Belfast Telegraph

Isle of Man TT: Unlikely lads lead Ulster charge

Michael still at the races but big hopes lie with Lee and Ryan

By Paul Lindsay

Michael Dunlop dominated the practice week headlines after dumping his factory Yamaha deal to jump back on BMW machinery at the TT Races.

But in an ironic twist of fate, it's a young pretender and a semi-retired team owner who hold the best chances of a Northern Ireland victory on the final day of this year's event.

If you haven't already guessed the unlikely duo, it's Fermanagh's Lee Johnston and Dungannon's Ryan Farquhar, who will be team-mates in today's three-lap Lightweight race, riding a brace of immaculately prepared KMR Kawasakis backed by Manx Gas.

Johnston is already being touted as one of the Isle of Man TT's brightest new stars, and having taken his debut podium in the Bennetts Superstock race, joining the 130mph club in the process, not forgetting his TT Zero podium in the electric bike class on the American Victory machine, Johnston would be delighted to take his debut win on Farquhar's all conquering ER6.

"I sort of forgot all about the Lightweight race this week until we went out and did that lap at 119mph," said Johnston, whose normal ride in the larger capacity classes is with the East Coast Construction team.

"I was hoping to fly under the radar in the Lightweight race, but setting the fastest time has put me in the spotlight.

"In saying that, Ryan has everything ready for me and there's no reason why we both can't get on the podium.

"It won't be easy as James Hillier is fast on every bike and a former winner, but I'd be over the moon to win it."

Farquhar's TT has been on the quiet side this year and, at 39 years old, his optimum goal these days is to enjoy his racing and hand-pick the races he would like to win.

There's no doubting that the Dungannon team owner would be delighted to take young Johnston to his debut top step.

But in all honesty, I'm sure he'd rather take his fourth TT top step as his career reaches the twilight years, with rising star Johnston flanking him on the right.

Lap record holder Hillier has had a superb TT with the Quattro Plant Kawasaki team so far - fourth place in the TT Superbike, Superstock and Supersport Race 2 and sixth place in the opening Supersport encounter show the Bournemouth lad is a massive talent.

The blue riband six-lap Senior TT will wrap up this year's event and Michael Dunlop will be gunning for back-to-back Senior TT wins on the Buildbase BMW, despite being battered and bruised. The 26-year-old recorded four-timers in both 2013 and 2014, and without a win this time around he will be fired up to prove that he's still the man to beat.

Bruce Anstey took his first TT Superbike victory in last Sunday's six-lap race, but all eyes will be on PBM Kawasaki's Ian Hutchinson who has phenomenally recorded three wins this week, just five short years after almost losing his leg in an incident at Silverstone.

For years we have heard how great Michael Hailwood's return was to road racing after over a decade away, but in the modern era Hutchy's return to greatness after an injury that would have left most of us severely disabled is matchless - and he is now just three wins away from equaling Hailwood's tally of 14 TT wins.

The 35-year-old Bingley racer led for long periods in the Superbike race last Sunday and put his slip to the second rung of the podium down to "not having been in that position for such a long time."

With the three wins that followed - taking a Supersport brace for the TTC Yamaha squad and a Superstock victory for Paul Bird - he leapfrogs Anstey as today's marginal favourite.

Tyco BMW have had a less than satisfactory week at the TT, with that elusive 16th win for the Northern Ireland-based team in the hands of enigmatic TV celebrity Guy Martin.

Martin proved in Supersport Race 2 with Smiths' Triumph that he's certainly talented and driven enough, but is he prepared to ride ten-tenths like the rest of this week's Isle of Man TT winners?

We will know the answer later today.

The Pokerstars six-lap Senior TT is scheduled to commence at 12.30pm.

And whatever happens, it's sure to capture the imagination.

Belfast Telegraph


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