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Michael Dunlop throws down the TT gauntlet

By Paul Lindsay

Michael Dunlop used every available inch of tarmac on the TT Course last night to post the quickest time of practice week with a lap of 131.501mph.

The 25-year-old has thrown the gauntlet down to his rivals, prior to today’s six-lap Superbike TT on the Isle of Man.

Dunlop’s lap on board the factory- backed BMW Motorrad S1000RR Superbike was just 1.3 seconds outside the outright lap record set by John McGuinness at last year’s event.

Kiwi Bruce Anstey had looked to be the man to beat with consistent lap times in the 130mph region all week on the Island.

The Valvoline by Padgetts’ Honda rider banged in two more 130mph laps during last night’s practice session in perfect conditions, with his best [130.642mph] just seven seconds slower than Dunlop.

The Windsor-based Kiwi could yet be on course to claim his first-ever Superbike TT victory at the grand old age of 45 with his consistency on Clive Padgett’s Honda, but he’s going to have get the bit between his teeth if he’s to take the win away from Dunlop on the BMW – in a guaranteed war of attrition over 226 miles of high-speed action.

Anstey, who currently sits on nine wins, will be looking to take his career victory tally on the island into double figures today from his favoured number 5 starting position, with Dunlop hunting him down just 10 seconds back in the number 6 berth on Glencrutchery Road.

First on the road today will be Honda Racing’s John McGuinness, and although the Morecambe man has hid his wrist problems well this week, he openly admitted that this year’s event may have come too early.

Referring to his injured right wrist, broken in a training incident back in March, the 20-time TT winner said: “Yeah it’s going okay but I just wish the TT was in two months’ time. I just can’t brake deep enough or late enough, but it’s the best I can do to be honest.”

Tyco Suzuki’s Guy Martin, who will start from number four on the road, opened his account last night with a brace of 129mph laps on his GSX-R Superbike. The Lincolnshire rider followed those up with a 130.102mph effort, letting both Dunlop and Anstey know that he’s chasing TT podium number 14 in today’s race, with his sights set on a debut top step.

Cookstown BE Racing’s Dan Kneen set his personal best TT lap last night with John Burrows’ Northern Ireland-based team, the Manxman tripping the timing beam with an impressive lap of 129.107mph.

Obviously delighted with his personal best, Kneen said: “It’s about time. Bruce [Anstey] came past me and I was determined to keep him there. He gapped me a little bit but I didn’t let him get away, so I knew it was going to be a decent lap.”

Lincolnshire’s Gary Johnson was also in the 130mph club, but his lap came on the Lincs Lifting ZX10R Superstock machine, although he cannot be discounted from a potential podium in today’s Superbike TT.

Johnson will start just 10 seconds behind Michael Dunlop, which will be a huge incentive for the former TT Supersport winner.

Behind Johnson come William Dunlop at number 8 on the Tyco Suzuki and Batham’s BMW-mounted Michael Rutter at 9.

Dunlop lapped at 128.368mph last night on the second of his two laps, and Rutter circulated just once on his Batham’s BMW, with a notable 128.485mph effort.

Five-time winner from 2010 Ian Hutchinson has suffered a frustrating TT, trying to find the sweet spot on his Milwaukee Yamaha Superbike machine.

Based on practice week, Hutchy will struggle to feature in today’s podium action after a best lap of 127.422mph last night, around 25 seconds off the forecast podium pace.

His team-mate Josh Brookes — the fastest newcomer from last year’s event — has been slipping quietly under the radar this week as he too has been looking to perfect his Milwaukee Yamaha machinery.

But last night the outspoken Aussie finally lit the after burners to post his personal best TT lap at 127.991mph, in only his second year of competition on Mona’s Isle.

The pick of upcoming local lads were Wilson Craig Honda’s Jamie Hamilton [124.647mph] and Fermanagh’s Lee Johnson on the Pirtek East Coast Construction Honda [124.440mph].

Banbridge-based rider Shaun Anderson slid off at Guthrie’s Memorial during last night’s session, thankfully suffering only superficial injuries. Englishman Peter Hickman is currently the fastest newcomer at this year’s event with a lap of 123.329mph, posted in last night’s session.

Today’s six-lap Superbike TT race is scheduled to get under way at 11am, followed by the opening Sidecar encounter over three laps at 2pm.

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