Isle of Man TT: Six big talking points as race returns

Seven of Michael Dunlop’s 19 TT wins have come in the Supersport class

The Isle of Man TT is back.

Three years after machines last roared around the demanding 37.73-mile Mountain Course at the world’s most famous road racing event, the high-speed action is set to resume.

The Covid-19 pandemic put pay to the 2020 and 2021 versions of the races but that two-year hiatus means riders, teams, organisers and fans are returning with even more enthusiasm for the 2022 staging.

With anticipation mounting ahead of what is regarded as the ultimate challenge in the sport, we look ahead to some of the big talking points surrounding this year’s meeting.

What will be different in 2022?

The TT organisers have used the extended break from on-track action to examine all aspects of the event and have outlined bold plans for the future across a range of areas.

Sweeping safety changes introduced for 2022 represent an attempt to make the event safer for riders and also ensure its long-term future by taking measures to minimise risk where possible.

These include a significant reduction in grid numbers, with the starters for every race being cut to 50, plus the introduction of a new GPS tracking and timing system.

Another new feature will be warm-up laps on race days, while higher standards of safety equipment will also come into effect.

In addition, all practice sessions and races will be streamed live for the first time as part of a marked increase in digital content.

The race schedule will remain the same as that which was originally planned for the 2020 running, with a Superbike race, two Supersport outings, two sidecar events, individual Superstock and Supersport races and the blue riband Senior TT bringing the meeting to a close.

Changes are afoot for the following year however, with additional Superstock and Supertwin races planned and the Senior set to move from its traditional Friday slot to a Saturday staging.

Is there any stopping Hickman, Harrison and Dunlop?

Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison
Hickman has won two of the last three ‘big bike’ TT races and Harrison the other

As riders return to familiarise themselves with the TT circuit again, can anyone challenge the established order of recent years that has seen the dominance of Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop?

Hickman secured five wins in two years at the 2018 and 2019 events and will take in all the solo classes, including the feature Superbike and Senior races on his FHO Racing-prepared BMWs, for whom he competes in British Superbikes.

Harrison continues to campaign Kawasakis in the colours of DAO Racing, the Yorkshireman aiming to add to his three race wins so far.

Nineteen-time winner Dunlop represents no less than four manufacturers in four different classes – he rides a Suzuki in the Superbike and Senior, Honda in the Superstock, Yamaha in Supersports and a Paton in the Supertwins – a category he won in 2018 and 2019.

Among the likely challengers to that successful trio is Davey Todd, racing at the event for only the third time but already a North West 200 winner and quadruple runner-up finisher at this year’s road race meeting in Northern Ireland.

The Yorkshireman’s current rich vein of form saw him leave the Triangle circuit with Superstock and Supersport lap records and he currently lies third in the British National Superstock short circuit series.

Lee Johnston should contend strongly for a repeat of his 2019 Supersport success, with Manxman Conor Cummins, James Hillier, John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson among those in the running for rostrum positions.

Davey Todd excelled with two second places in the Supersport class at the North West 200
Davey Todd excelled with two second places in the Supersport class at the North West 200

Could the lap records be bettered?

If the weather conditions are favourable, the riders get plenty of track time under their belt and the bikes can put some rubber down on the track, then the lap records for the various classes, which were all set in 2018, could well come under threat.

Peter Hickman is now in possession of the lap records for the North West 200, the Isle of Man TT and the Ulster Grand Prix, with his benchmark for the Mountain Course standing at 135.452mph.

Much will depend on how quickly the top stars can get up to their previous lap speeds after a three-year absence, with Hickman, Harrison and Dunlop the men most likely to rewrite the record books.

Dunlop became the first man to break the 133mph and sub-18 minute barriers in 2016, with Harrison taking the lap record to new heights with a speed of 134.432mph in the 2018 Superbike race.

Hickman raised the bar further to the current lap record later in the week in a thrilling Senior race, in which he edged rival Harrison to take victory.

Hickman holds the Superstock lap record at 134.403, with Dunlop in possession of the Supersport and Supertwins benchmarks at 129.197mph and 122.750 respectively.

Riders will explain that races should be won at the slowest possible speed so a race which may involve a last-lap scrap for victory, on a flying lap with no slowing down for or including time for pit-stops, is the most likely to yield a new benchmark.

Any exciting newcomers?

Glenn Irwin
Glenn Irwin took his tally of North West 200 wins to six with a Superbike double on 14 May

The standout newcomer for 2022 is regular British Superbike frontrunner and six-times North West 200 Superbike race winner Glenn Irwin.

The Northern Ireland rider will make his long-awaited debut on the Isle of Man three years later than planned and has put in plenty of homework in preparation for his much-anticipated bow on the Mountain Course.

Irwin’s pedigree is similar to that of other BSB regulars who took up the challenge of competing at the TT in recent years, including Steve Plater, Josh Brookes and Peter Hickman, all of whom left the island with Best Newcomer Awards and ‘Fastest Lap by a Newcomer’ accolades on their first appearances.

The Carrickfergus native will ride in the Superbike and Superstock classes and will aim to tap into the wealth of experience and knowledge built up by Honda Racing team-mate John McGuinness.

The fastest-ever lap by a newcomer stands at 129.104mph by Hickman in 2014.

Could it be the last TT for some of its veteran stars?

Michael Rutter and John McGuinness
Michael Rutter and John McGuinness are in the latter stages of their racing careers

John McGuinness, winner of 23 TT races, hinted after receiving his MBE in February that he may retire following this year’s event, but has since indicated he has yet to decide whether to hang up his leathers.

The Morecambe rider is set to make his 100th TT start in the six-lap Superbike race, scheduled for Saturday 4 June.

McGuinness recently celebrated his 50th birthday two days before friend and rival Michael Rutter, who has also yet to make a decision on his racing future.

The Midlands rider, a seven-times winner, already manages the Bathams Racing team, in whose colours he will again compete at the 2022 TT.

What about the starting order?

After being awarded the number one plate, John McGuinness will lead the field away in five races, including the feature Superbike and Senior events.

He will be chased down by second starter Dean Harrison, with 16-time winner Ian Hutchinson in hot pursuit as the fourth to leave the line.

James Hillier and Michael Dunlop go at five and six, with Davey Todd eighth away, Peter Hickman in his now traditional number 10 spot and Manxman Conor Cummins at 11.

Riders leave the line at 10-second intervals, with their position in the race decided on corrected time.

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