Let's kick start the year with a biker event! Here's what's happening this month...
It’s TT Time
This Saturday sees practice for the Isle of Man TT races get underway and just as we’ve recently discussed how unpredictable the British Superbike Championship is, then the same certainly applies to the road racing discipline.
The recent North West 200 gave us an indication of form and whilst some riders, and manufacturers, performed better than others, it’s fair to say a number of riders – if not many – see the TT as the ‘big one and prefer to keep their powder dry, so to speak, whilst the two circuits are vastly different. What, or who, goes well at the NW200 doesn’t always transfer across to the TT. One rider told me he gets more out of testing in Spain or the UK than he does at the North West 200 when it comes to TT set-up; all the North West is really useful for is seeing how the bike’s high speed stability is.
The Superbike class, as always, remains the ‘daddy’ class, and with four riders breaking the 132mph barrier for the first time in 2015 and more riders lapping in excess of 130mph than ever before, it really is a case of every second counts. Gone are the days of a rider winning having only ridden at 90-95% and if you’re not on it from the moment you get that tap on the shoulder, you’re not going to win – it’s as simple as that.
Having recently celebrated his 44th birthday, John McGuinness remains the benchmark for everyone in the Superbike class and his Senior win 12 months ago was, arguably, one of the best of his 23 victories. He might only have finished sixth at the North West 200 but he was only a couple of seconds adrift of second place and everyone know the Morecambe man and his Honda Fireblade are happiest around the 37 and ¾ mile Mountain Course.
Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson have shown excellent form so far this year, particularly the latter who not only sparkled at the North West but has also been riding better than ever on the short circuits. Three podiums in the first three rounds of the Pirelli National Superstock 1000 Championship prove that and with a hat-trick and five podiums in total in 2015, he’s hungry for another Superbike or Senior TT win.
Dunlop, of course, had a year to forget at the TT last year with a last minute change in team causing a number of issues and tings went from bad to worse when he crashed in the Superbike race. Riding injured all week, he set the second fastest lap ever in the Senior race and is back with his favoured Hawk Racing BMW team so he could get back to the dominance he showed in 2013 and 2014.
Bruce Anstey was the first rider to break the 132mph barrier, in 2014, and he finally won his first Superbike race at the TT last year. With his Valvoline Racing/Padgetts Honda going through the NW200 speedtrap at close to 210mph, it’s clearly the fastest bike out there so if he’s 100% fit after his spill in Ireland, the Kiwi could well add to his tally of 10 TT wins.
Check out Anstey in action breaking the 132mph in 2014…
One thing that stood out at the North West 200 was the strength in depth of BMW, particularly in the Superstock class. With six out of the top seven riders all riding the Bavarian machine, it seems almost certain the corresponding race at the TT will be won by them especially as the Honda and Yamaha machines aren’t quite competitive. Hutchinson and Dunlop may have the edge but the likes of Lee Johnston, Gary Johnson, Michael Rutter and Martin Jessopp will all be pushing for the podium. The latter’s only coming into his third year at the TT but his NW200 form was excellent so he could be a dark horse for the podium.
From what we saw in Ireland only Peter Hickman, James Hillier and Dean Harrison on the new ZX-10R Kawasaki stand in their way of a clean sweep of the podium places. The ZX-10R was a little bit down on top end speed along the long straights of the Triangle circuit but with the TT seeing shorter straights, it’s more about flowing corners and a good handling machine, so they could be well placed to upset the German party.
Strength in depth
One thing’s for sure at the TT nowadays is that the strength in depth is better than it’s ever been. While some die-hards will look back at the ‘good old days’ of the 1960s when the island hosted the world championship, those races were won by minutes not the fractions of a second we see now. As well as the aforementioned riders, people like Conor Cummins, William Dunlop, Cameron Donald, Dan Kneen, Steve Mercer and Ivan Lintin will all feature in some, if not all, of the classes.
Number one aim
Whilst we’re all looking forward to some high-speed close racing, what everyone wants most of all is a good, safe fortnight. Clive Padgett told me that whilst winning races for his Valvoline Racing by Padgetts Honda team is a tremendous feeling, the feeling of everyone coming home safe is even better so we echo those sentiments and wish everyone a tremendous, enjoyable fortnight.
Are you excited for TT 2016? Leave your comments below.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.