Road racing 2019: Hickman v Harrison, and Dunlop’s return?

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Road racing killed his father and his uncle. And little has been heard of Michael Dunlop’s intentions since a crash during practice at Skerries took brother William’s life last year.

It will have been a period of intense introspection for the Ballymoney man - relieved by his first appearance in public at his brother’s posthumous induction to the Hall of Fame last week - but if the rumours are correct he will be back at the TT, if not before, and on a BMW Superbike with an Ireland-based team…

Road racing in Ireland is not just a profession or a hobby. It is a calling, a way of life and never more clearly demonstrated than William and Michael’s insistence on racing at the 2008 North West 200, against all advice, following the death of father Robert days before.

If this is the case, then there will be a serious challenger to Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison’s King of the Roads claim, although it is difficult to see past either of them. Who can forget their titanic duel in last year’s Pokerstars Senior TT when Hickman outsprinted his rival, creating an all-time lap record of 135.452mph, in a last lap dash over the Mountain to snatch victory.

It came after Harrison’s opening lap of 133.678mph, a one-time lead of 6.2 seconds and a final lap of 134.918mph were, in the end, just not enough.

The 28-year-old Yorkshireman is the outright lap record holder of 134.615mph at Dundrod and the TT is only one event although the most prestigious of all. Right behind it are the North West 200, the Ulster Grand Prix, the Southern 100, the Macau GP and many great Irish races. Not forgetting Scarborough if the wrangle between the owner of Oliver’s Mount and the promoter can be settled.

Harrison admits that it was Hickman’s short circuit experience which gave him the edge on the ascent and descent of the Mountain at the TT. He is determined to use his entries at BSB races, where he showed distinct improvement last year, to sharpen up his act for 2019.

Non-historians should be aware that in the ‘good’ old days when top riders were adept on any circuit it was a so-called short circuit scratcher Derek Minter who set the first 100mph lap on a single, a Steve Lancefield Manx Norton in 1960.

Can we discount two of the greatest road racers of modern times, John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson? Only from the full calendar, which they will not be contesting, but not from the big three although both are still suffering from injuries sustained in crashes two years ago.

McGuinness made a great comeback when he won the Senior Classic TT last year, will be Norton- mounted for the Senior this time and is determined to open his season at the North West where he was lucky not get killed during practice on a works Honda in 2017.

His Norton team-mate has not yet been named but Aussie Davo Johnson and Lee Johnston are both in the frame. A strong team.

Hutchy is making yet another miraculous recovery from his second big crash, in the 2017 TT. In his inimitably dry Yorkshire humour he cracked: ”It’s a good job it was my left leg again, if it had been the other one I wouldn’t have been able to walk!”

He has got a works Honda and provided the Japanese factory, whose support for the TT is unsurpassed, match that enthusiasm with providing more competitive machinery than they have in recent years, he could yet make the podium.

Manxman Connor Cummins, another big crash survivor, has been given a new lease of life by Clive Padgett. He will certainly be a contender as will James Hillier.

The rider pack behind includes those who have shown they can win on tracks other than the TT - NW200 record holder Alastair Seeley (24 wins),Derek Sheils and Derek McGee being among them. They have been on many podiums and up-and- comers like Adam McLean and Paul Jordan who will be soon.

Among those up-and-comers is a young north easterner called Davey Todd. Until 2017 most of his competitive riding was off-road. Last year was his first at the TT and with one of his laps at more than 128mph he was fastest newcomer. At the Ulster he had a horrendous crash at Deers Leap and was lucky to escape relatively unscathed, sadder but wiser.

Is he capable of challenging the big three in his second year in road racing? This 23-year-old probably thinks he is and so he should. But challenging and winning are two different things. Sharing a podium with any of the above would be progress indeed, the opportunity should be taken but time is on his side.

Names not to be dismissed are Skerries hero Michael Sweeney, Jamie Coward, Horst Saiger, Gary Johnson, Shaun Anderson plus Macau top man Danny Webb and, of course Mr Versatility Michael Rutter whose ability to win on circuits short or long, wet or dry is legendary.

Bruce Anstey’s battle with cancer did not prevent him doing an exhausting but remarkably quick demo lap at the Classic TT. The great New Zealander, who clearly ranks alongside any of the above, will not have given up hope of making a TT appearance in one form or another and Clive Padgett has said: “We will always have a bike for him.”

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