Sadly, John McGuinness cannot compete and only just misses out because of his leg injury while Bruce Anstey won’t be attending the TT because of well-documented health reasons.
So two of the fastest men are out and it’s making for very interesting racing - the podium is no longer the reserve of three or four TT stalwarts - there are now at least ten seriously competitive riders who could be up there with the champers come Saturday’s Superbike Race.
Of course, there’s Michael Dunlop, who smashed the record for the first sub-seventeen minute lap and has 15 TT wins under his belt, but after that, there’s a hell of a strong line-up all itching to stand on the rostrum.
Peter Hickman is arguably the man of the moment. Hickman, like John McGuinness, Bruce Anstey and arguably James Hillier, is renowned for his smooth riding. “I’ve always been smooth,” he says. “Even when I’ve deliberately tried to be aggressive and stroppy I’ve ended up looking smooth. I had one team boss who kept saying “You’re not trying” so I really went for it, pulled out all stops and was as brutal as possible and then after ask that he said: “you still look slow.”
But Hickman is anything but. Last year the 31 year-old Lincolnshire rider finished second in the Superbike race, second in the Superstock and second in the Senior. He came third in the Lightweight TT and his fastest lap is 132.465mph - not far behind Dunlop’s outright record of 133.962mph.
Hickman’s on the Smiths 1000cc BMW. “They’re just a great bike. You could buy the whole package for £25,000 and be competitive - that’s how good the standard bike is.”
And as for the team, he said: “It’s a family team, we all get on really well, we can take the mickey out of each other but get the job done as well.”With promising weather, a highly competitive machine and a sound team, could this year be Hickman’s year? “We will soon find out,” he says.
Lee Johnston - one of the contenders for a podium finish - is among that merry bunch. The Ulsterman will ride the SP2 Fireblade alongside teammate Ian Hutchinson for Honda Racing.
He said: “This year’s going to be a hard one to call in terms of contenders. There are a few - certainly more than usual. There’s Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison, Michael Dunlop, Conor Cummins, James Hillier, Josh Brookes, William Dunlop on the smaller bikes, Dan Kneen and then Ian Hutchinson. Anyone of those could have a really good day and pull it out of the bag.”
Then there’s the next band of riders, including Jamie Cowton, Jamie Coward and Ivin Linton, all competitive, experienced and all hungry to raise their bar.
Jamie Coward said: “I’m getting there. I’ve been doing the TT for four years now and I’ve watched all the videos - including those of Joey Dunlop - so I’ve learnt the course really well.”
But crucially, he’s also getting faster each year. “The numbers are going up. I’ve gone from plate number 46 to 29 to 16 so we’re getting there.”
Coward will ride the Penz13 Racing BMW S 1000 RR in the Superbike race, the Penz13 600cc Yamaha in the 600cc machine in the Lightweight TT and the BMW in the Senior.
“With good weather, lots of practice and the bike going well I’m aiming to get that bit nearer to the front,” he said. “We’re definitely going in the right direction and I know I have the ability so I just have to build on that.”
And - perhaps under the radar - amidst the battle for pole and the unpredictable podium potential of TT 2018 are the newcomers.
Among them is Davy Todd, a 22-year old from Saltburn, Teeside. He said: “I’ve spent so long learning the course,” saids Todd. “I’ve been over about ten times to drive it and ride it on a bike and have been on laps with the TT team, who have been great. I just want to get going now.”
Todd has competed in BSB Supersport and Thundersport and wants to do the TT simply because: “It’s the greatest motorcycle race in the world.”
And while Todd may be a few years off Dunlop’s or Hickman’s TT prowess, the crucial fact that binds all riders - however fast - is that they are all here for one reason: because it is the greatest motorcycle race in the world.
Watch this space for updates as and when they happen at the IOM TT 2018.