The road racing calendar may not bristle with as many iconic events as it used to but what the discipline might lack in quantity it makes up for in quality.
Indeed, the big centrepiece of the year - the Isle of Man TT - is arguably enjoying a higher profile status than it has ever held during its vast 120 year-plus existence, the North West 200 line-up attracts more and more mainstream have-a-go professionals, while there is no questioning the level of commitment shown by marques like Honda and BMW.
The same goes for road racing’s dedicated rider troupe because while the likes of Peter Hickman and Michael Dunlop are lapping The Mountain Course quicker than ever before, there are an increasing number of exciting names just in their wake breaking down the gap to join them at the top.
But who are the riders worth looking out for in 2024? This is who BSN reckons deserve your attention at the TT, the NW200 and more this year.
Ian Hutchinson makes a welcome return to the TT and NW200 this year having been sidelined in 2023 by a stroke and subsequent confiscation of his racing licence almost 12 months ago.
The latest sorry chapter in “Hutchy’s” catalogue of injuries and illnesses, while those various setbacks mean it’s a big ask to expect him to get back to the form that made him so devastatingly dominant some 14 years ago - when he swept the board at the 2010 TT with five wins - he still remains a force to be reckoned with on the roads.
Competitive or not, it will still be a treat to see Hutchinson hitting the roads with the same Milenco Padgetts Honda team that propelled him to his record-breaking achievements. One for those prone to getting misty-eyed…
Somewhat forgotten amid the back-and-forth going on between Peter Hickman and Michael Dunlop just ahead of him at the TT in 2023, their tug-of-war arguably disguised just how close Dean Harrison was to muscling his way into the victory fight too.
Fortunately, one person who did notice Dean Harrison’s impressive performance was Dean Harrison himself, who has duly taken a bold step for his career by leaving the close-knit, familial surroundings of DAO Racing in favour of a move to the factory-supported Honda Racing squad.
Trading in his ageing Kawasaki ZX-10RR/Yamaha R6 for a trick works Honda CBR1000RR-R and brand-new CBR600RR, they are exactly the tools Harrison needs to bridge that modest margin to Hickman and Dunlop ahead.
Did someone say there will be a ‘proper three-way fight for honours at the TT in 2024…?’
Proof that hard work does indeed pay off, Jamie Coward’s step-by-step rise up road racing’s hierarchy has taken him all the way to the top six at the TT in all four two-wheel categories.
Peaking with a third place in the Supertwins class last year - his second podium at the TT - it was Coward’s big step forward in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes that spoke volumes of the threat he is increasingly becoming for road racing’s biggest names.
Though his KTS Racing set-up pales in size when compared with the likes of FHO Racing, Hawk Racing and Honda, Coward comes into the 2024 TT as a dark horse for a sustained podium challenge across the board.
Having begun the year as a hot tip to ruffle some feathers at the head of the timesheets, in the end Davey Todd’s road racing campaign didn’t quite live up to (admittedly lofty) expectations in 2023.
That’s not to say it was a disappointment, Todd tightening his grip on that ‘best of the rest’ mantle behind Hickman, Dunlop and Harrison for the most part, but was ultimately left relying on some luck to break through into the top three.
For 2024, however, Todd re-groups in new surroundings after parting ways with Milenco Padgetts Honda in favour of heading up TAS Racing’s efforts on the Milwaukee-backed BMW M 1000 RR. It might be just the change Todd needs to realise the potential many believe he has and lift him to the next level.
The breakout star of TT 2023, Mike Browne - so far confirmed for the two Supersport TT races with Russell Racing - is well placed to accelerate his momentum on the roads into 2024.
While he still has some ground to make up on Superbike and Superstock machinery having cracked the top ten just once in the two TT editions he’s participated in, it is in the Supertwins class where Browne has shown pace capable of challenging the might Dunlop.
A surprise first-time podium winner on the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing Paton in race one, it thrust Browne into the limelight even before he came excruciatingly close to a shock win in race two before technical issues cruelly intervened on the final lap.
Definitely the underdog to watch in 2024.
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Nathan Harrison, who after securing a dream deal to join Honda Racing last year then spent most of it on the sidelines after sustaining an injury in a crash at the NW200.
Denying him the chance to tackle what would have been only his second start at the TT, fortunately Honda have stuck by their man for 2024 and retained Harrison for another crack at the Manx event on the factory CBR1000RR-R
Still only 24-years old, Harrison has a bright future ahead judging by the impressive set of results he racked up on his debut in 2022. Assuming there are no lingering effects from skipping the 2023 TT, it will be interesting to witness Harrison - who will also have John McGuinness and Dean Harrison on hand to mentor him - progress in 2024.
Todd Ellis & Emmanuelle Clement
With the almighty Birchall brothers having ‘broken up’ coming into the 2024, there may be no better opportunity than now for a rival to loosen the duo’s vice-like grip from the Sidecar TT trophy.
Of course, there will still be a presence from one Birchall (Ben) - who will continue with a new passenger following Tom Birchall’s decision to retire - but he will no doubt have one eye on the competition, in particular the progress of TT newcomers Todd Ellis and Emmanuelle Clement.
The Anglo-French duo make their much anticipated TT debut in 2024, Ellis and Clement gravitating away from short circuits - where they are World and British Sidecar Champions two-years running - to give the roads a proper crack.
While a challenge for victory in the first year might be a big ask, Ellis and Clement have the potential to be a big rival to the stranglehold the Birchalls have held at the TT for a decade now.
OK, so you’d need to be someone who’s never heard the words ‘road’ and ‘racing’ uttered together to not know who Michael Dunlop is. And even if you don’t, we’d question your interest in motorcycle racing if you needed us to explain more about his legendary family too…
As such, as an explanation of why we’re including him here as ‘one to watch’, Dunlop will literally have all eyes on him coming into this year’s TT as he stands on the cusp of making history when he returns to the Isle of Man this year.
While his stats are a touch skewed by an expanded programme that gives him more opportunities to tally wins, Dunlop’s four wins successes in 2023 see him get agonisingly close to matching and surpassing the all-time record of 26 wins achieved by his uncle Joey Dunlop.
Now just one shy of going level Joey, two more very achievable wins at the TT in 2024 will see him topple his late relative from a perch he has held for a good 23 years now.
Not only that though, we’re also curious to see if Dunlop can take another big step forward in 2024 after unsettling Peter Hickman with his searing pace on the Hawk Racing Honda, during week one. The gloves are off, so let’s get this fight underway…