WILLIAM Dunlop secured his maiden rostrum finish on the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course in one of the most dramatic races ever witnessed in the history of the legendary event yesterday.
Dunlop finished third behind Cameron Donald and race winner Bruce Anstey to give Ulster race team owner Wilson Craig a double podium result in the first Supersport race of the week.
His brother, Michael, was cruelly robbed of the opportunity to achieve more success on the biggest stage of them all when he retired from the race on his Yamaha R6 while holding a 16-second advantage at Ballig on the third lap.
His only consolation was setting a new lap record for the Supersport ‘A’ race at 126.948mph, still some way off his outright lap record at the TT for 600cc machines of 127.8mph.
There was also bitter disappointment for Lincolnshire’s Gary Johnson, who was involved in a scintillating scrap for the victory with Anstey and Donald on the final lap until he ran of fuel.
Padgetts Honda veteran Anstey went on to clinch his ninth TT win as he repeated his success in the opening Monster Energy Supersport showdown from 2011.
Anstey took the chequered flag by a miniscule 0.77 seconds from Australian star Donald after four laps and 150 miles of nail-biting action.
The race had originally been scheduled for a 10.45am start but was delayed until 1pm following a fatal road traffic accident involving a motorcyclist at Greeba Castle.
Double TT winner Donald is in a rich vein of form at TT 2012 and his runner-up finish is the second time in three days he has missed out on the top spot after John McGuinness had the upper hand in Saturday’s Dainese Superbike race.
The manner of the defeat was hard to swallow, with just over half a second preventing Donald from capturing his third TT success following his Superbike and Superstock double in 2008.
It was the second closest finish in the history of the event, with Mark Baldwin’s triumph on the Padgetts Honda in the1995 Ultra Lightweight TT race by 0.6 seconds over Mick Lofthouse the narrowest margin of victory ever recorded.
Speaking after a pulsating final lap that kept fans on the edge of their seats, an overwhelmed Anstey – a hugely popular winner on the Island – revealed his CBR600RR was beginning to run out of fuel in the closing miles, although he still lapped at 126.634mph.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it over the line because I could feel the bike going – I can’t believe it,” he said.
“I just kept my head down and went as fast as I could and I could see the times coming down and down.”
Anstey described the victory as his ‘toughest’ achievement since he made his TT debut ten years ago.
“I think that’s the toughest one ever. I rode as hard as I could on that last lap.
“We had the bike on the dyno all week just trying to squeeze as much power out of it as we could because we knew it was going to be a really tight race.”
Donald was graceful in defeat as he hailed Anstey as a ‘phenomenal rider’ and admitted he gave his all.
“He’s a phenomenal rider and that was definitely the closest TT race I’ve ever had,” said Donald.
“I was getting a couple of boards around the track and I could tell by the people waving on the hedges and from all the encouragement that it was going to be a close finish at the end.
“I gave it absolutely everything and I’m proud to be second.”
A disappointed Dunlop, who started the race as the slight favourite after he dominated the Supersport times on Craig’s 600cc Honda, was equally magnanimous as he conceded he ‘wasn’t quick enough’ on the day.
“I’m not making any excuses – I just wasn’t quick enough. I did try towards the end, but it’s just the way it goes,” said Dunlop.
“I’m a bit disappointed with third to be honest because I thought we would have been a bit quicker but I would have taken it before we came here.”
Michael Dunlop was on a mission as he established a 10-second lead over Donald by the end of the opening lap, with William third ahead of Johnson and Anstey.
After their scheduled pit-stop at the end of the second lap, Dunlop powered off towards Bray Hill with a 16-second advantage but his race was over as he retired with machine trouble at Ballig.
Johnson took over the lead by almost four seconds from Donald and Anstey with William Dunlop fourth ahead of John McGuinness and Dan Kneen.
On the penultimate lap, Johnson was coming under pressure as both Donald and Anstey began to claw back time and by the end of the lap his lead had been cut to two seconds by Anstey, with Donald just 0.23 seconds behind in third.
At this stage, William was nine seconds behind his team-mate Donald, his chances of a podium seemingly over.
The flying Anstey hit the front at the Bungalow on the final lap by one second from Donald as Johnson dropped to third.
Anstey was 1.3 seconds ahead at Cronk-ny-Mona and held on to win by less than a second at the finish, with Johnson pushing his bike over the line to end the race in 28th position after he ran out of fuel.
Johnson’s demise gifted Dunlop his first TT podium, with McGuinness fourth, eight seconds behind Dunlop, and the top six completed by James Hillier and Ian Lougher.
KMR Kawasaki’s Ryan Farquhar looked poised to finish fourth until he ran out of fuel at Creg-ny-Baa.