This week sees the fastest road race in the world take place and whilst the Ulster Grand Prix was dealt a recent blow with the withdrawal of Guy Martin and Honda Racing, it promises to be another high speed few days of action.
A strong entry has again been assembled and whilst last year’s four-time race winner, and current outright lap record holder, Ian Hutchinson is also absent due to injury, the likes of Michael and William Dunlop, Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, Dan Kneen, Bruce Anstey, Lee Johnston and Conor Cummins will all be in attendance.
Dunlop v Harrison v Hickman v Kneen?
If recent form is anything to go by, especially at last month’s Southern 100, the favourites in the 1000cc races should be Michael Dunlop, Dean Harrison and Dan Kneen. The trio went head to head in all four Superbike races at Billown with Dunlop taking three wins on the Suzuki but Harrison coming out on top in the Solo Championship on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki.
There was little between the three riders in any of the races as the lap record was repeatedly smashed but whilst Dunlop has been victorious at the 7.4-mile Dundrod circuit on seven occasions already, Harrison has yet to taste victory, indeed he’s only been on the podium once. But that should certainly change this week and he’ll be a contender in all of the races, Supersport as well.
Manxman Kneen has had one of his best ever seasons with a maiden Isle of Man TT podium followed up by his aforementioned Southern 100 performances and he’s been rewarded for his efforts with a call up to the Tyco BMW team.
Replacing Hutchinson is a difficult task for sure but Kneen will be looking to grab the opportunity with both hands. He has fond memories of the Ulster GP as it was here where he took his first, and to date, only International road race win with a tiny 0.001s win over Harrison in the 2014 Superstock race. It remains the closest ever finish in the history of the event.
However, thrown into the mix again this week is Peter Hickman and having won the TT Championship with no less than five podiums, he’s a serious contender for race wins. The Smiths BMW rider has been on superb form this season on both the roads and the short circuits where he’s currently occupying one of the coveted Showdown positions in the British Superbike Championship. He was victorious at Dundrod in 2015 and the fastest newcomer ever will be looking to add to his haul of International road race wins.
Three-pronged attack from Padgetts:
The Batley-based Padgetts Honda Racing team focus all their efforts now on the International road races and in Bruce Anstey and Conor Cummins they have two former outright lap record holders in their ranks. Anstey took his 12th win at the Ulster twelve months ago as well as the first ever Superpole and whilst he had, by his standards a disappointing TT, he can never be ruled out.
Team-mate Cummins has also had a relatively low-key season but has enjoyed some of his best moments at the Ulster whilst the duo are joined, in the Supersport class at least, by the returning Lee Johnston.
Injured at the TT, the triple race winner of 2015 earmarked the UGP as his comeback event and he’s a welcome returnee to the entry list. How fit and competitive he is remains to be seen but he’ll be more than hopeful of making a serious impression on the results.
There are plenty of other riders capable of getting amongst the podium positions none more so that William Dunlop who already has 21 to his name at Dundrod. His 2017 has been consistent rather than spectacular and his best chances should again come in the two Supersport races.
Ivan Lintin on the Dafabet/Devitt Racing Kawasaki machinery will again be well to the fore, especially in the Supertwins race whilst a whole host of privateers will be queuing up to get the better of the established front runners including James Cowton, Jamie Coward, Dan Hegarty, Dan Cooper, Sam West and the Irish quartet of trio Derek Sheils, Derek McGee, Paul Jordan and talented youngster Adam McLean.
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.