Michael Dunlop will set off 20 seconds behind key rival John McGuinness at this year’s Isle of Man TT in the Superbike and Senior races after being allocated the number three plate on the Milwaukee Yamaha.
With entries for the 2015 meeting now closed, the official start numbers were revealed on Thursday and Morecambe man McGuinness will lead the charge down Bray Hill on the Honda Racing Fireblade at number one, his position unchanged from 2014.
The 21-times TT winner was denied the opportunity to challenge for the rostrum places on the Mountain Course last year in the feature classes after a wrist injury effectively curtailed any realistic prospects of success, although the 42-year-old did manage to add another win in the TT Zero race, defeating his Mugen team-mate Bruce Anstey.
McGuinness remains the fastest rider ever over six laps of the legendary Mountain Course on a Superbike, averaging 128.943mph on his way to beating his then Honda TT Legends team-mate Dunlop in the 2013 Senior – the last time the Ulsterman tasted defeat in the blue riband class on the Island.
Dunlop, who has now amassed 11 wins - including an unparalleled haul of eight victories in two years after historic back-to-back four-timers to establish himself as the number one rider at the TT - will ride with the number three made famous by his uncle Joey, but a fit-again McGuinness will be eager to put last year’s frustrations behind him and fire Honda back to the top step on road racing’s greatest stage.
Sandwiched between the old master and new Mountain maestro Dunlop is James Hillier, who sets off 10 seconds behind McGuinness at number two on the Quattro Plant Bournemouth Kawasaki, with Michael Rutter high up the order at number four on the Penz13.com BMW S1000RR.
Kiwi Bruce Anstey, who caused a sensation last year when he became the first rider to crack the 132mph barrier, retains his traditional number five on the Valvoline by Padgetts Honda, starting ahead of Tyco BMW’s William Dunlop (6), who clocked an impressive 130.8mph lap from a standing start last year.
Next up is Lincolnshire’s Gary Johnson (7) on the JG Speedfit GBmoto Kawasaki, who scored his second TT success in 2014 in the opening Supersport race, with Guy Martin on the second of the resplendent Tyco BMW machines going at number eight in a change from the number four plate he has carried in recent years.
Completing the top ten are Ian Hutchinson (PBM Kawasaki) and Manx rider Conor Cummins (Honda Racing), who was one of the standout performers last season, making an emotional return to the Superbike and Senior podiums four years on from the well documented crash that could have ended his career.
Bradford’s Dean Harrison, who spearheads Northern Ireland’s Mar-Train Racing team this season as Yamaha UK’s official international road racing entrant, is at number 11, followed by Scotsman Keith Amor on the Rig Deluge BMW S1000RR and Lee Johnson (East Coast Construction BMW) at 13.
Ryan Farquhar (14) – who, like Amor, is making his return to the 1000cc classes – is next away at 14 on the SGS International KMR Kawasaki, with another Isle of Man rider, Dan Kneen, pencilled in at 15. Braddan man Kneen is currently in the process of finalising his plans for 2015 after his deal to ride for Millsport Suzuki fell through.
The top 20 is completed by Aussie David Johnson on the Smiths BMW, Louth’s Peter Hickman – who became the fastest TT newcomer ever last year with a stunning 129mph lap – on the Briggs Equipment BMW, Dan Stewart (18) on the Wilcock Consulting Honda, Norton rider Cameron Donald (19) and Steve Mercer (20), who will ride his privateer Honda Fireblade.
The top 20 seeded riders have all lapped comfortably over 127mph, with 70 riders entered having lapped at 120mph or more.
Every class was oversubscribed, presenting the organisers with a selection headache, but the final line-up represents one of the strongest ever for the iconic Tourist Trophy races.
The official TT press launch takes place at the Villa Marina in Douglas on Tuesday, March 17.