By Kyle White Belfast Newsletter
A number of top names have already confirmed their plans for next season as the 2020 line-up for the international road races begins to take shape.
Peter Hickman will be the man with the biggest target on his back after the British Superbike contender had a year to remember in 2019.
Hickman gave the brand-new Smiths Racing BMW S1000RR its maiden roads success in the opening Superstock race at the North West 200 in May before rattling off a hat-trick at the Isle of Man TT.
The 32-year-old showed his versatility as he won the second Supersport race on the Trooper Beer Smiths Triumph in addition to claiming wins in the Superbike and Superstock races at the TT. Hickman was also on course to seal a four-timer in the Senior showpiece until an overheating issue forced him to slow, leaving the way clear for Dean Harrison to clinch a popular victory in the prestigious finale.
For the first time next year, Hickman and the Smiths Racing team will be BMW Motorrad’s official international road racing squad, taking over the coveted status from Northern Ireland’s TAS Racing team.
Boosted by increased support from the German manufacturer and a year’s development with the new S1000RR, Hickman will head into 2020 as the world’s current number one road racer and the man they all have to beat.
With Smiths Racing confirmed as BMW’s representatives for the big road races, a question mark now hangs over TAS Racing’s plans next year.
Ballymoney’s Michael Dunlop has competed in the Superbike class for the Ulster team on the Tyco BMW in 2018 and again this year. Dunlop won the Superbike TT last season but his prospects this year were hampered by injury, although he did manage to increase his haul of TT wins to 19 with victory in the Lightweight event on the Italian Paton, making the 30-year-old the third most successful TT rider ever behind his uncle Joey (26 wins) and Morecambe’s John McGuinness (23).
It seems unlikely Dunlop will continue with TAS Racing for a third season and he has been linked with a series of teams, including a return to Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Hawk Racing outfit. However, the Ulster star keeps his plans close to his chest and it would be no surprise if Dunlop is the last of the big names to unveil his machinery of choice in the New Year.
Another of Hickman’s main rivals, Yorkshireman Harrison, will again compete for the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki team. Harrison has shown marked improvement in the British Superbike Championship over the past few seasons, which in turn has enhanced his preparations for the onset of the main road racing season. Harrison and the Paul Iddon-led Silicone Kawasaki team have a fantastic rapport and the continuity of remaining on the same machinery is another plus for the 30-year-old.
It’s all change at Honda Racing after a revamped line-up was announced in November, with rising prospect Davey Todd and Carrick’s Glenn Irwin replacing Ian Hutchinson and David Johnson.
Todd is the most exciting up and coming rider in road racing at present, a position underlined by his Supersport victory at the North West 200 this year and a sensational ride to sixth place on the Penz BMW in the Senior TT, when he lapped at over 131 mph in only his second year.
Irwin, who will also ride the all-new CBR10000RR-R Fireblade in the British Superbike Championship, is taking on the TT for the first time but is a four-time Superbike winner at the North West 200. The 29-year-old has also stood on the podium at the Ulster Grand Prix and triumphed at the Macau Grand Prix in 2017.
Outgoing Honda rider Huchinson rode a BMW S1000RR at Macau under the SMT/Milwaukee banner, raising the possibility he could switch back to the German machine for 2020, with a possible link-up with Shaun Muir mooted.
England’s John McGuinness rode for Norton as he made his TT comeback this year following injury, but the 47-year-old recently revealed he has talked with former backer Paul Bird over the possibility of riding a Ducati V4-R in 2020. McGuinness rode the Italian machine for the first time at the Macau Grand Prix in November and impressed in practice and qualifying, although he was ruled out of the race with a technical problem.
Manx rider Conor Cummins looks set to continue on Honda machinery in Clive Padgett’s Batley-based team, although New Zealand’s Bruce Anstey will wait until early next year to make a decision on whether or not he will race at the TT. Anstey made a winning return to the Mountain Course in August after a two-year cancer battle, winning the Lightweight race at the Classic TT.
Northern Ireland’s Alastair Seeley will ride Kawasaki machinery across the board in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport races at the North West 200 after finalising a deal with the Quattro Plant Bournemouth Kawasaki team. Seeley, the all-time record holder around the 8.9-mile Triangle course with 24 victories, found himself in the unaccustomed situation of failing to win at least one race this year – a feat he had previously accomplished each season since 2008. The 40-year-old will be all the more determined to make amends next spring.
England’s James Hillier has been Quattro Plant Kawasaki’s main roads rider for the past 10 years but the 34-year-old has admitted he could look to make a change next year as he bids to achieve his goal of winning the Superbike or Senior races at the TT.
Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston, who won his maiden TT race this year with an emotional success in the opening Supersport race, was back in top form this year after putting together his own team with support from new title sponsor the Ashcourt Group. Johnston, who also clinched a Supersport win at the North West, rode the latest model of the BMW S1000RR at the Macau Grand Prix in November and it would be a surprise to see the Maguiresbridge man change tact after such a successful campaign.
Tobermore’s Adam McLean will be itching to return to the saddle after he was ruled out this year following a crash at the Tandragee 100. McLean will ride for the McAdoo Racing team on Kawasaki machinery and will be aiming to continue his eye-catching progress next season.
Fellow Ulsterman Paul Jordan rode for the Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki team this year but the Magherafelt rider – who earned his first international win in the Supertwin class at Dundrod in August – has yet to officially announce his plans for 2020.
Jamie Coward enjoyed a fine TT with top-ten results in every race, including his first top-five result in the Supersport class and an excellent runner-up finish in the Lightweight race behind Michael Dunlop.
Coward also became the fastest Yamaha rider around the Mountain Course with a speed of 130.317mph on his way to eighth place in the Senior. The 28-year-old Yorkshireman is hoping to obtain some factory support from Yamaha on the back of an impressive performance at the 2019 TT.
The evergreen Michael Rutter, who was declared the winner of this year’s Macau Grand Prix for the ninth time, is set to thrill fans again on the Bathams Racing/Aspire-Ho Honda RC213V-S.
The North West 200 is the first of the major international road races in 2020, taking place from May 12-16.