Hot on the heels of the Centenary event, the 2008 TT gets underway in less than six weeks time and it promises to be a scintillating year with a star studded line up. All of the leading lights from 2007 will be returning and they are joined by some exciting newcomers and a host of world class teams.
Both the solo and sidecar classes contain champions from World, European, British, Irish and American competition and the strength in depth is, quite simply superb. There are 8 former solo winners with 39 TT wins between them. A staggering 38 riders from the entry have already lapped at more than 120mph.
Heading the list once again is the current ‘King of the Mountain’, John McGuinness and, for the third year in a row, the 13-times TT winner and current outright lap record holder, will carry the number 3 plate in all five of his races. The Padgett’s Manx Gas Honda man will certainly be the one the rest of the field have to beat.
However the top dozen is packed with potential race winners and, arguably, the greatest challenge will come from Guy Martin who will start at number 1 for the 2008 event. The Hydrex Bike Animal Honda rider came couldn’t have been closer to his maiden victory last year and many have tipped him down for at least one victory this June. Manx hero Conor Cummins will start ten seconds behind him at number 2Cameron Donald at number 6, and Ian Hutchinson at number 8 are also fancied for podium finishes.
Bruce Anstey will again have the number 5 on the front of his Relentless by TAS Suzuki and when you add Martin Finnegan at 4, Adrian Archibald at 7, Ian Lougher at 9 and Ryan Farquhar at 11 to the equation it’s a mouth watering prospect. Ian Lougher, at 9, will be going for his 100th lap over 120mph as he’s currently recorded 97. Meanwhile, two of the sensational newcomers from 2007, Steve Plater and Keith Amor, will start at numbers 10 and 12 with the Scotsman slotting in at number 4 for the Relentless Supersport races, having set the fifth fastest time ever in the 600cc class 12 months ago. Farquhar also moves in to the top ten for the middleweight class with Finnegan and Archibald dropping down the order slightly.
Other rider of note in the Dainese Superbike and Scottish Life International Superstock events include James McBride, Gary Johnson, Rob Frost, Jimmy Moore, Carl Rennie, Ian Armstrong, Dan Stewart, Ian Pattinson, Paul Hunt, Gary Carswell, Mark Parrett, Davy Morgan, Mark Miller, Les Shand, Chris Palmer, Mark Buckley and William Dunlop.
Encouragingly, ten of last year’s newcomers are back for more, three of whom will start inside the top 20 in 2008. A number of riders also move up from the Manx Grand Prix including Swede Mats Nilsson, double race winner Olie Linsdell, Michael Charnock and Stephen McKnight.
On the newcomer front, Jamie Robinson slots in to number 33 for the two Supersport races with James Hillier at 68 and Alessio Corradi at 75 although the latter two drop down the order slightly for the 1000cc events.
It’s a similar picture for the Sure Mobile Sidecar Races with 3 former winners on the grid sharing 17 TT wins between them. The races will arguably be the best three wheeled events in the world with two World Champions, including the current title holder, on the grid. Ten drivers have already broken the 110mph barrier and there are many others hot on their heels back for another attempt.
Like its solo counterpart, the top ten again sees a formidable array of talent with the top three crews of last year occupying the first three slots on the entry – Dave Molyneux at 1, Nick Crowe at 2 and John Holden at 3. Former World Champion Klaus Klaffenböck is one spot further back with regular podium man Steve Norbury dropping down slightly to number 5 and the top ten is completed by regular stars, and 110mph+ men, Simon Neary, Nigel Connole, Andy Laidlow and Conrad Harrison.
Dougie Wright is rewarded for his sensational debut 12 months ago with the number 19 plate and German GP ace Mike Roscher also returns and he will start at number 35.
Nowhere is the rider recruitment programme more evident than in the Sidecar class and the two races will see the eagerly anticipated debut of triple World Sidecar Champion Tim Reeves. The 35-year old clinched his first world title in 2005, going on to take the crown three years in succession and is, without doubt, the undisputed number one in the sport. His preparations have been first class and he could really spring a surprise from his starting number of 17.
Meanwhile, the re-introduced Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Lightweight and Ultra Lightweight classes have attracted full grids. The Lightweight TT has a superb line up with current stars Guy Martin, Ian Lougher, Ryan Farquhar and Chris Palmer leading the way whilst three of the Dunlop clan – William, Michael and Samuel – will also be in action.
2006 Manx GP winner Barry Davidson is joined by a number of his countrymen including Davy Morgan, Darren Burns, John Burrows and Andrew Neill. Other names to look out for include Roy Richardson, Paul Owen, Paul Shoesmith, David O’Leary, Phil Harvey, Daniel Sayle and Tony Cawte.
It’s a similar story in the Ultra Lightweight class where Lougher, Palmer and the Dunlop's lead the way including the notable introduction of Robert Dunlop to spice things up. Leading British Championship rider James Ford, who has started the short circuit season in superb fashion, makes his TT debut as does female star Jenny Tinmouth, and Jon Vincent returns to the Island for the first time since 2004.
Northern Ireland again have a strong presence with Burns, Davidson, Neill and Nigel Moore set to star and there is further strength in depth from Sayle, Owen, Knight, Cawte, Pete Wakefield, Chris McGahan and Ellie Forrest. There are also entries from former leading Manx GP riders Mick Charnock and Kieran Hankin who make their 125cc debuts at Billown.
Commenting on the line up for the 2008 TT Races, Minister for Tourism and Leisure, Adrian Earnshaw MHK said:
“The racing at the TT is clearly on the up-stroke at present, and every year the entry seems to get stronger and stronger and it is encouraging to see so many of the star names returning. Fans can look forward to an amazing sporting spectacle at the TT in 2008 with more racing and more star riders taking part than ever.”