THE excitement is building ahead of next week’s McKinstry Skip Hire 90th anniversary Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod, the final major international road race of the season.
The Honda TT Legends duo of John McGuinness and Cameron Donald are missing from the line-up due to a date clash with a round of the Endurance World Championship in Germany, but Gary Johnson is a late entry.
Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston is currently working to try and secure some top machinery for Johnson, who rates among the leading contenders in the feature classes.
Last year’s man of the meeting, hat-trick star Michael Dunlop, returns as the slight pre-race favourite.
The 23-year-old from Ballymoney has been in sensational form since the Isle of Man TT, dominating the Southern 100 at Billown before notching a double at Walderstown and a treble last weekend at Armoy.
Dunlop won both Supersport races at Dundrod in 2011, diving up the inside of brother William twice on the final lap at the Lindsay Hairpin to pluck victory from the jaws of defeat.
He also followed up his Superstock TT victory last year with another triumph in the production-based class at the ‘Prix’, but was denied the opportunity to challenge for honours in the Superbike category after the engine in his Kawasaki ZX-10 expired.
However, Dunlop is confident he has the firepower at his disposal to stake his claim for his first victory in the premier class at Dundrod next Saturday, when he lines up on the Hunts Motorcycles/McAdoo Honda Fireblade.
He is bidding to equal Phillip McCallen’s feat of five wins in a day at the Ulster GP, but the level of competition he faces is formidable.
And Dunlop will have to fight through the pain barrier after he sustained two slipped discs in his back, a setback that occurred when he was working on his machines before the Armoy road races.
Bruce Anstey excels at Dundrod and last year won the opening Superbike race after starting from the second row of the grid on Clive Padgett’s Honda. The veteran Kiwi is equally adept on the little 600cc Honda and the current outright lap record holder (133.997mph) is a live threat in every race.
William Dunlop is another rider whose style is suited by the super-fast, flowing nature of the seven-mile Dundrod circuit.
A winner in the Supersport class in 2009, the 26-year-old appeared to have both 600cc races in the bag until he was overhauled on each occasion on the final lap by Michael. William has vowed not to make the same mistake again.
Tyco Suzuki’s Guy Martin has endured another barren season at international level, failing to stand on the top step at the North West 200 or TT. However, Martin knows what it takes to win at Dundrod and the Dunlops plus Anstey will be wary of the threat he poses in the Superbike races on the GSX-R1000.
The Lincolnshire star’s team-mate, Conor Cummins, is steadily recapturing the form that made him one of the hottest prospects in the sport prior to his huge TT crash in 2010. Ryan Farquhar is due to ride in the Supertwin class, although the KMR Kawasaki man remains undecided over whether or not to compete in the Superbike or Superstock events due to an impasse with the organisers over the location of his truck in the paddock.
Bike Week at the 2012 Ulster GP officially gets under way tomorrow, with a sponsored walk and run of the Dundrod course, scheduled to leave the paddock at 11.30am. A church service will be held later in the afternoon at 3pm.
Roads will close for practice for the Dundrod 150 and Ulster GP events on Wednesday from 1.30pm-9.30pm.
Further UGP practice will take place on Thursday prior to the Topaz Dundrod 150 meeting,
Don’t miss our special 16-page Ulster GP 90th anniversary pull-out on Thursday.