Despite confirmation from Tyco BMW that crowd favourite Guy Martin is out of today’s Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix following his crash during Thursday’s Dundrod 150 race, the scene is set for a blistering day of action with the McKinstry Skip Hire and IFS Global Logistics Superbike races taking pride of place in the seven-race schedule.
Thursday’s Dundrod 150 Superbike thriller has only raised anticipation levels for today’s programme, with top contenders aiming to set astonishing times as they chase victories and podiums.
A quick look back at Thursday tells us that the first nine finishers were all over the 130mph mark, the fastest lap set by the victorious Bruce Anstey, of Valvoline Padgetts Honda, with a 133.492mph effort — just three quarters of a second outside his own record of 133.977mph set back in 2010.
Assuming dry conditions, that record is surely in jeopardy given that the top five on the grid today are covered by just 1.2 seconds.
Three non-finishers in the Dundrod 150, however, may well take the challenge to Anstey today — Ian Hutchinson, Lee Johnston and Michael Dunlop. Hutchinson, back to his brilliant best following horrific leg injuries in 2010, was a triple winner during the Isle of Man TT and was hounding Anstey and Martin before retiring with a broken gear linkage on his PBM Kawasaki on Thursday, while Johnston was also in contention before being forced to retire the ECC Burdens BMW with a technical problem, both at the end of lap three.
The duo had lapped at over 131mph and cannot be discounted today.
Dunlop, riding a Buildbase BMW Motorrad, had recovered from a sluggish second-row start and with another 130mph lap to his credit, moved from 11th into the top six until he was forced out with two laps remaining.
A confident Anstey is a quick Anstey and the Flying Kiwi said: “I just love riding around this place. It’s a fast flowing circuit that suits me down to the ground.
The Valvoline Padgetts Honda was working well on Thursday evening and I just cannot wait to get going. “I’ve had (the lap record) for a long time now and it’s time it was broken. A number of factors need to be on our side — the wind, the weather, the competition and the bike must be set up perfectly.
There are a lot of competitors snapping at my heels all capable of going really fast, so we’ll just have to wait and see.” Conor Cummins could be a real dark horse on his Honda.
He had an abysmal start on Thursday but steered his bike to a runner-up slot, just half a second ahead of final rostrum finisher Peter Hickman on a Briggs Equipment BMW. Manxman Cummins said: “I was chuffed with the way the Honda worked on Thursday and again it is credit to the team. I cannot wait to get started to see if I can get a better start and maybe challenge to get to the top of the podium.” Hickman, the best newcomer last year, commented: “I’m only riding a Superstock machine against all these Superbikes, but I had a good qualifying and have a front-row start. To win a Superbike race on a ‘stocker’ is a bit far-fetched, but we’ll hang in there and see where it takes me.”
Can anybody live with the pace of Anstey, Hutchy, Johnston, Cummins and Hickman?
The best of the rest were Dan Kneen, the Superstock race winner last year, Keith Amor, William Dunlop (now the sole Tyco BMW runner), Dean Harrison, Ivan Lintin and Russ Mountford and they will have to set their bars a little higher to contest for podiums, which is always possible given Thursday’s race will have been used as an additional practice session ahead of today.
All the above will also come under starters orders in both Supersport races and the Superstock event with the grids somewhat reversed. Johnston, Anstey, William Dunlop and Amor are the front-row starters in the Supersport class, where it will be interesting to see if the Triumph 675cc Triple of Johnston can outgun the 600cc Honda of Anstey and the R6 Yamaha of Dunlop.
A real dark horse is super-confident British Supersport contender Glenn Irwin, starting from row two in what is only his second visit to Dundrod. On paper, the Superstock class appears to be a BMW v Kawasaki duel with the lone Kawasaki of Hutchinson trying to put one over the BMWs of Amor, Johnston, Hickman and the Dunlop brothers, while Mar-Train Yamaha rider Dean Harrison will hope to upset the applecart.
Add in the Supertwin, Lightweight and Ultra Lightweight races and spectators are in for a feast of high-speed action today.
The bikes won’t be the only things flying around the track, as the world-renowned RAF Red Arrows display team are due to make an appearance. Roads close at 9.30am this morning ahead of the opening Superstock race.
Thursday’s Ulster Grand Prix practice session was heavily punctuated by stoppages and red flag incidents, but as is so often the case, the one that resonates most with fans and media — to the unfair detrement of the rest — is when a high profile competitor is involved.