Michael Dunlop secured his 16th Isle of Man TT victory in a record-breaking opening RST Superbike race after long-time leader Dean Harrison retired on lap four.
The 29-year-old won the race by a comfortable margin, 51 seconds, ahead of Conor Cummins and James Hillier. Dunlop’s victory was an emotional one, coming just three days after his Tyco BMW teammate Dan Kneen lost his life in a practice session crash.
David Johnson would end the race in fourth spot, ahead of Michael Rutter on the Bathams BMW and Honda Racing’s Lee Johnston. Martin Jessopp took seventh, with Ivan Lintin in eighth and an impressive Phil Crowe in ninth. Josh Brookes completed the top 10 on his Norton.
The start of the race saw Harrison rocket out of the box as he smashed the outright lap record from a standing start, with a lap of 134.432mph. He had taken the lead by Glen Helen, 3.7 seconds ahead of Dunlop. Harrison extended his advantage to 5.6 seconds at Ballaugh, before adding another 2.2 seconds by the time he reached Ramsey.
At the end of the opening lap Harrison’s lead was 11.3 seconds over Dunlop, with Cummins moving up to third as Peter Hickman began to drop back. It proved to be the end of the race for Hickman as he pulled into the pits to retire. On the circuit, Hillier, David Johnson and Gary Johnson now filled the top six positions.
It was opening up at the front by the time the riders reached Glen Helen once again, with Harrison 14.7 seconds clear of Dunlop, who in turn was 10.7 seconds ahead of Cummins.
Another blistering 134mph lap (134.180mph) meant that Harrison had a 16.3 second lead over Dunlop as he came into the pits. Cummins was still going strong in third, posting his own personal best lap of 132.589mph.
After the first set of pit stops, Harrison swept through Glen Helen for the third time with his gap over Dunlop still over 16 seconds, with the Ulsterman 24.3 seconds clear of Cummins.
The tide began to turn in Dunlop’s favour on lap three as he began eat away at the huge gap Harrison had created. Dunlop would cross the line at the end of lap just 11.5 seconds behind the leader. Dunlop had taken another 2.5 seconds out of Harrison’s lead by the time they reached Glen Helen on lap four.
By the time they had reached Ballaugh the gap between the duo was just 4.6 seconds. It looked like a grandstand finish was on the cards, however news began to filter through that Harrison had retired at Sulby Crossroads.
Dunlop ended the fourth lap with a speed of 133.240mph and a comfortable lead of 40.3 seconds over Cummins, with Hillier now in third – some 20.5 seconds behind. David Johnson was up to fourth with Rutter and Johnston promoted to fifth and sixth respectively following Gary Johnson’s retirement at Sarah’s Cottage.
The field were quite spread out and positions stayed the same over the final two laps, despite Hillier’s best attempts to close down the gap to Cummins for second place.
Dunlop’s victory sees him move level with Ian Hutchinson as the third most successful solo rider in the history of the event. Cummins’ second-place equaled his best ever result around the Mountain Course, whilst Hillier’s third spot took his podium tally to 11.