With five days of momentum-building, set-up tweaking qualifying practice behind us, the time has come to get the elbow right down into race week for the 2023 Isle of Man TT.
And what a week it is shaping up to be… so far we’ve had immaculate weather from the start (a miracle!), no major live session incidents and even a new lap record of the 37.7-mile Snaefell Mountain Course courtesy of Michael Dunlop.
With a change to the programme allowing for an expanded ten-race programme - two races each in the Superbike/Senior TT, Supersport, Superstock, Supertwin and Sidecar classes - there is no shortage of action for the 50,000 or so fans who make the pilgrimage over to the Manx island.
As it stands, the headlines are consumed by the prospect of a titanic tussle ensuing between the closely-matched Peter Hickman, Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison, the triumvirate having dominated practice all week.
However, the TT is more than eye-watering speeds, with endurance, reliability and consistency arguably playing a more pivotal role over multiple punishing laps of the rev licking course.
As such, it wouldn’t take much for one or more of the trio to nudge the door open to a long list of hungry riders bidding to upset the formbook given half the chance this week.
Leading the ‘best of the rest’ is Davey Todd, the 27-year old having made another notable step forward on his breakthrough TT performance last season. Scoring his first podium in the Superstock class, since then Todd has gone on to clinch the National Superstock Championship title and graduate to the British Superbike class for 2023.
A close-match for more experienced Milenco by Padgetts Honda team-mate Conor Cummins in 2022, Todd has put some air between himself and the rest, suggesting he too could be joining the top tier in the 134/135s come next year. Next-in-line to pounce for a Superbike podium, Todd is also well placed to capitalise in Supersport and Superstock.
It’s a similar story for Jamie Coward, who too has made an impressive step forward on what was a head-turning 2022 TT campaign. Another rider to make the switch to Honda machinery in the SBK and SSTK classes, the CBR1000RR-R - prepared by the slick KTS Racing Steadplan team - has been taking him where the retired Yamaha R1 could not.
Still yet to taste TT glory, Coward heads into the week seeking his first top five finish on the big bikes, and perhaps a first podium in Supersport. However, it is in the Supertwins class where Coward excels and looks best equipped on his Kawasaki to lead the fight to pre-race favourite Michael Dunlop.
While Todd and Coward represent a newer generation of road racer, the contemporaries they’ve been matching for pace on The Mountain this week - Conor Cummins and John McGuinness - are anything but wet behind the ears.
Though the man himself has largely stopped chasing more wins as he settles into his frisky fifties, even 27 years after making his debut at the TT, McGuinness is still capable of being something of a revelation on the factory Honda Racing UK Fireblade.
Quickly finding his form in qualifying practice as one of the first to exceed 130mph, McGuinness has steadily ramped up to his most competitive pace on the TT since 2016. While a top five finish on the Superbike TT was considered a pleasant surprise in 2022, McPint looks capable of challenging for more in 2023.
As for Cummins, the Manxman will have the local support out in force to cheer him round, which may come in handy as he was forced to miss the last couple of practice days due to ill health. Steadfast and reliable, Cummins will be in the podium mix if one of the top trio fall foul.
Cummins and McGuinness are not the only perennial fan favourites in the mix this year with the likes of Michael Rutter (Bathams Honda), David Johnson (C&L Fairburn Honda), Rob Hodson (SMT Honda) and James Hillier (OMG Yamaha) back out in force eyeing results deep into the top ten.
Other names in Superbike to watch out for this week include Josh Brookes, the BSB regular getting back into the TT groove after five years away. Exceeding 130mph too on the stock version of the Monster Energy FHO BMW M 1000 RR, Brookes is well placed to match his fifth place finish on the Norton in 2018.
Other riders to watch at the 2023 Isle of Man TT
While the hierarchy in the Supersport and Superstock ranks bear similarity to that of Superbike - with Dunlop, Harrison and Hickman poised for battle, be it 1000cc or 600(ish)cc - for those rooting for an underdog success, be sure to check out the Supertwins.
Formerly known as the Lightweight TT, it has always been a popular, if a touch old fashioned category boasting a field of lesser fancied entries alongside the odd high profile name that may choose to dip in.
Last year, the fight between Hickman and Dunlop was the highlight of the entire event, so it’s a shame ‘Hicky’ looks unlikely to defend his title on his new PHR Yamaha R7 having opted out of completing any running.
Dunlop is present, correct and will undoubtedly be the rider to beat on the Paton… but if like here he fails to finish, then there is a bevy of yet-to-win riders waiting to capitalise.
Jamie Coward is due a maiden TT win as he continues to creep closer to the top, while Mike Browne would also make a welcome first-time winner on the Burrows Engineering Paton S1-R.
One of only a handful of riders from the continent to take on the TT, Pierre-Yves Bian is the most accomplished. The Paton rider has made strides in recent years and has a great shot at a podium this year.