Baldwin Takes Glory in 125cc Thriller!

Since its re-introduction to the race programme in 1989, the 125cc Ultra-Lightweight had proved to be extremely popular and exciting, for both riders and fans alike, with the battles between the Dunlop brothers recent highlights. Indeed, out of the 6 races run since 1989, only Robert and Joey had taken victory, with 3 wins apiece. As the riders lined up for the 1995 race though, the probability of this occurring again had been halved, as Robert was still recovering from the terrible injuries received the previous year, when the rear wheel collapsed on the Medd Honda RC45 exiting Ballaugh village.

However, what we witnessed in 1995 turned out to be one of the most exciting races ever to take place over the Mountain Circuit and took its place in the record books as the closest TT finish ever for a staggered start race, a record that still stands today. Lets take a look back at this amazing race.

Joey Dunlop was the pre-race favourite as the machines took their positions on Glencrutchery Road on Monday June 5th, having finished practice week in 2nd position on the leader board at 106.78mph. Likely opposition would be Mick Lofthouse on the DTR Yamaha, who topped the timesheets for the third year running, Ian Lougher on the fast but temperamental Aprilia, and fast Irishmen James Courtney and Denis McCullough. A possible dark horse for the race was Shaun Harris, who had lapped at 103.11mph for 9th place, whilst former Manx Grand Prix winner Mark Baldwin had ended practice week two places higher at 104.24mph.

For the second year running the race was being run alongside the Singles, so starting at number 50 it was Accrington's Lofthouse who blasted away first, immediately burying himself under the screen as he plunged down Bray Hill for the first time. Twenty seconds later McCullough, on the Francis Neill Honda, began his quest for glory closely followed by Joey Dunlop.

As the remainder of the field got underway, news soon came through that this years race would see a new winner garlanded, for Yer Maun had retired at The Hawthorn with a seized engine. The exit of Dunlop seemed to open the door for Lofthouse to achieve his lifetime ambition of a TT win and at the end of lap one, it was he who led with an opening lap of 107.90mph, the fastest ever standing start lap from the tiny machines. However, it was clear that he wasn't going to have it all his own way, as he was closely followed by Courtney, Baldwin and McCullough, the quartet separated by a mere 10.9 seconds. Another pre-race favourite, Ian Lougher, had also retired, the Aprilia coming to a halt at Ginger Hall.

By now the riders were in amongst the slower Singles machines, with Lofthouse being the first to encounter them. This could possibly have affected him because, as the riders came into pit lane to refuel at the end of lap 2, his lead had been reduced from 9 to 5 seconds, with Baldwin on the Padgetts Honda fastest at 108.09mph. The deficit had been reduced due to a more dramatic reason though as it transpired that Mick had actually fallen from his machine exiting Parliament Square, fortunately without damage to either rider or machine. The fact he still led was testament to his ability around the Mountain Course. However, 5 seconds was a comfortable margin compared to the gap between 2nd and 3rd with Courtney, in only his second TT appearance, and Baldwin separated by a mere one-tenth of a second after 75 miles of racing. McCullough had dropped another 8 seconds, fourth appeared to be the best he could hope for.

Despite being apart on the road, the front trio were practically matching each other yard for yard, amazingly there was only 1.3 seconds difference between their lap times on the third lap, Lofthouse posting 104.56mph, Courtney 104.51mph and Baldwin 104.45mph. As they began their final lap the Lancastrian still led, from Courtney, by 5.6 seconds. Every ounce of power would be squeezed from the machines for one more effort and it could be guaranteed that every part of the riders' body would be tucked inside the fairing. Most spectators were still placing their money on Lofthouse, for he was the 125cc expert and had already stood on the TT rostrum. The other two couldn't be discounted though, both being former MGP winners. Who would come out on top and would we see the lap record go?

From the first commentary point at Glen Helen, it was clear that Mark Baldwin was charging and had reduced the deficit between himself and Lofthouse from 6.4 seconds to 4.5 seconds - how would Mick respond?

Well, at Ramsey Hairpin he went by Fred Clarke and the Manx Radio crew still 4seconds clear, more-or-less maintaining his advantage on this 14-mile stretch - Lofty was certainly the quickest rider past me at Alpine Cottage, taking the same, perfect line on each of the four laps. With only the steep mountain climb left who would prevail - all would be revealed in a matter of minutes.

Lofthouse crossed the line first, sitting up and punching the air as he did so - victory, in his eyes, was his. He arrived in the winners' enclosure to be greeted by Geoff Cannell as the victor, Courtney having also finished, only 6.1 seconds behind his rival. What happened next was simply sensational.

To this day I am still surprised that assumptions were made and Mark Baldwin was underestimated as he was - everyone knew he had been in contention from the word go. I was a self-confessed Mick Lofthouse, cheering him all the way, but surely a 4 second lead could never be comfortable? As Mick conducted interviews and called friends on his mobile phone, his world suddenly fell apart, as fellow Lancastrian Baldwin finished with an awesome lap of 109.01mph, smashing Joey Dunlop's lap record, and snatching victory by just six-tenths of a second, literally a blink of an eye. 150.92 miles of racing at record speeds saw the top 3 split by just 6.7 seconds.

Jubilation turned to despair for Mick, the words "I'm gutted" were all he could manage when the news was broke to him. But it was sheer elation for Baldwin, in only his fifth ride of the year, although he remained very cool, calm and collected through all the pandemonium in the winners' circle.

Apparently, although this was never confirmed, he had fooled his rivals by slowing at the end of each practice lap, thus posting slower times. At the same time, when TV footage was viewed it could be seen that Mick Lofthouse punched the air in delight on another two occasions, at the Bungalow and Windy Corner, - when combined with his emotion at the chequered flag, a couple of seconds were easily lost, thus the result could so easily have been different but hindsight is a wonderful thing, how many times have we said "if only".

Ironically, the same pair made their Isle of Man debuts in the same year, 1990, finishing first and second in the Manx Grand Prix Lightweight Newcomers race - revenge had been sweet for Mark Baldwin in what had surely been one of the most exciting TT's in years, firmly establishing itself in the record books.

1Mark Baldwin125 Padgett Honda1hr24m30.8s107.14mph
2Mick Lofthouse125 DTR Yamaha1hr24m31.4s107.13
3James Courtney125 IRM Honda1hr24m37.5s107
4Denis McCullough125 Francis Neill Honda1hr25m28.3s105.94
5Noel Clegg125 Stronberg Honda1hr27m05.1s103.98
Fastest Lap:- Mark Baldwin 20m46.0secs 109.01mph (Lap 4) NEW LAP RECORD

By Phil Wain

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