North West 200: Guy Martin and McGuinness keen to tame Honda 1000cc Fireblade SP2
Honda duo Guy Martin and John McGuinness will be hoping that the Japanese manufacturer's all-new 1000cc Fireblade SP2 will be the tool for the job as they aim for glory at next month's Vauxhall International North West 200.
However, recent launches of the new bike in both World and British Superbike trim have not been too inspiring, even with the likes of former MotoGP World champion Nicky Hayden in the saddle.
And, considering they will be up against the might of Ian Hutchinson and Alastair Seeley on circuit-proven Tyco BMWs, Michael Rutter on similar German machinery and Glenn Irwin making his Superbike debut aboard the factory-supported BeWiser Ducati, it's going to be an uphill task for McGuinness if he's to add to his three Superbike victories at the Triangle, never mind Martin chasing a debut win.
If new machinery isn't a big enough hurdle for Morecambe man McGuinness, he will also have to overcome the discomfort of a dislocated thumb, suffered in a recent crash at Castle Combe when he tipped off the new bike.
In real terms, the North West 200 will be a good testing ground for the Honda duo's Isle of Man TT chances but, as we have come to expect over the years, McGuinness will not be too far away from the business end of proceedings and anyone who discounts the six-time NW200 winner could be made to eat a large portion of humble pie.
Speaking of the recent test on the new bike, 45-year-old McGuinness said: "It is a new chapter with a new bike and you can't just rock up and be on it from the word go.
"I really like the new engine braking system and this bike doesn't back into corners the way the old bike did on the brakes, so it isn't as physically demanding to ride."
Martin has also slipped off the new Honda SP2, but got his gravel trap excursion out of the way during an early test in Spain back in March. Martin is no great fan of the North West 200 and its safety-enhancing start-stop chicanes, declaring them "boring" a couple of years ago.
So, can he win a NW200 race in 2017? He has the undoubted talent, but the biggest winners will be the event itself and the TV ratings, as the Grimsby truck mechanic - who has re-invented himself as a national television celebrity - will send temperatures soaring just by being in the paddock.
The queues outside the Honda awning on the north coast will be a mile long all week, and the attention he receives will be a welcome diversion for McGuinness - who will use it as a way of slipping in under the radar as his demonstrative new team-mate unwittingly soaks up all of the paddock, press and media attention.
Honda Racing boss Neil Tuxworth admits the SP2's arrival was even later than had been expected, but said good progress was being made in getting them prepared for the new season and the opening road racing foray on the north coast.
"Considering that the mechanics were still working on them the night before the test, we are very happy with the progress that we have made over the two days," Tuxworth said of the ride.
"With the road racing bikes running kit ignition, they are easier to set up than the BSB Superbikes that run the Motec system (basically, the standard Honda Racing electronics can be used, as opposed to a locked down after-market - Motec - version that the British Superbike Championship uses in an effort to create a controlled environment)."
Both Honda men will also be going in different directions with the new bike in 2017. There will be a major change for Lincolnshire man Martin, with his move to Dunlop tyres after riding on Metzeler rubber in the Tyco BMW and Suzuki teams since 2011. McGuinness will also make a major shift to Ohlins suspension after years of running with K-Tech and Showa components.
"Sometimes it is better as a rider not to have options because you can choose the one you know, the safe one." McGuinness said. "We have to go faster so we have to change and if we can find a little bit more power, which we think we can, then I will be happy."
- The North West 200 runs from May 7-13.