With no world championship status in road racing, a six-lap Superbike or Senior TT victory is regarded as the sport’s Holy Grail.
Man and machine are pushed to the limit during 226 miles of racing around the legendary Snaefell Mountain Course in their quest to join an illustrious roll of honour that includes TT icons such as Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini, Steve Hislop, Joey Dunlop and John McGuinness, who will make a milestone 100th start in the Superbike race on June 4 aged 50.
In the build up to this year’s event, there has been considerable debate around what impact the enforced absence might have, with the TT cancelled in 2020 and 2021 as a direct result of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, if the North West 200 is anything to go by, the three-year lay-off will have little impact on lap times.
Every lap record was shattered at the North West and while the 8.9-mile ‘Triangle’ course cannot be compared to the unparalleled test presented by the 37.73-miles of undulating Manx roads, it perhaps offered a glimpse of what to expect.
The general consensus among the top riders, most notably 23-time winner McGuinness, is that it won’t take long before the likes of Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop are firing in 130mph laps once practice gets under way.
Weather-permitting over the TT fortnight, I think we will see Hickman’s outright lap record of 135.452mph shattered.
Hickman blitzed the outright lap record at the North West 200 by four seconds, where he was riding the newest BMW M1000RR for the first time.
The latest variant of the German machine is a step above the older S1000RR that Hickman powered to that dramatic last lap victory over Harrison in the 2018 Senior.
Improvements have also been made around the TT course, with significant resurfacing work undertaken in certain sections, which could offer some marginal gains when it comes to lap times.
And once the first qualifying sessions are complete on Sunday, it should be business as usual and – just as it was at the North West – it will be as if the TT has never been away.
Hickman may have had an indifferent week in Northern Ireland as major road racing returned with the NW200 once more, but the FHO Racing rider will still be the man to beat at the TT.
His ultra-relaxed demeanour is a big positive in the high-pressure cauldron of TT racing, and the 35-year-old’s measured approach has paid dividends since his debut in 2014.
A treble in 2019 was so close to being a four-timer, with Hickman denied a second consecutive Senior victory due to a water leak issue with his Smiths Racing BMW.
Surprisingly for a rider of his size, he is equally as competitive on a Supersport machine as he is in the Superbike or Superstock classes.
But it’s the TT, and anything can happen.
So many variables enter the equation, from the unpredictable Manx weather to mehanical breakdowns, pit stops or even running out of fuel.
All things being equal, though, and Hickman is the rider with the target on his back.
Yorkshireman Harrison has been his key rival in the Superbike and Senior races in recent years and can expect to be right in the frame again on the DAO Racing Kawasaki machines, while Michael Dunlop carries Ulster hopes of a victory in the blue riband class.
Dunlop will ride a Suzuki GSXR1000RR for Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Hawk Racing outfit and although the bike may not have the outright top speed of his BMW or Honda rivals, the TT is about much more than having the quickest bike in a straight line.
The Ballymoney man knows what it takes to win at the TT and is one of the most experienced riders out there, despite still only being 33.
I can see Dunlop adding at least a 20th win this year, although maybe that success will come in the Supersport, Superstock or Supertwin races, given his lack of miles on the Suzuki.
Lee Johnston also has an excellent chance of following up his maiden TT success three years ago with another win in the Supersport races on his Ashcourt Racing Yamaha.
Outside the big three usual suspects, watch out for Davey Todd.
The Saltburn man has a fantastic mentor in Clive Padgett in his corner and a stable of top-notch Honda machinery.
Todd is only competing at the TT for the third year but his 131mph lap and sixth place in the 2019 Senior on a BMW that was not in the same league as the Padgetts Honda Fireblade was an exceptional result.