Ul­ster GP spe­cial pre­view

Hick­man and Kneen ready to knock Suzuki star off his perch O Dun­drod – the world’s fastest road race O Lap Record: 3 min­utes 18.704 sec­onds (134.089mph) Ian Hutchin­son – Tyco BMW

Motorcycle News (UK) - - NEWS - OLI RUSHBY BSB RE­PORTER oli.rushby@mo­tor­cy­cle­news.com @Mc­n­sport mo­tor­cy­cle­news

Road rac­ing’s big­gest stars will be back in ac­tion this week as the Ul­ster Grand Prix gets un­der­way on the epic 7.4-mile Dun­drod cir­cuit.

Lo­cated just out­side Belfast, the cir­cuit is famed as the ‘world’s fastest road race’ boast­ing a lap record with an av­er­age speed of 134.089mph, set by Ian Hutchin­son on his way to vic­tory in last year’s Su­per­bike race.

Hutchin­son, who took a stun­ning four vic­to­ries from five starts at last year’s event, won’t be on the grid this time around as he con­tin­ues to re­cover from the leg in­juries he sus­tained in his Se­nior TT crash.

Hutchy’s ab­sence will only make it closer as some of the big­gest names in road rac­ing scrap it out for the fi­nal in­ter­na­tional hon­ours of the year aside from the Ma­cau Grand Prix.

Dunlop dom­i­na­tion?

Hav­ing blasted to vic­tory in the 2017 Se­nior TT for Ben­netts Suzuki, Michael Dunlop is high on the list of favourites. Even more so be­cause since the TT, the Bal­ly­money ace has clinched three out of four vic­to­ries on his GSX-R and R6 at the Southern 100 and cleaned up at Ar­moy.

While he’s been win­ning on the new GSX-R, the ma­chine’s full po­ten­tial is still un­known and the team haven’t been helped with the lack of track time that plagued the North West 200 and TT this year. With the Suzuka 8-Hour over, the Mal­lory Park-based squad are hop­ing in­for­ma­tion from Ja­pan will help give them a boost.

“Things have gone re­ally well for us so far this year,” Dunlop said. “It’s been hard work with a brand new bike. We didn’t get the laps we thought we would at places like the TT but we’ve pulled it back to­gether.

“We’ve had our chal­lenges at getting the bike where it should be, have worked hard to get it there but there’s even more to come so we’re plug­ging on.

“Ev­ery­body loves the Ul­ster Grand Prix, it’s com­pletely dif­fer­ent to the TT. It gets fast, hot and heavy and when the weather’s good it’s al­ways good rac­ing.”

Hick­man’s on a roll

Out to stop Dunlop dom­i­na­tion will be Thrux­ton BSB win­ner, Peter Hick­man

MICHAEL DUNLOP

(see page 68). Hav­ing al­ready won at Dun­drod in the wet, Hick­man has Ul­ster Grand Prix pedi­gree and af­ter his strong­est roads cam­paign to date saw him storm to five podi­ums from five starts at the TT, he heads into this week as the man most likely to push Dunlop the clos­est.

“The Ul­ster was a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment last year,” Hick­man said. “We had the pace to win and were fight­ing for wins but I had a few prob­lems and didn’t finish. It was a week of what could have beens, so af­ter this year’s TT I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to getting out again as I’m ex­pect­ing to be strong.

“We had a mega five races at the TT and we’ve been strong in BSB too, so I’m hop­ing it’ll be a re­ally big week for us. Hutchy is re­ally fast around Dun­drod and holds the lap record so it’s a shame he won’t be there, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be com­pe­ti­tion.

“Michael Dunlop has been re­ally strong re­cently and I’m ex­pect­ing Dean Har­ri­son to be a dark horse. There’ll be quite a few in the mix, no doubt.”

A rider of a rel­a­tively big stature, Hick­man has al­ways turned his fo­cus to the 1000cc ma­chines but af­ter a podium on the Smiths Trooper Tri­umph at the TT, he isn’t rul­ing out the chances of a Su­pers­port vic­tory either.

“The big bike wins are what we’re look­ing for and we were strong on the big BMW at the TT, although that be­ing said I wasn’t a mil­lion miles away at the TT on the Tri­umph and we were on the podium in the Su­pers­port race at the Ul­ster last year as well.”

“The Ul­ster Grand Prix is a bril­liant cir­cuit,” Hick­man ex­plains. “If it wasn’t as good as it is, I prob­a­bly wouldn’t go! It’s a tra­di­tional style cir­cuit that hasn’t been messed about with. There are no chi­canes or anything like that, and that’s not to take anything away from the cir­cuits who have had to put chi­canes in for safety mea­sures, it’s just great still to have a very pure roads race cir­cuit.

“It’s mega to ride, re­ally fast and flows re­ally well. It’s not very bumpy either, which is un­usual for a road cir­cuit and I’d go as far as say­ing it’s also rea­son­ably safe as there’s a de­cent amount of run-off.”

‘It gets fast, hot and heavy. When the weather’s good it’s al­ways good rac­ing’

Dunlop has been on fast form on the all-new Suzuki

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