Isle of Man TT hits top gear this weekend
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Evening practice sessions began at the weekend and on Saturday it’ll be time for Race Week at the 2018 Isle of Man TT to get into top gear.
The annual motorcycle and sidecar road races on the high-speed 37.75-mile Mountain Circuit will follow a familiar schedule from Saturday through till Friday of next week.
The opening day action will feature the Superbike TT over six laps followed by the first of two Sidecar races over three laps.
Monday is the second race day to the programme pairing up the opening 600cc Super Sport race with the 1000cc Super Stock race — both over four laps.
A busy Wednesday begins with the second Super Sport race, the single-lap TT Zero electric bike race followed by the four-lap Lightweight TT for 650cc Super Twin machines.
After another rest (or rain-out reserve) day the final pair of races set for Friday begins with Sidecar Race 2 and finishes up with the six-lap Senior TT.
Start lists were released recently with the obvious omissions being 23-time winner John McGuinness and Kiwi star Bruce Anstey who are not taking part this year.
McGuinness continues to recover from his 2017 North West 200 crash and won’t be racing the Norton SG7 in the Superbike and Senior races or the Mugen Shinden TT-Zero challenger. It was recently announced that Anstey is receiving cancer treatment and is unable to ride.
In the "big bike’’ classes — Superbike, Super Stock and Senior TT races — the 2018 start list is headed by Manx rider Conor Cummins riding a Padgett’s Honda.
Chasing Cummins at the traditional 10sec start intervals will be James Hillier (Kawasaki), veteran Michael Rutter (BMW), 16-time TT winner Ian Hutchinson - who has joined Honda Racing for 2017 - and rising star Dean Harrison (Kawasaki) who achieved two "big bike’’ podiums in 2017.
Lap record holder and 16-time TT winner Michael Dunlop (above) will carry his familiar number 6. After riding a Suzuki to victory in the 2017 Senior TT, Dunlop again switches brands and is back aboard a BMW S1000RR this year with the Tyco team.
Gary Johnson (Kawasaki), Dan Kneen (BMW) David Johnson (BMW) and Peter Hickman (BMW) complete the top 10 while Norton’s challenge will be led by 11th seeded Australian rider Josh Brookes.
On the 600c solo machines the start order is slightly different to the 1000cc bikes. Cummins again carries the number one plate on his Padgett’s Honda while James Hillier is second on a Kawasaki ahead of Lee Johnston (Padgett’s Honda).
Fourth seed Ian Hutchinson will also ride a Padgett’s Honda in the 600 races and Dean Harrison (Kawasaki) completes the top-five.
In the 600cc class Michael Dunlop rides a Honda fielded by his own MD Racing outfit while a challenge to the Honda and Kawasaki riders will come from Gary Johnson and Peter Hickman riding Triumphs. 85 riders will attempt to qualify for the 600cc races.
There are 50 teams entered for the pair of Sidecar races headed by lap record holders and double-2017 winners Ben and Tom Birchall who will start ahead of Manx veterans Dave Molyneux/Dan Sayle.
The was an early indication of a fast pace at the 2018 TT in the opening practice session on Saturday evening when Michael Dunlop lapped his Paton Super Twin machine at 120.875mph, under the lap record for the Lightweight class.