Former national road racing godfather Ryan Farquhar expects Michael Dunlop to be in a league of his own in 2013.
Farquhar quit the sport last August in a blaze of publicity following the death of his uncle, Trevor Ferguson, in a crash at the Manx Grand Prix.
His retirement has left the door open for Dunlop to become a dominant force at the national meetings and Farquhar believes the 24-year-old will be untouchable this season, particularly in the Superbike division.
The pair were involved in some ferocious personal duels last year in the premier class at Tandragee, Skerries and Armoy, leaving the rest of the opposition floundering in their wake.
Along with Farquhar, experienced duo Adrian Archibald and John Burrows will also be missing from the national scene in 2013.
That leaves Dunlop’s brother William, CD Racing’s Derek Sheils, Michael Pearson on the Team Hotties Yamaha, Brian McCormack, Davy Morgan, Michael Sweeney and young gun Jamie Hamilton on the KMR Kawasaki as his likely main challengers.
Farquhar, though, believes the best they can hope for is to join ‘Mighty Mike’ on the podium.
In an exclusive webchat with the News Letter, national road racing’s most successful ever rider said: “On the national scene I cannot see anyone getting near Michael Dunlop if he competes in them all.
“Derek Sheils, Michael Pearson, Jamie Hamilton and Brian McCormack no doubt will be fighting for podium positions and you never know, someone else may spring a surprise.”
Farquhar – whose KMR Kawasaki team will be backed by Vauxhall Northern Ireland this year – has signed former National Superstock contender Connor Behan for the Irish Senior and Junior Support Championships and hopes the Cheshire rider will develop into a real prospect on the roads.
The Dungannon man rates Hamilton – last year’s best newcomer at the Isle of Man TT – Dean Harrison and Ballymena’s Sam Wilson as potential stars of the future.
“I would say it is between Jamie Hamilton and Dean Harrison and also Sam Wilson,” he said.
“Hopefully Connor Behan will be the next young hot-shot.
“If we get out of this recession and sponsorship is easier come by then hopefully the sport will get into a better position than it is in at the minute.
“Insurance is a big problem,” added Farquhar, reflecting on the current difficulties facing the organisers of national road race meetings at present.
Clubs are feeling the pinch due to rising insurance premiums combined with a lack of sponsors, a set of circumstances that has already forced the cancellation the Bush road races, which had been scheduled to take place in June.
That leaves the Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100, Mid Antrim 150 and Armoy on the national calendar in Ulster.
In the South, Skerries, Walderstown and Killalane are the three national meetings that look set to proceed, with an element of doubt hanging over the others.
With Farquhar out of the equation, Michael and William Dunlop have become the biggest names in national contention, although Tyco Suzuki’s Guy Martin may add some extra star power at Cookstown and Armoy, where the Lincolnshire man has been a regular in recent seasons.
Both Dunlops have secured official Honda and Yamaha deals this season as they aim for international glory, with Michael riding the much-vaunted TT Legends Fireblade at the North West 200 and TT and William teaming up with Shaun Muir’s Milwaukee Yamaha outfit alongside Conor Cummins.
However, the duo look poised to continue their support of selected national races, providing a much-needed shot in the arm for road racing at domestic level.
Farquhar, meanwhile, has reiterated his commitment to his decision to retire, batting away questions over a possible return and dismissing suggestions he quit too soon.