by Phil Wain
After a year's wait, practice for the 2012 Isle of Man TT Races finally got underway on Monday evening and what an evening it was. With the whole of the UK bathed in beautiful, warm sunshine the Island was at its finest and with the temperature reaching 25ºC, the whole paddock was at fever pitch.
With thousands of spectators already seated at their favourite vantage points, expectation was high for some fast laps but the opening night is always one of nerves and caution for the competitors and with a week of practice to go, the session was more about re-familiarising themselves with the punishing 37.73mile (60km) circuit. Practice doesn't determine the grid for Saturday's 6-lap race as the riders already have their designated starting position, but it's crucial for machine set up.
For Tyco Suzuki riders Guy Martin and Conor Cummins it was certainly a contrasting evening. Martin, who'd earlier been riding – and falling off – a Suzuki XR69 at the Classic races at the shorter Billown course in the south of the Island put in four laps during the 85-minute session, two on the Superbike and two on the Superstock, but Cummins opted to sit the practice out and give his hand injuries from the North West 200 another 24 hours rest.
“The day didn't start too well as I ended up in a heap at the Classic races,” said Martin. “I'm not sure why I crashed, maybe there was some oil down, but no one was hurt so it was straight up to the paddock for the practice. There aren't any medals for practice so I just wanted to get four steady laps in and ease my way back on. As soon as I set off down Bray Hill, it felt great to be back on the Mountain Course and it reminded me straightaway of why I race motorbikes.”
“The sun was an absolute nightmare though! As the session wore on, it was getting lower and lower in the sky and for the first 7 miles of the course, it was straight in your eyes and really difficult to see where you were going. That's why the speeds were a bit lower than what some people had expected. Like I say though, it's the first night of practice so there's no need to be putting in 130mph laps. That will come later in the week and in the races.”
Conditions were perfect all around the Mountain Course, with the exception of the Guthrie's Memorial section where there was some melting tar, but, indeed, it was the piercing sun that caused the problems and with caution having to be exercised, the leading competitors concentrated on getting in as many laps as possible rather than setting stunning lap speeds.
Cameron Donald on the Wilson Craig Honda set the early pace on his Superbike machine at 126.379mph with Guy on 124.127mph but a flurry of late laps at the end of the session saw the leaderboard change. 17-times TT winner John McGuinness went quickest at 128.267mph followed by Donald, Bruce Anstey (125.306) and Andrews (124.772). Guy's lap placed him 7th quickest whilst this was also his position in the Superstock class after a lap of 121.915mph.
Cummins, meanwhile, was disappointed not be out practicing but also philosophical. The Manxman knows the circuit inside out but with two broken bones in his hand, he decided to give the session a miss and go out for the first time on Tuesday.
“It's a little bit frustrating not to be out there but I know where I'm going so it shouldn't be too much of an issue and I just thought it was best to let my hand have a bit more rest. The swelling's gone down considerably, there's no pain at all and I've pretty much got 100% movement so I'll get ready now for Tuesday instead.”
“It would have been lovely to have gone out on the Superbike on the first night but the weather's great so there's no panic. The sun was a major issue for everyone tonight so I haven't really missed much and I'm sure I'll be soon up to pace on Tuesday.”
Practice continues today with sessions for Superbike, Supersport and Superstock machines.