Last year saw some scintillating racing and some stunning speeds as every lap record was broken with the outright lap record now standing at 135.452mph and making the TT the fastest road race in the world. Only time will tell if this year sees more of the same but all of the leading protagonists from twelve months ago are back for more with last year’s double race winner Peter Hickman leading the way.
The man to beat
With wins in the Superstock and Senior races as well as the aforementioned outright lap record, Hickman is, arguably, the man to beat, as he continues with the Smiths Racing team for a third straight year.
The Burton upon Trent rider has had limited track time with the new BMW S1000RR but he’s recently hit top form in the British Superbike Championship and on the roads where he took a convincing win in the dry Superstock race at last week’s North West 200.
His TT form has been exemplary in recent years with five podiums in 2017 and four more last year whilst his speeds have moved the game on considerably and to such an extent that it looks like only a very small number can match him.
However, he can expect challenges from all the usual suspects once more particularly Dean Harrison whom he enjoyed numerous titanic battles with in 2018. It was Harrison’s pace in practice week last year which laid down the gauntlet to the rest of the field and he’s bound to be even stronger this time around.
Like Hickman, his year has started strongly as he continues to climb the ladder in the BSB series whilst strong results in Northern Ireland on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki’s show he’s as strong as ever. He’ll be determined to repeat his TT performances of last year when he contested the race wins in each class and a big bike win will certainly be his main aim.
If last year is anything to go by, the only other rider who will push Hickman and Harrison is Michael Dunlop, the Ulsterman getting back into the swing of racing at the North West 200 where, despite his long lay-off, he ran in the leading pack.
Another hat-trick last year moved him on to 18 wins, the third highest of all time, but he wasn’t able to dominate like he had done previously and he needs to find some pace to bridge the gap to Hickman and Harrison. Few will be more determined than Dunlop though in 2019.
Those three were the standout performers in 2018 and that makes them the men to beat but last year saw James Hillier and Conor Cummins take podium positions and both will be in the mix again as they strive to stand on the top step.
Both riders are riding as well as ever as seen at the North West 200 where Hillier proved to be the Man of the Meeting with a first, second – in the feature Superbike race – third and fourth with the Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki rider riding better than ever.
Indeed, he’ll be brimming with confidence and has to be considered amongst the favourites for the races around the Mountain Course having already taken 12 podiums. The Hampshire rider has a very sensible approach to his road racing and won’t take any unnecessary risks but if he can find 1-2 more mph, he won’t be far away.
The same applies to Cummins who finished on the podium in both of the Superbike races last year whilst he too was on form at the North West 200 on the Milenco by Padgetts Motorcycles Honda’s. He now has eight podiums at the TT to his name and whilst like Hillier he’s currently almost 3mph slower than Hickman, he has every chance of closing that gap this time around.
Two legends of the Mountain Course, John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson, return at full strength with the former now Norton-mounted and the latter back with Honda for a second year. Both have a point to prove and although their preparations didn’t go quite to plan at the North West 200, the TT is their number one priority and we can expect both of them to be challenging at the top of the leaderboard particularly Hutchinson.
The comeback king hasn’t had the smoothest of journeys since joining Honda and with the team having decided to skip a number of races at the North West 200 due to the inclement weather, he perhaps has more work to get through during practice week than he would have liked.
The same applies to McGuinness who had his first competitive outing on the Norton at the North West 200. This will also be his first time in race action at the TT since 2016 and whilst no one knows the course better than the Morecambe rider, a three-year lay off is a long time away.
A near 132mph last year by Josh Brookes shows the Norton’s potential though and their reliability has been one of their strong points so the 23-time winner will be hoping he has two trouble free weeks on the island, on the Superbike at least. The new Norton Superlight, which he’s scheduled to ride in the Lightweight race, was a long way off the pace at the NW200 though so there are more questions than answers about the bike at this stage.
Johnston looking to impress
After a relatively lacklustre year with Honda, Lee Johnston has gone back to privateer status in 2019, a tried and tested method that saw him reap the rewards previously and one that he hopes will do the same this year.
Early indications are that he’s already been proven right with a strong return to the British Supersport Championship followed up by a superb Supersport win at the North West 200, his first at the venue since 2015.
It’s been a while since he’s been at the sharp end at the TT but he looks to be in great form on the striking blue Ashcourt Racing machines and he comes into this year’s TT hungrier and sharper than ever before. He’s aiming for podiums, at least, in all of his races with the top step in the Supersport class firmly in his sights.
For the first time since 2017, the Superbike and Senior races will see some MotoGP technology on the grid with veteran Michael Rutter riding the Honda RC213V-S.
The MotoGP-derived bike has been seen in action on the Mountain Course in the hands of Bruce Anstey and the Padgetts team with the Kiwi lapping in excess of 131mph but it will be Rutter’s first time with the bike on the island.
He fared well at last year’s Macau Grand Prix although the North West 200 didn’t quite go as well as he’d expected so he’ll be hoping for some good weather during practice week to get the bike, particularly the electronics, fully dialled in.
A consistent top six finisher in recent years, the Bridgnorth rider may find it difficult to crack the top three but he’ll have great chances of success in the Lightweight and TT Zero races where he’ll be riding for KMR Kawasaki and Mugen, where he’ll be joined by McGuinness, respectively.
Todd and McGee ready to step up
Last year saw Derek McGee and Davey Todd do battle at all of the Irish National road races but whilst McGee took second in the Lightweight TT, it was the latter who stole the headlines at the International meetings.
Todd became the second fastest newcomer in the history of the TT with a lap in excess of 128mph and although the second year is, arguably, more challenging, the way he’s started his 2019 campaign looks like he’ll make an even bigger impression this year.
The 23-year old was in superb form at the North West 200, claiming his maiden International road race victory for the Padgetts team and immediately following it up with third on the Penz13.com BMW Superstock machine and although the TT is a different proposition, all eyes will be eagerly watching his progress.
McGee, meanwhile, has enjoyed a superb start to his season with multiple wins at the Cookstown 100 and Tandragee 100 road races whilst he too was on the podium at the North West 200. He’s firmly aiming at the top step in the Lightweight race this year but don’t bet against top six finishes coming his way in the other classes too.
As well as the factory-supported riders, there are plenty of privateers looking to get in amongst the established guard including Sam West and Phil Crowe, who were only fractions short of their maiden 130mph laps last year, with Jamie Coward, Daley Mathison, Derek Sheils and Dafabet Devitt Racing’s Paul Jordan also expected to challenge strongly.
Everyone will be hoping for two good weeks of weather but, more importantly, two safe weeks 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 Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. 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.