2023 Isle of Man TT: Five storylines to follow

The 2023 Isle of Man TT begins on Monday with the opening practice ahead of two weeks of mesmerising motorcycle racing action.

Peter Hickman, Gas Monkey Garage by FHO Racing

In a fortnight that features motorsport’s biggest events in the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours, the TT is set to be another of the highlights.

The event returned in 2022 after a two-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Peter Hickman notched up his ninth TT victory having taken four wins across race week, including the Senior TT finale.

Still the current lap record holder, Hickman comes to the 2023 TT as the rider the rest will have to push hard to beat.

Chasing him, as ever, will be Dean Harrison after suffering a winless TT in a 2022 event fraught with tyre woes.

Eyeing TT immortality, Michael Dunlop could achieve two stunning feats in 2023: the 21-time TT winner could match and beat John McGuinness’ tally of 23 victories, and could indeed usurp his legendary late uncle Joey Dunlop’s record of 26.

But he’ll have stiff competition from the likes of James Hillier, Davey Todd and Conor Cummins.

Two races have been added to the schedule for 2023, with a second contest in the Superstock and Supertwins classes bringing the total number of solo races up to eight.

As ever, there will be two Sidecar TTs where the Birchall brothers will look to continue their dominance.

With practice beginning on Monday morning, we look at the five major plotlines to follow at the 2023 Isle of Man TT.

Peter Hickman, Gas Monkey BMW

Peter Hickman, Gas Monkey BMW

Photo by: Stephen Davison

Can anyone really stop Hickman?

There’s no denying that Peter Hickman is the best road racer in the world at the moment. Ever since making his TT debut in 2014, the lanky 36-year-old has continuously rewritten the form guide.

His 135.452mph lap record at the TT in 2018 remains one of the most impressive achievements of his career, which includes nine TT victories to date.

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His preparations for the TT weren’t smooth, with a questionable homologation issue surrounding his BMW M1000RR’s wheels led to him and his FHO Racing squad being unable to compete in the Superbike and Superstock race at the North West 200 earlier this month. He did manage a podium on his Trooper Beer-backed Triumph, though.

Having been virtually untouchable on his M1000RR (which he said was the best machine he’d ever ridden around the 37.75-mile TT course) in the big bike races in 2022, it’s hard to predict anyone dethroning him in the Superbike or the Superstock classes.

The Supersport and Supertwins class, where his lanky frame does somewhat count against him, will likely be where his main threats come from.

But let’s not rule out Dean Harrison. The 2019 Senior TT winner had a winless campaign in 2022, largely aided by a mid-event tyre switch to Metzelers having encountered issues with the Dunlop rubber.

Having ended the first Superbike race 40 seconds behind Hickman on Dunlop tyres, Harrison was 16s behind him on Metzelers in the Senior finale – a bird strike breaking his DAO Racing Kawasaki’s front bubble and left him battling against the wind.

Starting TT 2023 on his preferred Metzeler rubber should give three-time winner Harrison a better platform to build on as practice gives way to racing on Saturday 3 June, while a switch to Yamaha machinery with Russell Racing in the Supersport class should help his cause.

The threat to Hickman’s crown, however, could well come from a rider standing on the edge of history… 

Michael Dunlop, MD Racing

Michael Dunlop, MD Racing

Photo by: Dave Kneen

Is Dunlop about to fulfil his destiny?

Michael Dunlop scored his 21st TT victory after claiming a brace of wins in the Supersport class in 2022 on his MD Racing Yamaha. It brushed aside any notion that, after an injury-hit 2019, perhaps he was beginning to slow down.

That second Supersport win all of a sudden changed the narrative of TT 2023, as – with eight solo races to compete in – Dunlop could well end this year’s event as the most successful rider ever on the Isle of Man.

Joey Dunlop’s record of 26 has gone untouched since the last Ulsterman posted his final victory in 2000 weeks before his untimely death in a race in Estonia.

John McGuinness looked for a time as if he could topple it, but has stalled on 23 and looks unlikely to build on this as he firmly enters the twilight of his career.

Dunlop is the last of his dynasty. Joey is gone, Michael’s father Robert perished in a crash at the North West 200 in 2008, while older brother Williams was killed in 2018. Few would have blamed him for packing it in after all of that, but – as he noted in the TT’s excellent No Room For Error docuseries – road racing is in his blood.

Dunlop’s 2022 preparations were stunted by the 11th-hour collapse of his Superbike deal with Paul Bird Motorsport, which would have resulted in him riding a Ducati. A last-minute switch to Hawk Racing on an ancient Suzuki allowed him to score a podium in the Superbike race.

This year, Dunlop returns with Hawk Racing on a Honda (having last raced a CBR1000 in 2013) in the big bike classes, while he’ll run an MD Racing Yamaha in Supersport and a Paton in the Supertwins.

