However, with the coronavirus pandemic wiping out the road racing calendar in 2020, TT devotees must wait another year at least for the opportunity to watch their heroes take on the sport’s greatest challenge around the legendary 37.73-mile Mountain Course.
Somewhat typically, given the miserable weather that decimated practice and race week last June, Mona’s Isle is currently basking in glorious sunshine.
Conditions would have been perfect for the start of practice and anticipation levels would have been sky-high.
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Instead, we will have to make do with virtual races, TV and radio repeats and online archive and live content as part of the TT’s ‘Lock-In’ entertainment schedule: A welcome distraction, but no substitute for the real thing.
The unwritten storylines will hopefully unravel this time next year, but for now, we take a look at five riders who would surely have been making headlines over the next two weeks.
Undoubtedly the man to beat. The Smiths Racing team has taken over from TAS Racing as BMW Motorrad’s official international road racing representatives this year and with increased support from the German manufacturer, Hickman would have been an even more formidable opponent. The outright lap record holder around the Mountain Course following his lap of 135.452mph in the 2018 Senior, the 33-year-old notched a treble last year in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes to move onto five wins. Hickman was also on course for victory in the Senior until an issue with his S1000RR caused him to slow, opening the door for Dean Harrison to snatch the win. With a record seven victories from seven starts at the Ulster Grand Prix in 2019, plus a Superstock success at the North West 200, the British Superbike contender is currently on top of the pile.
The Bradford man has been Peter Hickman’s key rival in the past few seasons. In 2018, he appeared in control of the Superbike TT until a clutch problem ruled him out, leaving Michael Dunlop clear to wrap up victory on the TAS Suzuki. Harrison, though, finally clinched a coveted success in the blue riband class in last year’s Senior on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki. It came after Hickman ran into machine problems, but few would begrudge the hard-riding Yorkshireman his fully deserved victory. Harrison has been a regular in the British Superbike Championship in recent years, which he admits has improved his riding on the roads. With the continuity of competing for the same team coupled with his commitment to BSB, Harrison is likely to remain as Hickman’s main challenger in 2021.
Ballymoney’s Michael Dunlop sensationally announced in March that he was set to ride a Ducati V4-R for Paul Bird’s British Superbike team at the TT this year. Dunlop added a 19th TT win in 2019 with his second successive victory in the Lightweight race on the Italian Paton. However, injury hindered his chances on the bigger capacity machines. The 31-year-old is already the third most successful rider in the history of the event behind John McGuinness (23 wins) and his uncle Joey (26). Dunlop has won TT races for six different manufacturers and the challenge of putting Ducati on the top step is one Dunlop would relish. It remains to be seen if the partnership with Bird will be retained next year, but the Ulster rider will be very much in the spotlight again regardless as he bids to add to his tally.
Morecambe’s John McGuinness has nothing to prove to anyone but the 23-time TT winner was gearing up for a real crack at winning again this year after signing to ride the Quattro Plant Bournemouth Kawasaki. McGuinness has endured a tough few years after missing the TT in 2017 and 2018 through injury following a crash in practice at the North West 200. His return last year with Norton ended in disappointment after he retired from both the Superbike and Senior races. However, time is not on his side and McGuinness will be 49 at next year’s TT. A return to the top step is perhaps asking too much even of John McGuinness at this stage in his career, but podiums – particularly in the Superbike and Senior races – may not be out of the question.
Carrick’s Glenn Irwin would have been the most high-profile newcomer at the TT this year by far after joining Honda Racing for the roads campaign alongside exciting prospect Davey Todd in a new-look line-up. Irwin, a three-time BSB winner, has already proven his talent on the roads with four successive Superbike wins at the North West 200 and a victory at the Macau Grand Prix. The TT is a different challenge altogether, but Irwin has been doing his homework behind the scenes and has the right team behind him to ensure a successful debut on Honda’s all-new Fireblade CBR1000RR-R next June, when the ambitious Ulsterman will take his first step on the TT ladder.
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