The Manx Grand Prix is celebrating its Centenary this year; the racing will consist of a 5 race programme. The original event; the Manx Amateur Road Race Championship had 35 entries; including 6, 350cc machines. On race day there were 31 starters. Irish rider Ken Twemlow (350cc New Imperial) had the honour of being the first man away. The race had many incidents and four changes of leader on the final lap; with Len Randles being the man who secured the victory. Ken Twemlow was second and best 350cc; with Arthur Marsden 3rd. Ken Twemlow’s brother Edwin finished in 7th place on a Sunbeam. The bothers became the first MGP riders to go on a secure TT victories; Ken in the 1924 Junior TT and Edwin in the Lightweight; both riding New Imperial machines. Since then, 65 more have gone from the MGP to win at the TT. Freddie Frith, Bob Foster, Geoff Duke, Cecil Sanford, Keith Campbell and Phil Read went on to win Grands Prix (now MotoGP) World Championships and Carl Fogarty went on to win 5 World Superbike titles.
The meeting has continually evolved; the latest incarnation having a 5 race programme. The first race is the Lightweight; this is a hybrid that allows 250cc two strokes; 400cc four cylinder 4 strokes and unlimited capacity four stroke singles to compete. The riders on the 250cc machines are expected to take the honours as they can lap at 120mph in the right hands; whilst the best 400cc lap ever on the Mountain Course was set by Jim Moodie at 112.40mph; 30 years ago. Last year’s race winner Mike Browne is back on the LayLaw Yamaha to defend the title that he won in his first two stroke race. Mike will go close again; his teammate Adam McLean; making a welcome return and team boss Ian Lougher will be tough to beat. Michael Dunlop is back with his Yamaha; he was dogged with ill luck last year; but if he can avoid the mechanical gremlins; he will be the man to beat. James Hind has two wins in the class to his name and could have won last year but for ill luck with just 2 miles to go; he will surely be on the podium on the DTR Yamaha. One to watch is Pierre-Yves Bian; his progress on the course has been stellar; he already has a TT podium to his name and seems nailed on for a top 6 finish. Dominic Herbertson is a class rider and with a clear road ahead will be a fast hare for the others to chase down; expect at least a top 6 for him. Past MGP winners Dan Sayle and Michael Sweeney (returning from injury); Pre-TT Classic winner Rhys Hardsity and TT podium man Stefano Bonetti are other men to watch in what looks like being a tightly contested race.
The Classic Senior was virtually a Paton benefit for a decade; until last year when Lee Johnston won on the Davies Motorsport Yamaha TX 500. Lee is a non-starter due to his NW 200 accident; we wish him well in his recovery. Dominic Herbertson and Michael Rutter will campaign the Davies machines this year; both proven Classic Race winners and sure the be at the sharp end this year. James Hillier and Michael Sweeney will ride the Yamaha TX machines of CSC Racing; both have won on the course; so will be looking grab another win. Paul Jordan on the similar Chapman Racing machine cannot be discounted. The Paton challenge has John McGuinness (Team Winfield); Michael Dunlop (MD Racing); Pierre-Yves Bian (VAS) and Shaun Anderson (Beugger Racing) hoping to add to the manufacturer’s tally of wins. Dean Harrison rides the John Chapman MV Agusta; the beautiful machine may not be quite fast enough for the job; but Dean’s class gives it a live chance. The Honda challenge has Mike Browne; who set the best ever lap by a 500cc single last year; past Classic MGP winner, Alan Oversby and past Irish Champion Derek Shiels at its head. As with the Patons; they may not have the pace to match the 8 valve Yamahas. After his cycling accident, Jamie Coward will not be fit to lead the single cylinder brigade; that task could well fall to Michael Evans. Get well soon Jamie.
The Junior Manx Grand Prix is now for the Supertwin machines. Leading the field away will be last year’s 3rd placed finished, Marc Colvin; he will be aiming for the top step of the podium this year; on the RC Racing Kawasaki. 4th last year; Andrea Majola will have Colvin to follow as he looks to step onto the podium this year; he has the Mancini Paton as his weapon of choice. Jamie Williams led for most of the race last year and will be the bookies favourite this year; he has the NCE Kawasaki under him. Victor Lopez is a hard charger and with the ILR Paton at his disposal could well take a podium placing. Daniel Ingham and Ben Rea will expect to match last year by finishing in the top 6; both are Aprilia mounted so may lack the top end of the Kawasakis and Patons. There are 19 newcomers in the race and two names jump off the page; they are Marcus Simpson and Joe Yeardsley; both are local and have impressed greatly on other circuits. They are well prepared; Yeardsley is under Ian Lougher’s wing and rides a race proven Paton; Simpson has a Kawasaki provided by LMR / Jon Cuff Electrical. Do not be surprised to find both in the top 6.
It is a shame that the Senior MGP appears to have lost its top billing to the Classic Superbike race; that has field full of TT stars. The Senior Race has Daniel Ingham (Brook Yamaha), Victor Lopez (ILR Yamaha) and Jamie Williams (NCE Honda) as its first three starters, and they could well be the podium finishers. They were 2nd, 5th and 3rd respectively last year. Winner Stephen Smith went to the TT; whilst 4th placed David McConnachie is injured. Marc Colvin is riding a KTM in the race; it will be very interesting to see how this machines goes on the 37.73 miles of public roads; if it handles it will give Marc a real chance of at least a podium. Chris Cook, Andrew Fisher, Damian Horan, Tom Robinson should be in the top 10. As in the Junior; the established elite will have too look out for Joe Yeardsley and Marcus Simpson.
The Superbike classic has a host of 130mph+ lappers amongst the top quality field of challengers. It seems likely that to win, a rider will have to lap at close to 130mph; such is the pace of the “aged” machinery. Michael Dunlop will start as favourite on the Team Classic Suzuki; given his form at the TT. Dean Harrison moving to Key Racing Ducati is very interesting. Dean is top class and could set the fastest ever lap around the Mountain Course by a Ducati; a record held by Michael Rutter at 128.717mph. Michael Rutter has the tried and tested Bathams 1100cc Suzuki and will be in the group looking for a podium finish. Similarly mounted on an 1100cc Suzuki; Phil Crowe is a top 6 contender given a fair wind. The hare for the others to chase is 2019 winner Davo Johnson; this year he has one of the rapid Cowan Kawasakis so will fancy his chances after a good TT. Greenall Racing has last year’s winner Rob Hodson on board; he is teamed with Brian McCormack and Derek Sheils; a talented trio who will each be hunting a top 6 finish. Last year’s runner-up and fastest lapper; Nathan Harrison has taken over the Ashcourt RC45 campaigned by Lee Johnston last year. Nathan is still recovering from his off at the NW200, so will be easing his way back into the fray. The fastest ever lap by an RC45; set by Jim Moodie at 124.45mph; suggests that Nathan will not be a podium prospect this year. Fastest Irish rider over the mountain Course; Mike Browne and last year’s early race leader Craig Neve both campaign Kawasaki machines and will probably be pushing for a podium place. Shaun Anderson broke the 130mph barrier at the TT so should give the Wiz Norton rotary a good blast; but realistically it is not a top 6 machine. Stefano Bonetti and Sam West on the gorgeous Bimotas; Mikey Evans (750 Suzuki) and the TT Best Newcomer Ryan Cringle (Mistral Kawasaki) are dark horses worth looking out for.
Anyone who races the Mountain Course is a hero; hopefully the weather will be kind, and all will return home safely.