Michael Dunlop will return to action for the first time since last month’s Isle of Man TT as the Steam Packet Southern 100 meeting gets underway on Monday evening with practice at Billown.
Dunlop, who has returned from Germany after participating in a trip to fulfil commitments for BMW, will ride a factory-prepared S1000RR Superbike as he bids to reclaim the Solo Championship title in the feature race on Thursday.
The 25-year-old was on course to equal his uncle Joey’s record of three successive wins in the blue riband race in 2013 until he was reeled in and passed by Tyco Suzuki’s Guy Martin.
The pair will renew their rivalry at the 4.25-mile Billown circuit near Castletown but face some stern opposition, with Bradford’s Dean Harrison in a rich vein of form at present on the RC Express Racing Kawasaki and Mar-Train Racing Yamaha machines.
Harrison was a podium finisher in the Superbike class last year and is riding on the crest of a wave after a terrific TT, where his standout result was a superb runner-up finish in the Superstock race behind Dunlop. The 25-year-old also claimed his maiden TT victory as he took the spoils with a dominant ride in the Lightweight race.
Tyco Suzuki’s William Dunlop made a successful return from injury as he won the Supersport race at the Skerries 100 on Saturday and the Ballymoney man will be hoping to force his way into contention as he builds towards next month’s Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod.
The 28-year-old didn’t have the Tyco Suzuki Superbike at Skerries, but Dunlop will be reunited with the TAS Racing GSX-R1000 this week as he attempts to take the fight to team-mate and outright lap record holder Martin and younger brother Michael.
Lincolnshire rider Martin upped the lap record to a blistering 114.245mph last July as he went on to win the Solo title and there is every chance the benchmark will be surpassed this week if favourable weather conditions prevail on the Isle of Man.
Dan Kneen, who won the Grand Final at Skerries, will be quietly confident on some strong results on the Cookstown B.E. Racing machines, although his Irish road racing rival Jamie Hamilton has been ruled out following his crash in the Grand Final at Skerries.
Conor Cummins from Ramsey - who returned to form at the TT last month with a brilliant runner-up finish in the Senior race on the Honda Racing Fireblade - will ride in the Supersport class on the Jackson Racing CBR6000RR.
The line-up also includes James Cowton, Seamus Elliott and Ivan Lintin, who was cruelly forced out on the opening lap of the Lightweight TT after setting the fastest time during practice week on the McKinstry Kawasaki.