Just less than a month now until you can grab a crate of beer, roll up your mum’s favourite picnic blanket and hitch yourself onto a hedge in the middle of nowhere.
Everyone seems to forget the feeling until the first bike of the year flies past, leaving only shocked faces, burnt rubber and petrol fumes in its wake. We’ve all seen videos of TT newcomers experiencing their first superbike, looking on slack-jawed in disbelief or scrambling for safety, and a lot of this is down to the unbelievable speed. These speeds seem to get more and more ridiculous each year, with Peter Hickman holding the current 135.452mph record, but how far have the machines come since the likes of Joey Dunlop were tearing down Bray Hill?
It wasn’t long ago (2014 to be exact) that I remember being sat at Crosby Leap, listening to Manx Radio as Bruce Anstey smashed through the 132mph barrier. 3.5mph in 4 years may not seem like a lot, but in motor sport terms when the margins are so small, this is a staggering improvement for an average lap speed.
One way to put this into perspective is by blowing off the dust on the old TT history books…
In 1989, Scottish biker Steve Hislop set the first 120mph lap. Hislop won the TT eleven times altogether and in 1989 he was on top form, winning 3 races in the week on his Honda. He had some legendary battles throughout his career with the likes of Dunlop and Fogarty, and no doubt this helped him push his machine to the limit.
Now the top riders can comfortably lap within this time frame in every racing lap that they complete, even when they need to pitstop during the lap for fuel which really puts into perspective how far the bikes have come. John McGuinness has completed the most 120mph+ laps with 253 being recorded over a 17-year period, followed by Bruce Anstey on 226. Its hard to believe that just 30 years later, this incredible feat would be so regularly achievable.
It wasn’t until the 2000 TT that David Jefferies broke the 125mph barrier on his V&M R1. Like Hislop, he won 3 races that same week and set the record on the last lap of the Senior in 18mins 00.6 secs. In 2002 he pushed this even further to 127mph, but sadly any hopes of further lap records or victories were dashed when Jefferies was killed in a crash in practice week of 2003. Nevertheless, his memory lives on in his incredible ability as a racer and his mastery of the mountain course, winning 6 times overall.
Now, five of the top riders have clocked in excess of 100 laps over 125mph, completing over 20 125mph+ laps per TT week. John McGuinness achieved this feat in 2002 and has unsurprisingly been the man to beat since then in terms of TT wins and lap records.
McGuinness gave the TT a fitting 100th Anniversary Birthday gift when he broke the 130mph lap record in 2007 and there was no better man to provide it than the Morecambe Missile himself. Since winning best newcomer in his debut in 1996 he has won in almost every class from 250cc to Superbike, clocking in a total of 23 wins and 44 podiums.
After McGuinness’s bout of injuries following the 2014 TT, Michael Dunlop has now completed the most laps over 130mph with a total of 50 altogether. Although all the top riders have completed at least 1 lap time over 130mph, this is still not an easily achievable feat and the machines have to be pushed to the limit to reach these speeds consistently.
Dunlop broke 133mph only 2 years after Anstey had achieved 132mph. At the same time, he clocked in the first lap under 17 minutes and his 12 th TT win, thanks to some very favourable weather conditions. To put that into perspective, if Dunlop and Jefferies were in the same race, you would be waiting a full minute after Dunlop finished for Jefferies to cross the line with his record setting lap in 2000.
Last year we had incredible weather, resulting not only in burns for the entire Manx population, but also fast times… very fast times. In just the first race, Dean Harrison demonstrated that the weather conditions were going to make this the fastest TT yet, lapping over 134mph on his Kawasaki, shattering Dunlop’s previous record and completing the lap almost 10 seconds quicker.
It was evident on Monday that the record breaking wasn’t done for the week, as Hickman clocked in a 134.403mph lap, breaking Harrison’s record and setting the new fastest time.
Finally, the highlight of the year’s racing calendar rolled around with the Senior race on Friday. It was another blisteringly hot day and the racers did not disappoint. Hickman ultimately fought Dunlop off to achieve victory and the final record-breaking lap of 135.452mph on his Smith’s Racing BMW.
30 years on from Steve Hislop’s record breaking lap in 1989 and Hickman is wrestling his machine around the same technical and unforgiving mountain course almost 2 minutes faster. It is hard to imagine what kind of speeds we can expect in the next 30 years, but I am happy to buckle in for the ride.
Whilst all the action was taking place last year, I was happily sitting on a hedge next to Crosby leap, half drunk, marvelling at the machines and the bravery of the men who rode them. It goes without saying that it will be the same case for me this year, but whether it will be another record breaker is up to the riders, the mechanics and the weather… so fingers crossed for another scorcher.