Isle of Man TT Race Week Preview – Back in the Saddle

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Bikes were finally back on track at the Isle of Man TT! A sigh of relief was heard around the island when the weather gods played ball for final practice before races get underway at TT 2019.

Last year’s Isle of TT was historic. The lap record was broken in every class and Peter Hickman became the first rider to smash through the 135mph barrier. It was a stunning TT, where riders enjoyed the fruits of an Indian Summer on the island.

With practice week in perfect conditions last year, they were able to get as many miles under their belts as they deemed enough to do. It was perfect. It was bliss. It was, unfortunately, too good to be true for 2019.

This year, the island has been shrouded in cloud, battered by gale force winds, and suffocated by mist and fog. It’s been horrendous. It’s been taxing for the entire paddock, but after four days of cancellation there was finally something to talk about this weekend.

Mad Sunday is usually a day to relax, have a BBQ and a few beers, and spin some laps off the course. It’s a fun day for the spectators, but unfortunately Mad Sunday had been coming on the back of Stir Crazy Saturday and Frustrating Friday.

When fans, teams, and riders opened their curtains Sunday morning, they were greeted by the Manannan Mac Lir’s cloak. Visibility was non-existent and everyone on the island would have been forgiven for venting their feelings.

When the roads closed, the clouds started to clear and spirits were lifted. Suddenly there was a real chance of finally seeing bikes on track once again!

At just before 3pm, the sound of racing machines was heard around the Mountain Course for the first time, but it was the cheers that will have been heard across the island. While fans rejoiced it was relief for the teams and riders to finally get back on track.

Now the teams are starting to shift their focus to the first races of 2019 with the Superbike and Supersport classes out on track on Monday alongside the opening sidecar race of the week.

In the Superbike class, after only two practice sessions, continuity could be key. That could place Connor Cummins in the box seats for a first ever TT victory. The Manxman claimed a big bike podium 12 months ago and will be aiming for a win tomorrow. The Padgetts Honda Fireblade is unchanged and that experience could be key.

The same can’t be said for two of the clear favorites. Lap record holder Hickman and 18 times winner Michael Dunlop are both on the brand new BMW S1000RR. The bike has huge potential, but in Superbike trim both riders have had their issues.

At the recent North West 200 Hickman struggled to get the bike setup and the weather conditions of this week have left behind the eight-ball. For Dunlop, reliability issues on Sunday cost him almost the whole session after he was stranded by a mechanical issue on the mountain during his opening lap of the night.

James Hillier and Dean Harrison, both riding Kawasaki ZX-10RR’s, will be confident that their bikes’ similarities to last year will also give them a crucial edge. Harrison was five seconds off the pace on Sunday, so he’ll be very confident of being able to add to his TT winner’s tally.

While Conor Cummins can be expected to challenge, the same cannot be said for another Honda man. Ian Hutchinson has had a horrid TT 2019. A crash on the first night of Superbike practice left him battered and bruised, and the 16-times winner looks to have little chance of adding to his tally.

Coming into the pits during practice it was clear that Hutchy wasn’t happy, but on race day that could change. His teammate, Davo Johnson could spring a surprise however with the Australian looking in good form. He’s never stood on a TT podium and it would take some doing to change that tomorrow but if he rides hard and has good pitstops he could be a surprise package.

John McGuinness is out on the Norton in the Superbike class, and while the most successful TT rider in the field has all the experience in the world, he’s also not looked as comfortable as his rivals. Having had such a tough practice week McGuinness needs the mileage, so look for him to use the opening race of the week as an extended test session.

In the Supersport class, Harrison will start as the favorite, having set a 129mph lap on the opening night of practice. He’s not touched the SSP bike since then, but the Bradford man will be confident of winning that race on his 600cc Kawasaki. He’ll be pushed in that race by Lee Johnston however.

The Northern Irishman has been racing, and contending, on the Yamaha R6 in the British Supersport class and won the Supersport race at the North West 200. He’ll be a real contender.

There’s a lot that could happen in Monday’s race because there’s no form card. Nothing can be taken granted but with a decent weather forecast we should finally be able to get Race Week underway at TT 2019.

Photos: © 2019 Steve English – All Rights Reserved

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Be sure to follow all of our 2019 Isle of Man TT racing coverage this fortnight.