Ahead of the return of the TT, we spoke to Matt Roberts, best known for his work covering the MotoGP and World Superbike Championship.
Matt was, this week, announced as one of the new faces of the TT’s live coverage. Alongside British Olympic star Amy Williams he will be presenting the live coverage to fans around the world.
Last time we saw bikes racing round the course, the TT was dominated by the battle between Dean Harrison and Peter Hickman, something that Matt said he expects to see when racing returns this summer.
He said: ‘In the Senior, I think the Harrison versus Hickman battle is going to resume and the way those two guys were just in a little bit of a different league the last time we were there in 2019. It’s up to Michael Dunlop to try and close that gap if the can and then I think over the next couple of years we’ll see Davey Todd and Glenn Irwin. At the minute, on paper, I think you have to say it will be Hickman V Harrison again.’
Looking elsewhere on the grid, we asked Matt who he thought could step up to challenge the top two from 2019, starting with:
Matt was unequivocal in his belief that Davey Todd can be a headline act for the TT saying he’s a guy who has been ‘building over the last two years’. He added: ‘He’s going to be a big star for the TT, I don’t know if that’ll be this year, but certainly within a couple of years, but I think he will take a big step forward this year.
‘It’s difficult because we’ve had two years without racing, so guys who we might have expected to see up there right now, might need another year to get going.’
A big name from the world of BSB and winner of British Superbikeb races over the last few years, Glen is due to make his debut in this year’s TT. Matt said he didn’t expect to see Glenn winning races this year, but said: ‘You would have an eye on him potentially being fastest newcomer and definitely within the next couple of years he’ll be challenging for wins, I’m sure of it.’
John McGuinness MBE
The Morecambe man hinted at retirement this week when he picked up his MBE, but he is back on a Honda, has the second most wins in TT history, behind only the iconic Joey Dunlop, and should reach 100 starts on the world’s most famous course later this year.
Matt has a rare insight into McGuinness’ thought process ahead of this year’s TT, as he has been doing a travelling talk show with the 23-time winner. He said: ‘I think it’s a big ask of him to pull out another win and I think he knows that to be honest. I think for John, he wants to come back because he has unfinished business. He has such an affinity [with the races], McGuinness is sort of synonymous with the Isle of Man TT now after the past couple of decades.
‘The way that it ended with Norton and he’s had a couple of injury hit years, I think he wants to go back there and prove to himself that he can do it, he wants to try and finish on a high, on his own terms. I think he hinted this week this might be his last one, I asked him actually at one of the chat nights the other night what would he happy with? I think he’s thinking that top five or six, be competitive and come home safe, I think he’d be happy with that.’
Arguably the only name more synonymous with the TT than McGuinness is Dunlop. A favourite on the island, Michael Dunlop has 19 wins to his name and at just 32 still has years to add to that, but we asked Matt whether he thought Dunlop has the mentality to keep winning and if he will have the machine to perform on.
He explained: ‘I think Michael will always get himself on a competitive bike and there will always be someone willing to give him one. For me it’s not so much about mentality now for Michael, it’s about actual riding ability. I think Hickman and Harrison, they have skills on the short circuits that they’re able to take to the island, especially Dean. He’s progressed a lot, realised he had to go to the short circuits, has been in BSB for the last couple of years, developing his skillset, whereas Hickman already had that as he’s come from a short circuit background.
‘I think the evidence is there that you need to be fast on the short circuits now to be fast on the TT as well and at the minute Michael hasn’t really done that. So personally, just pure opinion, I think that is most likely going to be the area that challenge Michael or perhaps rule him our that Harrison versus Hickman battle, but that’s just my opinion.’
A relatively quick answer from Matt here, as he expects the Birchall brothers, Ben and Tom, to continue their dominance saying ‘they just keep raising the bar and it seems they only have themselves to beat really’.
What would mean more to the islanders than a Manxman winning the Senior? Arguably were it not for the pre-pandemic form of Hickman and Harrison, we’d have on as Conrod has been the one there challenging them.
Matt said of Conor’s chances: ‘He’s been keeping his eye in on the short circuits over the last couple of years and having had a break from it, mindset is going to be interesting from these guys to see what they come back with once they get that tap on the shoulder but definitely Conor has shown he can do it in the past and there is no reason that he can’t do it again.’
The most recent person to win a race on the TT circuit, waaaaay back in the Senior MGP race was Onchan’s own Nathan Harrison, but does Matt think he can make that step up?
‘He’s had success at MGP and it’s such a shame we’ve had this two year gap for him to continue to make progress so it will be interesting to see what he does, but a podium is probably a big ask.’