Ian Hutchinson has cemented his place as a firm challenger for victory in Saturday's Superbike race at the 2010 Isle of Man TT after setting his fastest-ever time around the Mountain Course.
The Yorkshireman took the Padgetts Honda Superbike around the 37.73-mile course at an average speed of 130.165mph during Thursday evening's practice session. He was only slightly slower than the fastest speed of the practice week so far, 130.242mph set by John McGuinness on Wednesday evening.
Relentless by TAS Suzuki rider Bruce Anstey and McGuinness, both on Superbikes, set off towards Bray Hill first, followed by Ian Lougher, Hutchinson, Keith Amor, Cameron Donald, Guy Martin, Adrian Archibald, Conor Cummins and Gary Johnson.
Nearly all of the leading competitors were on the Superbikes with the exception of Dan Stewart and William Dunlop who opted for their Supersport machines.
Hutchinson completed a first lap at 128.303mphbut it was HM Plant Honda-mounted Amor that was the fastest on the opening lap at 128.691mph, with both Anstey and McGuinness surprisingly off the pace at 121.166mph and 119.827mph respectively.
Archibald and Martin were down in the 123mph bracket with Farquhar and Michael Dunlop also lapping above 125mph.
On the second lap, Hutchinson was really flying – and it showed. He crossed the line to record a lap of 130.165mph, his first ever 130mph-plus lap, with Cummins and Donald also flying at 128.838mph and 128.836mph. Rutter and Dunlop upped their pace, setting personal best laps of 127.564mph and 127.946mph.
Mark Buckley and Steve Mercer, one of the leading newcomers last year, showed they could well be the men to catch in the race for the Privateer's Championship with laps of 124mph-plus.
Many of the leading contenders switched to their 600cc bikes for the second half of the session and it was Amor who went quickest, the Scotsman lapping at 124.797mph on the Kojak Racing Honda. Hutchinson wasn't too far behind at 124.685mph with Martin third at 123.902mph.
David Johnson was again the leading newcomer with a lap of 118.607mph, Stephen Thompson following closely at 117.387mph. Swiss ace Herve Ganther was third fastest with 115.210mph whilst Brian McCormack bounced back from his spill on Wednesday night to lap at 114.326mph, just behind James Hurrell's speed of 114.510. In the 600cc division, Dan Cooper improved to 113.740mph and David Jones posted his first 110mph+ lap at 111.154mph.