A THRILLING TT IN PROSPECT
Now that Michael Dunlop has finally declared his hand and will be remaining with Buildbase Suzuki, all the major players and teams are now known to fans.
So what does this mean for the TT races and what can we expect? With the season fast approaching it is perhaps best to look back to 2017 if we are to hypothesise about the future.
Injuries curtailed the season of John McGuiness and Ian Hutchinson as the two veterans fell foul of the North West 200 and TT circuits respectively, both men having cages fitted to their damaged legs. Their biggest race in 2018 May well be a race to fitness rather than a race to the finish.
McGuinness will ride for marque Norton after a long and illustrious career spent at Honda, but as the door at Honda was closed for John, it opened up for Hutchy where he will partner Fermanagh man Lee Johnston.
Whether the two men can turnaround the fortune of the Japanese marque after a humiliating and torturous 2017 remains to be seen. At times, Lee Johnston has stated how he can struggle over a six lap TT, but he has victories at the other two internationals so the pedigree for success is apparent. Hutchinson has nothing to prove other than fitness; if the bike produces and he can last the distance, then clearly the man from Bingley will be a real threat.
The world’s fastest road racer, Dean Harrison maintains the status quo and will be riding his Kawasaki for Silicone Engineering. The 2018 Duke Rankings champion had a blistering season in 2017 which saw him consistently make improvements culminating in that unforgettable, dynamic Dundrod display. One to watch.
Tyco BMW gave Dan Kneen a chance at Dundrod and the Bradden man more than exceeded expectations, mixing it with the very best, Dan was for a short time the fastest road racer in the world. Clearly Tyco was impressed as Dan was signed for 2018. The Manx rider enjoyed consistently good performances throughout last year and in particular during the Superstock TT race where he recorded his fastest ever lap around the fabled mountain circuit.
No change at Padgetts so their lineup is Bruce Anstey and Conor Cummins. The evergreen Anstey showed his worth at Dundrod reeling back the years and mixing it with the very best on his way to a stellar Superbike victory whereas Cummins had a somewhat muted year.
The newly-formed Gulf BMW Road Racing Team has signed Australian rider David Johnson. With bikes that will be expertly prepared, former Norton pilot Johnson will be a serious threat come the North West 200 and Isle Of Man TT.
With a new full-time backer in Tim Martin and promised time on the bike which will include BSB rounds, William Dunlop, certainly one of the most stylish riders around, will be a contender this year. He proved at Dundrod that he has the big bike speed and with his newly fettled Yamaha R6 and his excellent supersport pedigree, this could be William’s year.
A rider who really came to the fore in 2017 was Peter Hickman. Long touted as a future TT winner, the Englishman enjoyed a stellar TT finishing on the podium in each race he contended. As impressive as that showing was, it was at the world’s fastest road race where he really showed his worth. The Ulster Grand Prix is in my opinion the most thrilling road race in the world and Hickman was a class apart as he tore through the field on his way to a superb treble. With the same backing this year and the time he gets on the bike when competing in BSB, surely Hickman will only go from strength to strength.
That leaves the mercurial, Michael Dunlop. The outright lap record holder around the Isle of Man always leaves his decision late, but he has decided to stay with Buildbase Suzuki and not forego a year’s vital development on the GSXR1000.
Few would argue that only Michael Dunlop could wrestle a Senior TT win on an unproven, brand new Suzuki machine. The Ballymoney man pulled off an astonishing victory over a shortened 4 lap race to take his TT winning tally to 15 wins. He also broke the stranglehold Ian Hutchinson had in the Supersport class, a class in which Dunlop is the record holder.
Things didn’t go to plan at the Ulster Grand Prix as power issues meant he wasn’t able to run at the same pace of his rivals, but one would expect that Steve and Stuart Hicken will have those issues sorted for the upcoming season. If the bike is right then Michael will start as favourite with all others gunning for him.
No doubt there will be surprises along the way but this is shaping up to be an absolutely thrilling season ahead.
Photo credit: iomtt.com
KMR KAWASAKI SIGN DEREK MCGEE
TT legend Ryan Farquhar has signed multiple Irish road-racing champion Derek McGee to contest the Supertwin class in 2018 including the Bennetts Lightweight TT at the Isle of Man TT Races fuelled by Monster Energy.
‘Mullingar Missile’ McGee won the Irish Superbike, Supersport and Supertwin Championships during a title-laden 2017 and he will open his campaign at the Cookstown 100 Road Races next April for Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki team.
“I’m just running Supertwin machines this year and Derek will ride for me for the whole season. He has the bike for the year and he can do pretty much whatever he wants – any national races he chooses – and he’ll do the North West 200, Isle of Man TT and Ulster Grand Prix,” Farquhar said.
