Isle of Man TT: Who are the likely winners in 2019?

Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman and Michael Dunlop
Peter Hickman (centre) won the 2018 Superstock TT from Michael Dunlop (right) and Dean Harrison

The annual Isle of Man TT Races see the best road racers in the world pit their skills against the most famous 37.73 miles of public roads tarmac in motorcycle sport.

This year's races run from 1 June to 7 June - so who are the favourites to lift the main prizes and are there any potential 'surprise packets' lurking among the field?

BBC Sport assesses the prospects for this year's event, regarded as the ultimate test of man and machine, and offers the thoughts of the leading contenders themselves.

'The big three'

Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop won all six of the main solo races between them last year and look like being the men to beat again this time round.

All three have opted to remain with the same teams for the 2019 season - giving an element of continuity - but the fact that Hickman's Smith's Racing team and Dunlop's Tyco TAS Racing outfit only took delivery of the brand new BMW 1000cc less than a couple of months before the TT adds an interesting dimension.

As part of the factory-backed Silicone Engineering team, Yorkshireman Harrison rides an updated version of the Kawasaki and will be keen to add to his two TT successes and make up for being pipped by Hickman in a thrilling end to the blue riband Senior TT 12 months ago.

British Superbike rider Hickman's record-breaking final flying lap in that race - a staggering 135.452mph - is now the stuff of road racing legend and the Lincolnshire rider - also a two-time winner - is expected to contend in every race he competes in.

Courtesy of a hat-trick of victories at TT 2018 Dunlop lies third in the all-time roll of honour with 18 wins, now with John McGuinness's tally of 23 in his sights and inching ever closer to his uncle Joey's record of 26 triumphs.

The Northern Ireland rider only returned to competitive action at the recent North West 200 after 11 months on the sidelines following the death of his brother William at the Skerries 100 last year. With that in mind, any win the Ballymoney man achieves this year is likely to be an emotional one.

In their own words:

Peter Hickman: "Not much else comes close to riding round the TT. Last year was an epic one all round and the prospect of riding the new BMW at the TT is really exciting.

"I come to the TT because I enjoy it and I want to do it. Of course I want to win but I'm here to enjoy myself and have fun. I think that's why it works for me so well. I don't over-think the thing."

Dean Harrison: "I made a big step forward last year and racing in British Superbikes has brought on my riding skills at the TT so much. You need to do some BSB now - if you're not doing that kind of racing you're coming at a disadvantage.

"You need to be on the case from day one and that track time pays dividends when you come to the Isle of Man. My team and I have done so much together and we get on well together."

Michael Dunlop: "The TT has always been the big goal. Road racing in any form has always been about the TT and if you're a true road racer to a degree you want to win a TT. It's what the sponsors love and what the manufacturers want.

"Before a race it's a mixture of nerves and the knowledge that you have a job to do. Once you let the clutch out you just have to get on with the job and until you are passed the chequered flag anything can happen."

Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness
Ian Hutchinson and John McGuinness boast a combined total of 39 IOM TT wins

'The comeback kings'

Time was that John McGuinness and Ian Hutchinson would have gone into the TT as THE favourites for the major honours. Despite having shed that tag both could yet be major players over the next few weeks.

McGuinness competes in the event for the first time since 2016 after suffering multiple injuries in a crash at the North West 200 a year later, but the Morecambe man has now swapped his Honda ride for Norton machinery.

Hutchinson's efforts last season were severely hampered by the after-effects of the serious injuries he sustained in 'an off' during the 2017 Senior TT but the 16-time winner from Bingley hopes to be much more competitive on his Honda Racing bikes this time round.

The Yorkshireman made a stunning comeback from injury to secure a treble at the 2015 Isle of Man TT. Time will tell if he can make a major impact again at the top of the leaderboard.

In their own words:

John McGuinness: "I'm pretty nervous, apprehensive, as I've been away for a couple of years. Having said that, the two demonstration laps I did on the Norton last year were invaluable for me.

