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
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.
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
(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’