The countdown to TT 2019 picked up pace when many of the leading contenders for honours were on the island for the press launch. There were some individual team events during the day bu,t as ever, the main event was held in the Villa Marina. All of the seats available to the fans were full; sadly quite a large number of the reserved seats in the centre of the auditorium were left vacant by invitees who did not attend. The seating arrangements are not finding favour with either riders or fans; organisers , please note.
The event followed the tried and tested format of riders being interviewed on stage; this year by Steve Plater and Matt Baker. The relaxed atmosphere that they created led to some good banter being exchanged. First on stage was outright lap record holder and double winner from last year; Peter Hickman. Like many he stays put; riding for Smith’s BMW in the big classes. He, like fellow BMW riders, is impressed with the new bike; he first test rode this in July last year. He stays with Triumph power for the Supersport races but has joined a new 3 man team for Norton on the unknown quantity that is the Superlight, 650cc machine. His co-pilots are John McGuinness and last year’s star newcomer Davey Todd. Clearly the Norton team means business on its first foray into the Supertwin arena. Peter has kept his favourite number 10 for the races.
Conor Cummins stays with Padgetts for a fourth year and retains the number 1 plate. Padgetts have Milenco on board as their headline sponsors. Last year brought Conor podium finishes in the Superbike and Senior Races. With Padgett’s working their magic on the bikes and Honda factory support in the background a very determined Conor will be looking to be on the podium again this year. Aerodynamics may prevent him from gaining a podium in the Supersport; but he should be in the top 6.
Hutchy’s plan to fly himself over did not work out; the Manx weather stopping that. Ian has been putting many hours of training to ensure that he is fit to race; despite this his left leg is still not as he would like it to be. He is as demanding of the Honda team as he is of himself. The team has thus far done everything asked of it; hopefully he will have the bike to match his talent and determination when he lines up in June. Davo Johnson steps into the Honda team berth left vacant by Lee Johnston. It is reward for Davo’s performances on the Nortons and last year back on BMW. Hutchy’s influence should ensure that the Hondas are as good as Davo hopes; if so he will be fighting for a podium finish.
The legend that is Dave Molyneux has changed tack completely. No winter of building a new chassis for him; he has joined the majority and purchased an LCR chassis from the Birchall brothers. He has returned to Yamaha power and with a few aerodynamic tweeks to the fairing will be the main threat to the Birchalls domination of the class. Dan Sayle’s big accident in the Classic TT left Dave looking for a new passenger. Dave has recruited former X Factor contestant Harry Payne; who last year made a superb start to his TT career with Michael Jackson. Despite a problematic practice they finished the week as third fastest newcomers of all time behind two World Champion pairings; Ben and Tom Birchall: Tim Reeves and Patrick Farrance. If the new outfit prevents Dave from being 10mph slower on the straights he will right at the sharp end. Dave chose number 7 as it is 30 years since his first win and he rode number 7 that day.
Lee Johnston has joined a new team, Ashcourt Racing; but with East Coast Racing and Burdens, his long time sponsors staying with him. In the big bike classes he will have BMW power. He will be contesting the BSB Supersport after a lengthy absence; in this he has Yamaha power. Like others, he expects the extra track time to hone his skills and to be right on the pace come June. He has joined the KMR squad for the Supertwins Race that is looking like being the most closely contested race of the week. The Supersport class would appear to offer his most realistic chance of standing on the podium; it would be hugely popular should he manage to do so.
Last year’s star newcomer; Davey Todd has left the Burrow’s team to join Rico Penzkofer’s Penz 13 team in the big bike classes. They have a great reputation for producing top notch bikes; with this in mind we can expect to see Davey crack the 130mph barrier this year. He has signed to ride for Padgett’s in the Supersport class; he was sensational on the 600cc bike at last year’s TT and S100; his seeded start number shows that the organisers also think so. We can expect him to be in the top 10 this year, with the guidance of the Padgett team and Conor Cummins available to him. The final surprise from this fine young man was that he has been snapped up by Norton for their Supertwin team. With Hicky and John McGuinness as team mates he will not be short of advice and encouragement from within that team.
Derek McGee made a great return to the TT last year; taking second in the Supertwins (Lightweight) Race behind Michael. He stays with the KMR team for this race and will be pushing for a win again. He will also be a live contender for the Supersport Races. He is another who will be looking to crack 130mph in the big bike races.
Dean Harrison looks very relaxed and confident. He set the fastest standing start lap of all time last year and briefly held the absolute lap record. With BSB racing giving extra track time he will be sharp as a new tack when he arrives for practice. The new bike has performed very well in track testing; however the TT course requires superb handling for the bumps, not just raw power. With a fair wind, Dean will be odds on to add to his two wins.
Another two times winner, Gary Johnson, has been hampered by injury and team changes in recent years. Now settled at RAF Reserves Kawasaki and with the best of bikes this year; a fully fit Gary will be pushing for at least a podium finish in the Superbike and Supersport classes. He remains with Triumph for the Supersport; but these bikes may not be quite quick enough to win. After 4 years he has switched from the Chinese WK Moto outfit to the proven KMR team; he will have real chance of taking this race.
Next it was the turn of two good friends to take to the stage. Michael Rutter and John McGuinness may have reached veteran status; but that is no hindrance; class is permanent. There aere surprisingly perky considering that they not long since arrived from Australia. John will be campaigning the Norton in the Superbike and Senior; this bike is close to where it needs to be to challenge for victory; Josh Brookes put it around at 131.754mph last year. Josh is a notable absentee this year. John is looking for a competitive ride in the Supersport races; surely he will not be looking for long. As mentioned; he will be riding the new Norton Superlight in the Lightweight race (I still don’t see a 650 as being a lightweight; too old for that). The ever consistent Michael Rutter will provide some real interest in the Superbike and Senior because he will be riding an RCV (as ridden previously by Brice Anstey). It seems certain that one of these two friends will win at least one race because they are the riders of the Mugens in the TT Zero race.
James Hillier stays with Bournemouth Kawasaki for another year (11 in all). James will not set the world alight in practice; as he says, you can only lose a race in practice; but come race day he will be right on the pace and challenging in all of the big bike races and the Supersport races. Only Michael Dunlop and John McGuinness have produced more 130mph+ laps than James; with a new bike he is a dark horse to add to his sole win to date.
Ben and Tom Birchall have raised the bar in the Sidecar class; they took another double last year and raised the lap record to a scarcely believable 119.250mph; giving them 13s in hand over second on the all time lap charts; John Holden and Lee Cain. If all goes according to plan they could claim another double; John Holden, Tim Reeves and Dave Molyneux are the only drivers who have the capability to upset their apple cart.
A treble winner last year; Michael Dunlop signed early for another year with Tyco BMW. They will provide his Superbike; if the handling can be sorted to his liking he will be very hard to beat on that. He is the lap record holder in the Supersport class and shared the spoils with Dean Harrison last year; we could well see a repeat this year; unless Hutchy is 100% fit. The winner of the Lightweight last year and lap record setter; he will have a tougher task this year; KMR has a potent team. Norton has Hickman and McGuinness; if the machine is good enough; Michael will have to beat his own lap record to win.
66 days until the first bike fires away towards Bray Hill; be there if you can for the greatest sporting spectacle on earth.
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