Favourite in the Supersport class after his 2022 heroics, another brace of wins in the class in 2023 will see him match McGuinness’ 23 TT victories. Three more and he could match Joey Dunlop’s record, and one after that will rewrite the history books forever.

Given the strength of Hickman on the BMW in the big bike classes, getting to uncle Joey’s record will be a tall order.

The beauty of the enigma that is Michael Dunlop, however, is that you just never know what to expect from him other than that he will be quick.

John McGuinness, Honda Racing UK

John McGuinness, Honda Racing UK

Photo by: Stephen Davison

McGuinness is back, but for the final time?

As John McGuinness gets set for TT race number 106 at the age of 51, the same question that hung over him in 2022 remains this year: will this be his swansong?

Having made his TT debut in 1996 and notched up 23 wins since then to become the second-most successful rider on the Isle of Man, McGuinness’ legend is sealed. But he keeps coming back for more.

After a dismal return year with Norton after two out with injury, McGuinness vowed then that he couldn’t leave his TT career that way. And so he rejoined forces with Honda, burying the hatchet from a fallout over his 2017 North West 200 crash that left him with a badly broken leg.

And in TT start 100 last year, on a Honda Fireblade decked out in a special livery, McGuinness rode brilliantly in the Superbike race. He was fifth at the chequered flag, which would prove to be his best result of the event.

When Autosport spoke to him prior to the Senior TT, he didn’t know then what the future held but had at least cast away all doubts he had about his own abilities. But the reality of life is there.

“I want to race until I’m 100 years old, but I can’t,” he told Autosport last year. “I have to stop at some stage. Time stops for no man. It's getting a little bit tougher and tougher.”

Back with Honda (and its sole factory representative after Nathan Harrison was ruled out with injury), only McGuinness knows (and he probably still doesn’t) if 2023 will be his last. Regardless, he proved in 2022 that there’s still speed in him and was a consistent top six finisher at the North West 200.

It’s a tall order, but McGuinness is still capable of podiums at the TT if everything goes his way.

Davey Todd, Superstock, Milenco by Padgett's Motorcycles

Davey Todd, Superstock, Milenco by Padgett's Motorcycles

Photo by: Tony Goldsmith

Is this Todd’s year?

Injury for Lee Johnston at the North West 200, Glenn Irwin’s decision not to come back to the TT for a second time and Ian Hutchinson’s unfortunate season-ending stroke earlier this year have taken some big hitters off the table for TT 2023.

But there are still plenty of names who could challenge the established, with the likes of home favourite Conor Cummins still chasing his first TT win and event journeyman James Hillier looking to get back to the podium after a tough 2022.

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Alongside Cummins at the Padgetts team is Davey Todd, who scored a breakthrough maiden TT podium in 2022 in the Superstock race.

A frontrunner on the international road racing scene since his breakout North West 200 win in 2019, Todd’s ascendency at the TT had a first win pegged as a matter of when, not if by many.

Unravelling himself from the mental turmoil of a tyre failure on Sulby straight in the Superbike race last year, Todd bounced back in a big way to finish third in the Superstock race and narrowly miss a podium in the Superbike class in the Senior finale (losing out to Cummins).

Since then he’s won the British Superstock title and now races in British Superbikes, while he notched up two wins in the Supersport class and two podiums on the big bikes at this year’s North West.

Thus, come the end of TT 2023, Todd coming away from the island without a win will be a bit of a head-scratcher.

Ben Birchall, Tom Birchall, Haith Honda

Ben Birchall, Tom Birchall, Haith Honda

Photo by: Tony Goldsmith

Can the Birchalls be toppled on three wheels?

The tragedies of the deaths of two crews overshadowed the Sidecar success the Birchall brothers, driver Ben and passenger Tom, achieved in 2022.

The pair scored a brace of victories, marking the fifth time in their TT career that they have achieved this, and took their overall tally of wins up to 12.

Now just five behind Sidecar legend Dave Molyneux’s record, the Birchalls can edge closer to that in 2023 if everything goes their way. And on their Haith Honda outfit, the brothers will be almost impossible to beat.

But the emergence of another crew of brothers, Ryan and Callum Crowe – sons of five-time Sidecar TT winner Nick Crowe – should at the very least keep the Birchalls honest in 2023.

The Crowes managed second in the first Sidecar race of the week having made their TT debut in 2019 (where they were the fastest newcomers) and completed the rostrum in the second outing of race week.

As the Sidecar class reaches its 100th anniversary at the TT this year, any major upsets are unlikely. But 2023 could well mark the beginnings of a changing of the guard should the Crowes take the next step in their progression towards toppling the Birchalls.

Picture credit: @ttracesofficial/Pacemaker Press

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