Michael Dunlop cruised to victory in the opening race of the 2023 Isle of Man TT, taking the Supersport win by well over 12 seconds from Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison.
Now a 22-time TT race winner, Dunlop admitted afterwards that he backed off towards the end to ensure a comfortable win.
The win, his third in a row in the middleweight class, takes him to within only one win of John McGuinness and second place in the all-time standings behind his uncle Joey Dunlop – a record that can go this week if his winning ways continue.
There’s another supersport race coming on Wednesday once he gets his first outing on the superbike out of the way on Sunday.
With a comfortable 20-second lead by the third lap of the four-lap race, Dunlop was able to back off a little to try to save some of his MD Racing Yamaha R6’s motor.
“It was good there,” Dunlop said afterwards. “It’s good racing, I must say. I backed off a lot those last two laps, just went steady, and was fast and happy.
“I hit a lot of traffic, but I just steadied myself up and just paced myself down.
“I got a bit excited at the start, just because I hit a bit of traffic at the start and thought that I had to get on a bit.
“It’s good to see a bit of speed in the old doll yet, and the wee bike still winning.
“We had a great pitstop, and I just came out of the pits and had not an issue, but I just ran into Douglas a wee bit and had to calm myself.
“The bike never missed a beat. The boys have been working flat out all week to make this happen, and that’s another one.”
When asked about the prospect of closing in on his uncle Joey’s record, Dunlop remained typically taciturn, simply admitting that he wants to ride and see what happens throughout the remaining seven solo races of the week.
“I dunno,” he said, “I just keep riding my bike and whatever happens, happens.
“When you’re winning races around here, especially on bikes that you’re building yourself, it’s a wee bit more extra.
“I just want to win races. It’s great winning around here. It’s not the easiest place to win, and when you’re winning races you’re doing something right.”
While Dunlop might have been cruising to the win at the front, the real battle of the race was going on behind him, as reigning superbike champion Peter Hickman hunted down early race leader Dean Harrison, eventually taking the place from him by a mere 0.394 seconds after 150 miles of racing and without ever seeing each other on track.
That sets up Sunday’s first big race of the week, the Superbike TT, nicely, as well, with Hickman and Harrison expected to be the frontrunners – but with Dunlop’s new unofficial outright lap record of 135.5mph average speed on the final night of qualifying setting up a potentially epic battle.
Before then, however, the sidecars take to the track on Saturday evening, with 10-in-a-row winners the Birchall brothers expected to dominate again.