This week sees the final International road race of the season, on the domestic front at least, take place with the Ulster Grand Prix taking its regular early-August slot. There’s an undoubted cloud hanging over road racing this year and this year’s line-up is understandably affected as a result but the high-speed Dundrod circuit will again play host to some spectacular racing.
Hickman and Harrison part 2?
After their heroics at the Isle of Man TT, a quick glance at this year’s entry list suggests we’re all set for part two of Peter Hickman versus Dean Harrison with the duo the undoubted favourites for race honours.
Hickman took two race wins at the TT to Harrison’s one with their Senior race epic, where Hickman set a new outright lap record of 135.452mph, still talked about today and with a hat-trick at last year’s Ulster GP, the Smiths Racing BMW rider may have the slight edge.
Despite suffering with illness, which saw him hospitalised on the eve of race day, he also arrives at Dundrod on a high after taking two podium finishes at last weekend’s British Superbike Championship round at Thruxton.
However, Harrison took his maiden Ulster GP victory in last year’s second Superbike race and set the course lap record of 134.614mph so he has all the ingredients to serve up a repeat performance. The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki star is also a better rider than what he was twelve months ago so the scene is perfectly set.
Honda set to challenge
There are a number of riders who will have a say in it being a two-rider show though, none more so than the Honda pairing of Conor Cummins and Lee Johnston.
Manxman Cummins has returned to his best form in 2018 and after a strong showing at the North West 200, he took two excellent podiums in the Superbike and Senior TT races, his home event. He also excels at Dundrod, having previously held the lap record, and took his 11th podium at the event last year. He’s clearly at home on the Padgetts Honda’s and will be a definite threat this week.
Johnston, meanwhile, took a hat-trick of victories in 2015 and, like Cummins, also has 11 podiums to his name. Although he had a good North West 200, the Honda Racing rider had a relatively low key time at the TT so will be looking to end the season on a high, especially as team-mate Ian Hutchinson will be missing as he continues to recover from injury.
Johnson leads Tyco challenge
With Michael Dunlop expected to be missing from Dundrod, taking time out of racing after the tragic loss of brother William at the Skerries 100 last month, Tyco BMW have enlisted the services of David Johnson for the meeting with the Australian adding to the list of potential race winners.
Johnson has been riding for the Gulf BMW team this year, taking a brace of fourth place finishes at the TT and although he hasn’t always enjoyed the greatest of fortunes at the Ulster GP, last year saw him take a best finish to date – another fourth – in the Superstock race. He also took sixth and seventh in the two Superbike races and having already lapped at 131.453mph, he cannot be ruled out.
Riding for the Philip and Hector Neill’s highly successful team gives the 35-year old a great chance of claiming his maiden International race victory.
Opportunity for privateers
With injuries, illness and tragedy sadly robbing the event of a number of its star riders, it does give an opportunity for other riders to shine especially some of the leading privateers like Sam West and Phil Crowe. They excelled at the TT and have already shown good form around Dundrod whilst Derek McGee will be confident of making a major impression having dominated the National events in Ireland this year. McAdoo Racing’s Adam McLean, Dan Cooper and the Dafabet Devitt Racing pairing of Dominic Herbertson and Paul Jordan all have a golden opportunity to impress too.
As always, the unpredictable Dundrod weather may have a significant part to play and although most of the UK continues to enjoy Mediterranean temperatures, initial forecasts suggest we could be in for a wet race day. However, the most important thing for the event is that everyone has a safe and enjoyable week of racing.
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.