Dunlop in pole position to reign
The scheduled Topaz Dundrod 150 road races were called off on Thursday after heavy rain and low cloud hit the Dundrod Circuit.
Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston was left with no option but to call the meeting off on safety grounds with rivers of water flowing across parts of the track and visibility reduced at the highest point of the circuit.
Earlier in the day the battle lines were drawn for a Michael Dunlop-Guy Martin Superbike showdown at tomorrow’s Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix following qualifying in which Dunlop claimed pole position on his TT Legends Honda two seconds faster than his Tyco Suzuki arch rival.
On a drying, patchy track that saw riders choose various tyre combinations on the opening laps with the majority eventually opting for slicks all round, Dunlop (below), on his last lap, went around the 7.4mile Dundrod Circuit setting the first and only 130mph lap of the meeting to date with a speed of 130.831mph while Martin clocked 129.536mph.
The front row will be completed by the Milwaukee Yamahas of William Dunlop, fastest through the speed trap recording two speeds at 194mph, and Conor Cummins, the pair separated by four 10ths of a second, over a second and a half behind the leading duo.
Michael Dunlop, a four-time TT winner back in June, was forced to play second fiddle to Martin during the Southern 100 in July, as the Lincolnshire rider scooped both the Solo Championship race and the outright lap record for the Billown Circuit, so the scene is set for a battle royal tomorrow, weather permitting.
A year ago the pair took a Superbike win each and both have the machinery and determination to chase victory this time around.
However waiting in the wings if any of the favourites strike trouble are a host of potential podium competitors including Gary Johnson — fifth fastest yesterday ahead of Jamie Hamilton — Dean Harrison, last year’s fastest newcomer and a member of the 130 Club, and Bruce Anstey, the outright Dundrod lap record holder.
Surprise packet of the session was Alan Bonner from Stamullen who set the ninth fastest time, heading the more experienced Cameron Donald, Lee Johnston, Ian Lougher and Stephen Thompson.
A light shower prior to the Supersport session didn’t hinder the competitors with Martin hitting back to claim pole position for Tyco Suzuki with a lap of 3m 41.286secs, 120.405mph, to pip HM Plant Honda by Padgetts rider Anstey by a third of a second with the Millwauke Yamaha pair again third and fourth, this time Cummins a third of a second faster than William Dunlop.
Lee Johnston, third in the opening Supersport race last year, was fifth fastest on his East Coast Honda while Michael Dunlop was sixth fastest, three seconds off Martin’s pole position time on his MD Honda, and will start from the second row of the grid.
The distinctive Valmoto MV Agusta of Gary Johnson was down in 16th position.
The Lightweight/Ultra Lightweight combined session was red flagged half way into the half hour stint when Bellaghy rider William Davison crashed out on the left hand approach to the hairpin and was taken to hospital for precautionary shoulder x-rays.
Before the stoppage Ivan Lintin had set the fastest lap on
the McKinstry Kawasaki and will start tomorrow’s race from pole position having lapped 3.1secs faster then Lee Johnston with Jamie Hamilton a third of a second back in third and Derek McGee completing the front row.
Ian Lougher, set for his UGP farewell appearance tomorrow, will start from pole position in the Ultra Lightweight race on his 125cc Jackson Honda with Christian Elkin riding the Wylie Honda, the only Moto3 machine in the race, just over a second behind the Dromara-based Welshman.
Nine seconds further back were Warren Reeve and William Cowden, who complete the front row.
The last practice session for Superstock machines saw Dean Harrison complete his first flying lap at over 110mph before heavy rain hit the track and the session was red flagged.
Following a two-hour delay the rest of the session and the race programme were abandoned.
Roads close tomorrow morning at 9.30am with the opening six-lap Lisburn City Council Superstock race due off at 10.45am.
Let’s hope for the sake of the organisers, competitors, officials and spectators that the weather holds for what promises to be a scintillating Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix.
The weather problems have again opened up the debate on greater flexibility in terms of road closures.