Road racing returns to the Isle of Man next week with the annual Southern 100 road races and the self-confessed ‘Friendly Races’ should again see some superb action.
First held in 1955, the Southern 100 takes place on the 4.25-mile Billown circuit on the outskirts of Castletown and whilst the line-up isn’t quite up to the standard of the flag-bearing Isle of Man TT races, some of the finest road racers, on both two and three wheels, will again be in attendance.
The circuit is without doubt one of the most challenging on the road racing calendar and certainly isn’t for the feint-hearted. Essentially a square in layout, Billown is extremely fast – the lap record currently stands at just over 114mph – and is also extremely bumpy. And with stone walls lining the course, being neat and precise is paramount to being successful.
Will he or won’t he?
This year’s meeting looks like it will be without one of its prize assets, Guy Martin. The Lincolnshire rider hasn’t ridden anywhere since his accident at last year’s Ulster GP, instead concentrating on his TV work and cycling aspirations, having recently completed the punishing Tour Divide race in America. The Southern 100 has always been his favourite meeting and whilst there’s still a chance he may be on the grid, it looks highly unlikely.
That should mean TT hero Michael Dunlop lines up as favourite on his Hawk Racing BMW, the Ulsterman having won the feature Championship race on two previous occasions. The last time though was back in 2012 and, having crashed out of last year’s race, he’ll be keen to get his name back on the trophy this time around.
Brother William will also be in attendance on his Yamaha machinery but Michael’s biggest challenger will, arguably, be Dean Harrison. The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider has been in superb form this season with countless wins at Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough and stellar performances at TT where he stood on the podium three times and finished second overall in the TT Championship.
He’s won numerous races at the Southern 100 in recent years too but has yet to take the feature Championship race and whilst Michael Dunlop is clearly at the top of his game, Harrison won’t be phased one bit.
Local star returns:
One man keen to make an impression will be local star Dan Kneen. The Braddan rider’s season got off to a superb start at the Irish National road races but a mountain bike crash left him with a broken arm and ruled him out of both the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT, bitter disappointment for both him and his Mar-Train Racing Yamaha team.
Still only 28, Kneen hasn’t been a regular at the Southern but 2015 saw him have a great week at Billown with the highlight being a close second to Martin in the feature Championship race. As soon as he got injured, he penciled in the Southern as his return and he’ll certainly want to make amends for missing two of the biggest meetings of the year.
Other riders expected to have strong weeks on the island include Devitt RC Express Racing’s Ivan Lintin, the Lincolnshire rider having won numerous races at Billown, Jamie Coward, James Cowton, Ryan Kneen, Lintin’s team-mate and newcomer to the circuit Alan Bonner, and 2016 TT Privateer’s Champion Dan Hegarty.
World Champions return:
It’s not just about the solos though as the Formula Two Sidecar class has attracted a stellar line-up too, headed by World Champions Tim Reeves/Patrick Farrance and Ben and Tom Birchall. Both are former Champions at the Southern, with Reeves having won in both 2013 and 2015 and Birchall in 2012 so the arch rivals will be going at it hammer and tongs once more next week.
Also in the line-up though is 6-time Champion Dave Molyneux, with Dan Sayle in the chair and having been out of luck at the TT, there’ll want to get back to winning ways.
The chairs will, of course, be missing one of its favourite sons though with Ian Bell tragically having lost his life at the TT in June. The Bedlington man has his place in the history books as the only person to win both the Solo and Sidecar Championships at the Southern and his presence will be sorely missed.
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.