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Isle of Man TT 2024: How ‘the big four’ are making the difference

The 2024 Isle of Man TT has been an historic one so far despite the numerous weather delays that have affected proceedings.

Dean Harrison Superbike TT 2024

Whatever happens for the rest of the week, Michael Dunlop will leave the Isle of Man as the most successful rider ever at the TT after beating his late uncle Joey’s record of 26 victories.

As of Friday 7 June, prior to racing getting under way, Dunlop sits on 27 wins after scoring victories in the first Supersport and first Supertwin contests. There is a chance he could end the week on 30.

He’s not had it all his own way though. Visor issues robbed him of a victory in the Superbike TT, with Peter Hickman coming through for a 14th career win, while Davey Todd took the spoils in a tense Superstock 1 event on Thursday 6 June.

In last 23 TT solo races held, just two of them have been won by someone other than Dunlop, Hickman or Dean Harrison. One is Lee Johnston (Supersport) in 2019 and Todd (Superstock) in 2024 is the other.

In all but the Supersport and Supertwin race so far, the quartet of Dunlop, Hickman, Harrison and Todd have been the top four (though Dunlop/Todd/Harrison were the top three in Supersport and Dunlop/Hickman top two in Supertwin). And they are a cut above the rest right now, especially on the big Superstock and Superbike machinery.

In the Superbike race, that foursome was the only one to breach the 135mph lap barrier in the six-lap contest.

2024 Isle of Man TT Superbike TT top five

1. Peter Hickman, BMW – 135.534mph
2. Davey Todd, BMW – 135.664mph
3. Dean Harrison, Honda – 135.185mph
4. Michael Dunlop, Honda – 135.970mph (race class lap record)
5. James Hillier, Honda – 132.441mph

The 135mph barrier was broken by Hickman on the last lap of a breathtaking Senior TT finale in 2018. Now four riders have officially clocked it.

Davey Todd, Michael Dunlop Superbike TT 2024

Davey Todd, Michael Dunlop Superbike TT 2024

Photo by: Pacemaker Press / iomttraces press

The outright lap record, set by Hickman on a Superstock bike last year, stands at 136.358mph. With a clearer run of weather, that could well have been under threat this year. And while it is possible we could see it broken in the final few days of TT 2024, it seems unlikely at this rate.

2024 Isle of Man TT Superstock 1 top five

1. Davey Todd, BMW – 135.092mph
2. Peter Hickman, BMW - 135.140mph
3. Michael Dunlop, Honda – 133.733mph
4. Dean Harrison, Honda – 133.835mph
5. James Hillier, Honda – 131.684mph

While Dunlop and Harrison weren’t quite on the same pace as the top two in the first Superstock race, it’s still evident that the level they are operating at isolates them still from the chasing pack.

Don’t look upon that as disparaging towards the competition. Hillier, a 14-time TT podium finisher and a race winner in the Supertwin class, has been going strongly at TT 2024 aboard the WTF-run Honda in the big bike class. And 23-time TT winner John McGuinness has been going faster than ever on his Honda as a consistent top six threat.

The level at the top is by no means indicative of a weak field. Far from it. One rider able to offer an insight into why the ‘big four’ are so fast is FHO Racing’s Josh Brookes, team-mate to Hickman.

Double British Superbike champion Brookes, who has been racing on and off at the TT since 2013, has been a top six threat for a number of years and finished on the podium in Supertwins in 2023. But he has had an unfortunate 2024 event so far.

A snapped chain forced him out of the Superbike race early, while an issue in the pits stopped him from advancing on a distant 11th. But Brookes, two years back after a four-year hiatus beforehand, has been showing flashes of great speed on his FHO-run BMW Superbike and Superstock bike.

Brookes fired in a 131.5mph lap in the Superstock race, and clocked a 132.438mph effort as his best on the Superbike through qualifying week (though he tells Autosport that, unofficially, his team’s data registered 133mph laps on both his Superbike and Superstock bikes).

Josh Brookes Superbike TT 2024

Josh Brookes Superbike TT 2024

Photo by: Pacemaker Press / iomttraces press

For the Australian, the difference is being made by ‘the big four’ through the faster sections, where maximising lap time comes from going hedge-to-kerb-to-hedge again. For him, that’s a matter of experience because they are leaving no margin for error.

“It’s just through mostly a lot of fast corners where the bike is out of shape and hard to hold onto,” Brookes tells Autosport. “You need to use literally from the hedge of the left over the kerb on the right and back over to the hedge on the left on the way out, and vice versa.

“Where I’m leaving a metre or so, when I make mistakes I have to have a buffer because I’m still in that learning phase. I’m trying to speed up the learning process, but I’ve still got to expect to be able to make mistakes from time to time. So, if I was to ride from hedge to apex to head again while trying to learn at a newer, higher speed, there wouldn’t be any room for error.

“You saw the other day I made a mistake and was forced to go to the kerb [Brookes hopped a kerb going through Kirk Michael in practice]. That’s lucky in that situation there was a kerb to go to. It also wasn’t the fastest corner on the track. Obviously, it was a mistake, but I want to live through it. So, I need to accept that there’s going to be parts on the track where they are going to be quicker.

“It’s just going to take time before I can use the track to its full potential. There is the data from Hicky, so I can see what I need to do and where I need to do it. It’s not like it’s a mystery, it’s just literally a learning process. There’s no way to learn a fast track without being here and racing. Unfortunately, I’m dictated by the laws of physics and human adaptability. So I’ve just got to learn it at the speed my body and mind and eyes and sensations will allow.”

Brookes believes he can be in that podium hunt if he can get another successive year under his belt, and his times currently suggest that is definitely realistic for the former fastest newcomer.

“I’ve only ever done two years in a row. I did 2013 and 2014, and then I had two years off,” he adds. “Then I did 2017 and 2018 and then I had five years off. And now this is my second year back. Every year has been a progression, every year I’ve come back I’ve gone quicker than the year before, even though there’s been multiple years in between.

“But every year I’ve gone quicker and I’ve done the same thing again this year. I’m still progressing. With the speed that the likes of the top lads, with Hicky being there every year for the last 10 years or so, Harrison even longer and Dunlop even longer again, for me to try and compete with those guys I need to at least have a few years in succession – at least three years. If I come back next year, I can see myself being a contender, but at the moment it’s still a work in progress.”

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