“He’s in a good position for the national races and I’m fairly confident he will do a good job on all of his bikes, but especially on the twin. Hopefully we’ll be able to get him onto the podium again at some of the international races next year. IEG are on board again as my title sponsor for the TT and the agreement with them is that I have to run four Supertwin machines,” added Farquhar.
Farquhar’s team enjoyed a hugely successful 2017 with Michael Rutter turning back the clock as he won the second Supertwin Race at the North West 200, clinching his 14th victory around the Triangle Course. Rutter also finished as the runner-up in the opening Supertwin race on the KMR Kawasaki. There were more celebrations for Farquhar at the TT after Peter Hickman claimed a podium with third in the Lightweight Race, while Australia’s Josh Brookes finished sixth.
“We had a fantastic year with a first and second at the North West 200 and a third and a sixth at the TT,” said Farquhar. “It went well but a lot more development has gone into the bikes and they’ll be even more competitive next year than they were this season.”
“There is a new model out but at the moment I know there is a lot more potential in the older bike so I’m going to put all our effort into it,” he added. “I’m not going to risk the new bike at this stage because I’m not convinced that it’s a better package at this minute in time.”
Farquhar, meanwhile, has again ruled out racing himself in the immediate future. “I’m still waiting to get an operation on my ankle and I wouldn’t be fit enough to get on a bike and ride it the way I would want to. At the minute it’s just a no-go.”
Homage paid to Scottish Trailblazer McIntyre.
In 1957, legendary Scot, Bob McIntyre rode a red and white faired Gilera motorcycle on his way to becoming the first man to break the 100mph lap barrier at the Isle of Man TT.
Then 28, McIntyre surpassed the 100mph average speed barrier, his fastest lap being 101.12mph.
So fast forward a mere sixty years and to honour this extraordinary feat the current lap record holder at the TT, Michael Dunlop, rode the Gilera around the world famous mountain circuit lapping at an incredible 100.5mph.
Announcing that his feat was, 'Nothing compared to that of McIntyre', Dunlop, (clad in McIntyre leathers and helmet), was met with thunderous rounds of applause as he circled his way around the island course.
Most certainly one of the highlights of the year.
Our society is full of those who bemoan their situation and live in unhappy and fearful circumstances.
They constantly make false promises to themselves about bettering their lives, becoming fitter, losing weight, going for that promotion, climbing that mountain.
And yet, they are conditioned to remain firmly in one place trading away their dreams of tomorrow, for an already too familiar today, safe in the knowledge that, 'If I only stay where I am and don't cause too much trouble, then I'll be left alone'.
They have all the tools they need to instil within themselves the changes they require and yet they are conservative with their choices, they conform to normality and they fear their sense of security would be diminished if they only decided to give in to their inner adventurous spirit.
For nothing is more despairing than a spirit which has been sequestered and a soul that has been crushed.
When I hear people criticise and call for road racing to be banned in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, they use their insipid and vacuous reasoning, calling it an archaic sport which is supported by bloodthirsty fans. I must confess that I balk at their words because inherent in every human is the passion for adventure and an animated spirit longing to be let loose.
Everyone involved with road racing has that passion of the soul. From the marshals, club members, medics, countless volunteers, spectators and riders, they are all dedicated and making the choices that others only wish they had the courage to make themselves.
This is what makes us human. Our drive and determination to discover what's over the crest of the next hill. Road racers just want to get there a little quicker than most. Don't rush to judge them because of it. They have made an informed decision to break free from the restraints that hold the rest of us back. They make that choice on their own terms because their spirit is intact and they understand that wasting away and waiting for something to happen means that nothing ever will.
That is the very essence of self-exploration and in a world all too sanitised and guarded, that awareness and sense of discovery should be applauded, not sought to be extinguished.
Celebrate these road racers, these men and women because they have worked out what it means to be alive and all of those who make road racing possible understand this, and a more committed and purposeful group of people you will not find, that much I can assure you.
In all weathers, all year round, without getting paid, the clubs and volunteers work tirelessly and ceaselessly to preserve and to protect the sport. To make it as safe as possible and help ensure that the only true cross-community sport in Ireland can survive, and they do a wonderful job, one for which they do not get the recognition they so desperately deserve.
To the critics and detractors, before you call for the banning of the sport, please, stop and think about what you are asking.
You are asking to call a halt to the very thing that makes us who we are as human beings and when I refer to our spirit I say to you that yours is the worst kind. Cancer of the spirit.
