The banners are being put back up, the Grandstand is being prepared and homeowners are going on holiday as the Isle of Man gears up to become the centre of motorcycle racing for the first time since 2019. Put on hold for three years for obvious reasons, the TT is finally ready to come back, and we couldn’t be more excited. We’d nearly forgotten how awesome it was seeing bikes fly down public roads at ridiculous speeds, and with our appetite well and truly whetted by the North West 200, let's have a look at why you should be getting excited for the return of the Isle of Man TT.
Seven reasons to be excited about the Isle of Man TT’s return
Peter Hickman vs Dean Harrison
It’s difficult to talk TT without mentioning one of the greatest rivalries that was brewing before the enforced sabbatical. While neither have had the best of starts to their respective British Superbike campaigns, nor did they have the North West 200 they would have hoped for, racing at the TT is a different kettle of fish and the two fastest riders in the history of the event have been going hammer and tongs at each other for a number of years.
Their 2018 Senior TT battle went down as one of the greatest Senior TTs, quite rightly being considered alongside the 1992 battle between Fogarty and Hislop, and the legendary duel between Hailwood and Agostini in 1967. While the likes of Michael Dunlop, Ian Hutchinson, John McGuinness and even the man of the moment Davey Todd may be scratching at their heels, it’s hard to look past either Harrison or Hickman for the spoils on Senior Friday.
Honda’s Centurion and Debutant
Honda and the Isle of Man TT go hand-in-hand. Having first made the trip to the Island in 1958, the Japanese manufacturer is the most successful to ever compete, with 189 wins to its name, some 65 more than its next closest rival. Honda also has a strong history with one of the TT’s most legendary names - John McGuinness. Despite a blip in 2017, which resulted in a major injury for the Morecambe Missile, the pair are back together again, just in time for a hugely impressive milestone in McGuinness’ career.
The second most successful rider at the TT of all time after the late, great, Joey Dunlop, the race week-opening Superbike TT will mark the 100th time John McGuinness has lined up on the start line on Glencrutchery Road. While the chances of a 24th victory are slim, by his own admission, the experience alone of his 99 previous starts will set him in good stead, and a podium on the new Fireblade (which also celebrates 30 years this year) is certainly an achievable goal.
From 99 starts to zero, McGuinness’ team-mate at the works Honda camp will be newcomer Glenn Irwin. One of the fastest around the North West 200, and a front runner in the British Superbike Championship, Irwin had hoped to make his TT debut in 2020 before everything got put on hold. With his required newcomer’s bib designed into his leathers, Irwin has remained grounded when discussing his prospects at the TT, refusing to make any predictions or aims other than to come home safely and get quicker as the week progresses.
Forza Italia for the first time in 50 years?
The Lightweight TT has gone under a major renovation for the return of the TT, with not only a new set of regulations for teams to conform to, but a new name to boot - the Supertwin TT. The name change is one that makes a lot of sense, as the Supertwin machines of the modern era are almost double the weight of the 250cc two-strokes that last competed for the Lightweight honours.
Raising a few eyebrows when first implemented ten years ago under the Lightweight TT banner, the Supertwin regulations were relatively simple – change anything you want on the bike, just don’t touch the frame. The premise remains the same going into 2022, but a shake-up of the rulebook sees the upper capacity extended from 650cc to 700cc, opening the door for both Yamaha and Aprilia to line up on the grid for the first time since the rebirth of the class - albeit with a good dose of Balance of Performance-style restrictions applied to them.
The Supertwin category has been dominated since its inception by Kawasaki, with Ryan Farquhar’s KMR squad taking home the winner’s trophy every year between 2012 and 2016. However, that run of success came to an abrupt end when Michael Rutter took the Paton S1, built and homologated with success at the TT as a priority, to the top step, before a factory-backed effort saw Michael Dunlop take back-to-back wins in 2018 and 2019. His victories aboard the Paton resulted in Dunlop breaking the long-standing record of number of TT wins with different manufacturers, previously held by Mike Hailwood.
A category that has become known for breakout victories, with James Hillier, Ivan Lintin and Dean Harrison all visiting the top step for the first time aboard Supertwin machinery, there are a number of specialists in the class looking to take that elusive first win around the Mountain Course. Jamie Coward will lead the field down Bray Hill at number one, and has looked incredibly strong in recent years, and was very much in the fight at the North West 200 among those going on to compete at the TT. Meanwhile, Stefano Bonetti, a race winner at the North West and previous Hill Climb Championship will be aiming to take his Aprilia to the top step and become the first Italian winner aboard an Italian bike since the great Giacomo Agostini last won on an MV Agusta in 1972.
Next Generation Supersport
The Supertwins aren’t the only category to have undergone some changes over the break, with the Supersport regulations at the TT switching around to be in line with the new FIM “Next Generation” rules. Basically, where you used to be able to call the class the “600 class” thanks to the capacity limit, that would now be inaccurate. While you still can – and many will – run the “traditional” 600cc machine, the regulations have opened up to allow the likes of the 765cc Triumph triple, the Ducati Panigale V2, MV Agusta F3 800 and F3 Superveloce and the Suzuki GSX-R750.
Despite the new regulations allowing the oversized machines to compete, the vast majority of the front runners are sticking with what they know for 2022, with Peter Hickman the first of the top names to take the plunge, competing aboard the Triumph 765 under the K2 Trooper Beer with PHR Performance banner. However, all eyes will be on the number three Yamaha of Lee Johnston. A winner on the 600s at the 2019 TT, Johnston is now a regular front-runner in the British Supersport Championship, and it would be a brave man who would bet against him to at least make it onto the podium this year.