"I hadn't had a set of leathers on me for ages until I went out on that first lap and while the first lap was tense and stiff I went a bit quicker on the second lap and that excitement and special thrill of riding a Superbike round the Isle of Man came back again.

"The bar has been raised but I've got to think I'm still capable of winning. The speeds last year were stunning. I was a spectator at various parts of the track and I've been studying, doing my homework, watching the on-board videos and they're not doing anything much different to what I was doing.

"Josh Brookes was doing nearly 132mph in finishing fifth in the Senior last year so getting on the podium is realistic I think. To win a Senior again would be the icing on the cake."

Ian Hutchinson: "I'm more excited than ever to be coming back to the TT so hopefully I can be competitive and the hard work everyone in the team has put in over the winter will pay off.

"The leg healing has been a really, really slow process but I feel good on the bike so hopefully there is enough strength there to be able to ride properly. I'm just hoping I'll be in a position to be able to fight at the front.

"The team have stuck by me and really pulled out everything I've asked for this winter and I've asked for a lot."

The other leading challengers. A first-time winner?

James Hillier warmed up for the TT by winning a Superstock race and collecting the man of the meeting award at the North West 200
James Hillier warmed up for the TT by winning a Superstock race and collecting the man of the meeting award at the North West 200

With 12 podiums to his name, a remarkable record of 51 finishes from 55 starts and a record of being on the rostrum on each of the last seven years the TT's 'Mr Consistency' James Hillier may just be the man to break the expected domination of the 'big three' and add to his solitary success back in 2013.

Riding for the Bournemouth Kawasaki team for the 11th year in succession, the Hampshire rider warmed up for the TT by taking victory in a Superstock race and claiming the man-of-the-meeting award at the North West 200.

Lee Johnston could upset the established favourites by taking victory in the Supersports, with Michael Rutter set to provide a treat for the ears of the spectators as he campaigns his MotoGP-based RCV Honda.

Hopes of a Manx success lie with Conor Cummins, who will aim to improve on his three previous second-place finishes, while Australian David Johnson targets a first top-three position as Hutchinson's Honda Racing team-mate.

Davey Todd burst onto the scene as Best Newcomer and leading privateer at TT 2018, lapping at over 128mph in the process, so he will hope to make an impact again this year, as will Lincolnshire rider Gary Johnson, a two-time Supersport race winner.

Republic of Ireland rider Derek McGee pushed Dunlop all the way in the Lightweight race for Supertwins last year and will hope to go one better this time. Jamie Coward and Stefano Bonetti are among the other potential Lightweight victors.

In their own words:

James Hillier: "The new Kawasaki ZX-10RR is superb, so we'll look to take full advantage of practice week to get it dialled in further.

"The TT is my main event of the year and while the podiums in recent years have been great, I really want to get back onto the top step this year so race wins are what I'm really after in 2019."

Lee Johnston: "I'm going to try and win a Supersport race. A podium in any of the other races would be a bonus. I've ridden BMWs before so I know what they are like and although this is a new bike I'm already feeling good on the bike. I just need a bit more time on the Superbike.

"I'm so small that I need the big bikes set up as best as possible as I can't manhandle it to fight round the problems."

Conor Cummins: "I've been trying for a win for so long. If it happens it happens - I'll just turn up on the day and try my best.

"The pace is getting faster and faster but I'm happy with the way I'm riding. I had two podiums last year and personal bests in every class so I'm aiming for more of the same - just a little bit faster."

Derek McGee: "I had no pitboards organised last year so I hadn't a clue where I was for most of the Lightweight race. But for one guy putting out a board for me at the Gooseneck I wouldn't have had a clue where I was.

"Going into the final lap I couldn't believe I was in the lead. Hopefully I can contend for the top step again this year as I know the work Ryan Farquhar has put in to produce the new KMR Kawasaki bike.

"It's a good enough package he has put together so now it's up to me really."

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