Bingley Bullet Ian Hutchinson can continue his stunning renaissance this year by clinching more international silverware at the Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix.
The 35-year-old wiped out five years of hurt with a remarkable comeback at the Isle of Man TT in June, where Hutchinson completed an emotional treble to return to the peak of road racing following his career-threatening crash in a British Supersport race at Silverstone in 2010.
The Yorkshire rider returned to Dundrod last August for the first time in four years on the Milwaukee Yamaha machines in what proved to be a hugely disappointing meeting for Hutchinson.
However, a lot has changed in 12 months and the PBM Kawasaki/Team Traction Control Yamaha star is more like the rider who rattled off a treble at the fastest road race in the world five years ago, weeks before sustaining the leg injury that was to throw his career into turmoil.
Hutchinson was in action in the MCE British Superbike Championship at Thruxton at the weekend where he showed the progress he has made as he bettered his lap time from 2014 by two seconds at the Hampshire circuit, clinching respectable finishes of 11th and 13th.
The resolute English rider is a force to be reckoned with again and Hutchy heads into race week as one of the standout favourites in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes, when he will ride the PBM Kawasaki ZX-10R and TTC Yamaha YZF-R6 machines.
He narrowly missed out on a Superbike victory at the Isle of Man TT to Kiwi Bruce Anstey but Hutchinson, who received a standing ovation during the official launch of the Metzeler Ulster Grand Prix in Belfast last month, intends to put that right on Saturday.
“I’d hoped for a bit more success on the Superbike but it was the bike’s first time at the TT and there’s more to come from it,” Hutchinson said.
“But the Kawasaki should be really well suited to Dundrod because it’s so fast and I’m looking forward to going back and being competitive this year.
“It’s one of my favourite races and the one I’ve spent the longest away from with my injury,” he added.
“It’s always really competitive so I know I’ll have to fight for it, but I’ve never been afraid of a fight before and I can’t wait to get going.”
Hutchinson will certainly have a battle on his hands as he goes up against last year’s man of the meeting and outright lap record holder Bruce Anstey, who rarely fails to find his best form at Dundrod.
The Valvoline Padgetts Honda rider has predicted his 2010 lap record of 133.97mph will finally fall this year in the right conditions and it would be no surprise if Anstey himself pushes the benchmark beyond the 134mph mark.
Tyco BMW’s Guy Martin excels at Dundrod and warmed up for the event in style as he became only the second rider ever to win the Solo Championship race three times in succession along with Joey Dunlop at the Southern 100 last month.
Martin has chalked up 11 victories at the Ulster Grand Prix and although he is taking on a new challenge this year on the S1000RR, the 33-year-old is one of the major Superbike contenders along with Hutchinson, Anstey and Northern Ireland’s own Michael Dunlop.
Ballymoney racer Dunlop hasn’t yet managed a major international triumph this year after a campaign plagued by controversy and costly crashes at the Isle of Man TT and Southern 100, but the 26-year-old looks to be back on the right track after defeating Martin at Billown in the Superbike class before sealing a record fifth ‘Race of Legends’ victory at Armoy last month.
The acquisition of a new-spec BMW S1000RR at the Southern 100 certainly helped his cause and Dunlop will be back on the Buildbase BMW for the Superbike races at Dundrod, where the six-times winner will be gunning to end a relatively low-key year with a final flourish at the last of the ‘Big Three’ road races of 2015.