Opinion: Dan Kneen writes his own ticket.
Dan Kneen once again proved his worth as a premier real roads racer with consistently supreme performances throughout the 2017.
Signing for the Penz13 outfit in 2017 was a boost which meant that the Manx rider would get invaluable time on the bike with the team's commitment to racing in the IRRC championship.
The 2014 Irish Roads Superbike Champion has had a difficult few years since dominating on the Irish scene with the Cookstown Burrows Engineering Team, but 2017 has seen the reemergence of a serious talent and a road racer everyone knows is of the absolute highest standard.
At this year's Isle Of Man TT, Kneen immediately made an impact during practice by running right at the front and shocking everyone else into action. It was a sign of things of things to come. Consistently running in the top 5 in all classes, Kneen sent out a marker but bad luck with penalties slightly dampened the high spirits which had been steadily building.
However, a phenomenal podium finish in the Superstock TT was a huge reward for Kneen, only finishing behind Ian Hutchinson and Peter Hickman. What made that result even sweeter for the Manx man was that result was gained on his own DTR machine.
On to Imatranajo and there was more success for Kneen as he passed five riders in three laps to take a superbike victory for the Penz13 team, a victory which saw him beat fellow teammates Michael Rutter and Alex Polita. A win at Imatranajo shouldn't be discounted. The class of the field, coupled with the technical nature of the track means that any victory there requires serious skill and toughness as a racer. That circuit, along with the caliber of the riders who contest it make it a real contender for a road racing classic.
So riding the crest of a wave Kneen found himself testing at Kirkistown on board a Tyco BMW less than a week before the 2017 Ulster Grand Prix. After the Tyco outfit lost their roads rider, Ian Hutchinson following a serious incident during the senior TT, and with Kneen showing the relevant form on BMW machinery, he was a natural replacement to take over duties at Dundrod and it was a decision which was hugely popular within the road racing fraternity.
Dan never missed a beat all week, running at the sharp end and mixing it with world's best on board a machine he had virtually no time on. For the briefest of time he was even the world's fastest road racer until Silicone Engineering's Dean Harrison claimed that crown.
During the final race of the UGP, Kneen and Harrison had a titanic tussle for the victory with both men showcasing to the thousands of fans lining the world's fastest road racing circuit just how much they belong at the sharp end. Kneen had built up a slight advantage on the last lap but that was soon closed and at the hairpin Harrison pulled a slightly questionable move to snatch the lead away and ultimately take victory by the slightest of margins.
Not winning the race may have dampened the spirits of Kneen, but every fan around the course will have left thinking that the popular and approachable Manx rider has more than earned his chance to write his own ticket for 2018 by proving that he is every bit as talented, classy and ultimately as quick as any roads rider out there.
One would expect the big teams to be calling and more victories and stellar results to follow next season.
PETER HICKMAN: THE EMERGENCE OF A STAR
It was a vintage Ulster Grand Prix and as the dust around Dundrod begins to settle we have seen the emergence of a talent that now looks set to dominate the sport for years to come.
From the first time Peter Hickman raced the roads he immediately made an impact that rattled the entire paddock. Blistering times coupled with a super smooth riding style saw to it that he was running right at the sharp end from the beginning of his roads career.
The 2017 Isle of Man TT saw the Lincolnshire rider finish on the podium five times in five races and a win on the island is now surely imminent.
However, it wasn't until the 2017 UGP roared into action that the Smith's Racing and Weise Motorcycle Clothing sponsored Hickman truly began to assert his utter dominance over the chasing pack. Consistently quick on all machines at the world's fastest road race is key to success and, 'Hicky' as he is affectionately known was surely that.
Few riders have a proclivity for being so talented on both the roads and short circuits, or apparoch both disciplines with the dedicated ebullience required for success, but Hickman surely does and with the Smith's team as backers, he has found consistency and time on the bike which has proved to be absolutely priceless.
Breaking the lap record during the Dundrod 150 Superbike Race on Thursday evening was a sign of things to come as he broke the Superstock lap record on his way to winning the maiden race on Saturday.
Two further wins on board the Trooper Triumph in the supersport class earned the Englishman the man of the meeting award and more importantly, set him up to enter the 2018 roads season as the man to beat in all classes. Add to that one of the bravest overtaking moves seen in recent memory as he bested Lee Johnston on the inside of Wheeler's. That move in particular drew gasps from the crowd and underlined for me just how ruthless a competitor Hickman has become
The likeable rider also endeared himself to many road racing fans as he spent all of his time on Friday meeting the fans and signing autographs and standing for photos. A genuinely nice guy off the bike, but a super fast guy on it.