Australian David Johnson, riding the Alistair Cowan Racing Kawasaki, won a dramatic RST Superbike Classic TT Race today on the Isle of Man – his first victory on the TT Mountain Course after race leader Michael Dunlop retired at Hillberry on the last lap – less than two miles from the finish line.
After the race a delighted Johnson revealed how hard the race had been: “To make the bikes quick they are really hard to ride. I’m really happy because I put everything into it and a huge thanks to Alistair Cowan and the team. I was going to wave to the Australian fans at Hillberry on the last lap but then when I saw Michael Dunlop had retired I got my head down.”
Conditions were described as perfect for the final race of the 2019 Classic TT presented by Bennetts and the packed crowd around the TT Mountain Course were treated to a thrilling climax to the meeting.
Horst Saiger on the Greenall Racing Kawasaki had the honour of leading the field away at 5.15pm - after mist delayed the race programme - but all eyes were undoubtedly on fastest qualifier Dunlop on the Team Classic Suzuki, who left the line from his now traditional sixth place on the grid.
Other high profile TT stars in the line-up included Conor Cummins and although the Manx rider had only qualified eighth fastest, he had hinted before the race that there was more to come from the Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles 500cc two-stroke YZR Yamaha that he rode to third place in last year’s race.
As expected, Dunlop held the lead at the opening timing point at Glen Helen but was only two seconds ahead of Johnson with Gary Johnson on the Team York Suzuki a further two seconds back in third. Paul Jordan on the Mistral Racing Kawasaki and Cummins rounded out the top five.
Cummins had moved up to third by Ballaugh, six seconds behind the race leader with Ireland’s Derek Shiels on the second Mistral Racing Kawasaki the new fourth placed man, whilst Gary Johnson dropped down the leader board to fifth - less than a second behind Shiels.
Dunlop’s opening lap of 124.87mph gave him a lead of less than two seconds over David Johnson (124.647mph) at the end of the opening lap, with Cummins (123.519mph) a further ten seconds back in third. Shiels (123.257mph) remained fourth with James Hillier (123.136mph) on the Oxford Products Racing Ducati moving into the top five.
Dunlop had doubled his lead to almost four seconds over David Johnson by Glen Helen on the second lap with Cummins third and Shiels fourth, just over a second ahead of the fast improving Michael Rutter, who was clearly benefitting from circulating with Dunlop on the road and moved into fifth.
As the riders came into the pits to refuel at the end of the second lap, Dunlop’s lap of 125.626mph gave him a lead of over ten seconds from Australian Johnson (124.825), who in turn was 12 seconds ahead of new third placed man Rutter who, unsurprisingly, had a similar lap time to Dunlop - 125.628mph - the fastest lap of the race. Cummins (124.321mph) and Sheils (123.921mph) completed the top five.
In addition to a fuel stop, Dunlop also changed his rear wheel and dropped ten seconds to David Johnson while Cummins lost around ten seconds to Rutter in the pits. Hillier benefited from a rapid pit stop – the fastest in the race at 51.567 seconds – to close the gap on the front five.
Johnson, courtesy of his faster pit stop, was now at the front of the race at Glen Helen on the third lap but only by less than two seconds and the Team Classic Suzuki rider had further cut the gap to less than half a second by Ballaugh and was back in the lead by Ramsey.
Meanwhile Shiels moved up into third place at Glen Helen, less than a second ahead of Rutter and Jamie Coward on the Prez Racing Kawasaki moved into the top five ahead of Hillier and Cummins. However, Rutter, running in fourth, was reported to have stopped at Gwens, just after Ballaugh Bridge, to make adjustments.
Dunlop’s third lap of 118.287mph gave him a lead of almost five seconds from Johnson (118.705mph) with Shiels (117.136mph) holding third, five seconds ahead of Hillier (117.971mph). Jamie Coward (116.571mph) was fifth at the Grandstand but was reported to be a retirement at Cronk Y Voddy which saw Cummins move back into the top five at Ballaugh Bridge.
Hillier meanwhile had moved into third by Ballaugh Bridge on the last lap but only 0.2 seconds ahead of Shiels, with Cummins moving back into the top five. With riders jostling for the final podium places, the dramatic news came through that Dunlop was a retirement at Hillberry and Johnson moved into the front at Cronk ny Mona to take the chequered flag with a final lap of 125.150mph.
Shiels (124.494mph) made a dramatic last sector charge and made up over two seconds on Hillier from Cronk Ny Mona to finish runner-up, 1.5 seconds ahead of Hillier although Hillier later reported issues that saw him forced to restart his machine.
Cummins (123.641mph) finished fourth with fellow Manx rider Ryan Kneen on the Team Heirheim Kawasaki finishing in the top five – a credible performance after starting 21st on the grid.
RST SUPERBIKE CLASSIC TT RACE
1. David Johnston - Alisdair Cowan Racing Kawasaki (123.272mph / 1:13.27.422)
2. Derek Shiels - Greenall Racing Kawasaki (122.129mph / 1:14.08.689)
3. James Hillier - Oxford Products Racing Ducati (122.086mph / 1:14.10.235)
4. Conor Cummins - Milenco by Padgetts Yamaha (121.641mph / 1:14.26.514)
5. Ryan Kneen - Team Herheim Racing Kasasaki (119.600mph / 1:15.42.743)