It’s been an intriguing off-season in the real road racing world none more so than earlier this month when John McGuinness announced he’ll be lining up for Norton at the 2018 Isle of Man TT Races.
After 12 years with Honda, the Japanese manufacturer opted, in their wisdom, to dispense with the 23-times TT winner’s services, the viewpoint seemingly that he was over the hill and no longer able to challenge for race wins against the likes of Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson.
Doubt was clearly in their mind too about whether he’ll be fit enough to return given he’s still recovering from the leg injuries sustained at last year’s North West 200.
Race against time
The Morecambe Missile hasn’t ridden a bike since; indeed, he still has an external fixator fitted and there’s no doubt he faces a race against time to be fully fit for this year’s racing around the 37.73-mile Mountain Course.
However, the same remains true for Hutchinson who has, ironically, replaced McGuinness at Honda and whilst we have the intriguing prospect of the pairing lining up on new machinery, we could also be facing the prospect of neither of them being on the grid!
Hutchinson, of course, has seen it all before so knows what it takes whilst it’s new territory for McGuinness whilst, currently 45, he’s six years older than his younger rival.
The message from both camps though is that there’ll be lining up on the grid and raring to go come June so lets hope that’s the case.
Norton – a real contender
After all that time riding a Honda Fireblade, McGuinness will need to be 100% fit for the new challenge he faces at Norton especially as his testing programme looks set to be limited compared to others.
One thing in his favour though is that the Norton, powered by an Aprilia engine, is now a definite contender for the podium. Since making their comeback in 2012, it was slow progress for the British manufacturer but both 2016 and 2017 saw them make huge strides forward with Australians David Johnson and Josh Brookes on board.
Both riders lapped at almost 131mph at the 2017 TT with Brookes stating that in the hands of a Dunlop, Hutchinson or McGuinness, the bike was definitely capable of making a podium at least. He’ll be McGuinness’ team-mate later this year so both riders will be confident of success.
Honda hoping for better fortunes in 2018
After a hugely disappointing 2017 season, to say the least, which saw McGuinness suffer serious injury and Guy Martin’s hugely anticipated return end in a whimper, Honda will be hoping for a much better year in 2018.
The Fireblade should be a better weapon this time around after a full year’s development and in Hutchinson, they have a rider arguably more determined than anyone else out there. As mentioned above, he’s still to prove his fitness but both he and other new signing Lee Johnston will be hoping they’ve made the right move for the year ahead.
Elsewhere, the usual suspects will again be back fore more and by staying put with the same team and manufacturer, the likes of Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW), Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki), James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki), Bruce Anstey and Conor Cummins (Padgetts Honda) and Michael Rutter (Bathams/SMT Racing BMW) could well benefit greatly.
Familiarity on the roads – team, machine and tyres – is a huge key to success and all of the above will go into the season with an already tried and tested package which should see them reap further rewards.
Dan Kneen has taken Hutchinson’s place at Tyco BMW having impressed throughout 2017, particularly in his one-off appearance for the team at the Ulster GP whilst Australian Johnson will line up for an all-new BMW team, sponsored by Gulf and put together by Shaun Muir Racing.
And finally, there’s Michael Dunlop. The 15-times TT winner has yet to announce his plans for the Superbike class in 2018 as he seemingly weighs up his options but it’ll be highly unlikely that he’ll sway from his current Hawk Racing/Bennetts Suzuki team.
2017 wasn’t all plain-sailing but a Senior TT race win showed what the combination could do and with more mileage under their belts, the Northern Irishman will again be the man to beat once the International road racing starts at the North West 200 in May.
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.