeney took Eamon Mulligan's 600 Yamaha to a bronze replica 15th place, while newcomer Mike Browne finished in an excellent 20th and a bronze replica. Davy Morgan was 33rd and newcomer Ray Casey 38th, while Brian McCormack decided to sit out the race for personal reasons.
After another two days of the weather scuppering the organisers' plans, the Clerk of the Course was forced to run five races and two qualifying sessions in the one day, something that was never tried in the past - albeit with shortened races - as riders are only allowed to complete 10 racing laps in one day.
The second Supersport 600 race was the first of the day, and in the bright sunshine it was Peter Hickman who claimed his fourth TT win, and his first in the Supersport class. Hickman was locked in battle with Dean Harrison, but with his now customary charge over the mountain, Hickman edged the win by 3.3 seconds, with James Hillier third.
Hickman had a 0.06sec advantage over Hillier at Glen Helen on lap one, with Dean Harrison, Gary Johnston and Lee Johnston close behind, with just 2.5 seconds covering the top six.
As they arrived in Ramsey for the final time the gap was almost exactly the same as it had been throughout the race, and it was going to come down to the final run over the mountain, Hickman's strongest part of the course. With the fastest lap of the race at 128.14mph, Hickman took victory by 3.302 seconds, and his first Supersport win.
Harrison had to settle for second, with Hillier taking the final podium place. Michael Dunlop finished in sixth, with Lee Johnston - not able to repeat his first 600 race success - back in ninth, Paul Jordan 11th and Derek Sheils 12th.
Micko Sweeney was unfortunate to be the first of the Bronze replica winners in 15th place, with Mike Browne taking an excellent 18th place and another Manx Grand Prix winner James Chawke in a fine 20th position. Brian McCormack was 26th, with Ray Casey 46th.
The TT 2019 coverage is kindly sponsored by Ollies Place in Skerries