A number of riders will be snapping at Johnston’s heels however in one of the most hotly contested categories across the week. Ian Hutchinson, back at full fitness after the best part of a decade spent with regular trips to the surgeon, will line up directly behind Johnston and looking to extend his record of eight wins in the Supersport class. Meanwhile, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop – the only two riders to lap the TT course at 129mph aboard a Supersport bike - are each on bikes they’re well versed with and both enjoyed promising results at the North West 200. The star of the North West, Davey Todd, will also be hoping to make the most of starting from within the top ten for the first time. Heading off down Bray Hill at number eight on his Padgetts Honda, Todd will be looking to push Johnston as close to the limit as he did around the Portrush Triangle a couple of weeks ago.
Are the Birchalls Beatable?
Have a look at any results sheet from recent sidecar races on the Isle of Man and you’ll see one name at the top - Birchall. Winning nine out of the last ten Sidecar TTs, Ben and Tom Birchall looked set to become the most successful sidecar pairing of all time, and now sit just seven wins shy of Dave Molyneux’s all-time three-wheel record of 17 victories. The only pair to ever lap around the TT course in under 19 minutes, it is hard to look past the Birchall boys again in 2022, but with new regulations set to come in for the 2022 event, anything could happen in race week.
With the rule book sticking with up to 600cc for the past 25 years, a shake-up has come ahead of the restarted TT to allow up to 900cc parallel twin engines and 675cc engines to compete alongside the previous 600s. Although it is expected that a vast number of riders will stick with the 600cc engines they’ve become used to over the years, Molyneux is one of the headline riders to slap a larger KTM engine into his outfit, and with strong results from Jurby last year, could be one to watch.
Concerns from regular TT competitors that the new engines could be far too powerful compared to the older 600cc units has suggested that it could inadvertently turn into a cash war, with those able to buy and prepare engines quicker than the rest likely to be at the head of the class, while others have questioned the reliability of the larger power units. Either way, it sets up an incredibly tantalising prospect once the three-wheelers set off down Glencrutchery Road next week.
North West riders with scores to settle
One of the biggest stars of the North West 200, Davey Todd took four second placed finishes around the Triangle, and looked on form for a win before Dunlop had unnerving problems with its rubber. Padgetts are no strangers to the winners’ enclosure at the TT, with former riders including McGuinness, Hutchinson, Anstey, Fogarty and even Hailwood. Assuming that Dunlop has its tyre problems sorted out in time for the TT, then it’s hard to discount Todd as a genuine contender for wins across the week.
The North West was also a week to forget for the fastest man ever around the Isle of Man course, Peter Hickman. Riding a combination of his own bikes and the FHO Racing machines that he rides week-in, week-out in the British Championship, Hickman had problems before racing had even begun. With the North West opting not to run with the new Supersport regulations that have been adopted worldwide, his Triumph was declared illegal and he was left without an eligible bike. A late change to an Aprilia from his planned Norton in the Supertwin category – this time because of Isle of Man TT regulations – didn’t quite work out and he could only manage a best result of ninth in the lightweight races. Finally, despite setting a new lap record in the opening Superbike race, a tyre failure saw FHO pull out of the remainder of the weekend and end a disastrous event for Hickman.
Michael Dunlop will also be hoping for a stronger showing around the 37 miles of the Snaefell course. Although there were no major issues for him during the North West, it was a bit of a subdued event for the Ballymoney man, in part due to the off-track politics that dominated the headlines in the lead-up to both events. Ditching the Ducati of Paul Bird Motorsport as a result of a lack of testing time available, a last-minute deal was struck between Dunlop and Hawk Racing. Dunlop and Hawk famously took the Senior TT crown in 2017 about the Suzuki, and Dunlop will be desperate to prove that he’s made the right choice in switching away from the Ducati for this year.
Live TV Coverage
The biggest change to the TT for the spectators, especially those unable to make it over to the Island this year (like this gutted writer), is that for the first time in the event’s history, you will be able to watch every second live from the comfort of your own home. Announced at the start of the year, and really kicking off the TT excitement, wall-to-wall coverage of every session will bring Laurel Bank into your living room and mean fans will no longer have to wait until the evening to see the coverage on the ITV highlights show (which will still air in its usual spot).
The coverage will be anchored by Extreme E lead commentator, and BBC F1 correspondent, Jennie Gow, alongside former MotoGP and current BSB host Matt Roberts, Olympic gold medalist Amy Williams and Manx journalist Rick Faragher. Dave Moore, a regular TT commentator will be joined by Andrew Coley in the commentary box, backed up by former racers Steve Plater and Cameron Donald. Meanwhile, a wide range of names will be on hand to provide expert analysis, including Maria Costello MBE, the only woman to have competed on two and three wheels at the TT (and two and four wheels at the same Revival Meeting), Jenny Tinmouth and Horst Saiger.
While you’ll have to part with £15 to gain access to the live coverage, year-round video content is available for free, and has already been making its way onto the TT+ platform – including interviews with some of the biggest names around the Island. Outside of the racing, a feature-length documentary is slated to be released in August, ahead of an eight-part docuseries early next year.
With all of that well and truly leaving us on the edge of our seats and waiting incredibly impatiently for next week to roll around, all that’s left to do now is enjoy the return of one of the greatest motorsport events on the planet. We could sit here and make predictions as to who we think is going to be visiting the top step, but it’s so wide open in almost every class, and with so many variables to take into account, to do so would be an impossible task. Instead, we’re just going to make one simple prediction: It’s going to be epic.
Images courtesy of IOM TT.
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