Flying Kiwi Bruce Anstey heads into the newly introduced Sure Lightweight race as the big favourite at the Classic TT as 250cc two-stroke machines return to the Mountain Course in anger once more.
The class was axed from the Isle of Man TT schedule after the 2002 meeting, while the last 125cc race was held in 2004. A bizarre move saw both classes briefly reintroduced with full TT status on the Southern 100 course at Billown in 2008 and 2009.
Since the inaugural Classic TT in 2013, 250cc machines have graced the Mountain Course once again but for the first time this year, the class has been granted its own race, attracting a quality field of 55 entries consisting solely of the iconic RS250 Honda and TZ250 Yamaha machines.
Anstey was the last winner of the 250cc Lightweight race at the TT in 2002 and was one of the first riders to submit an entry for the eagerly anticipated Classic race next Saturday, when he will ride an immaculately prepared Padgetts Honda.
The 47-year-old was narrowly outside John McGuinness’s 1999 lap record of 118.29mph on his last appearance on a 250cc machine at the TT, breaking into the 118mph bracket himself with a speed of 118.03mph.
With Clive Padgett’s two-stroke expertise behind him coupled with his own supreme talent, Anstey will start the four-lap race as the red-hot favourite.
His main rivals include Welshman Ian Lougher, who will again ride for Ireland’s LayLaw Racing team on a new TZ250 Yamaha, which is run by 1987 Junior TT winner Eddie Laycock and former sponsor Gerry Lawlor. Skerries rider Michael Sweeney will also ride a LayLaw Racing Yamaha.
Manxman Ryan Kneen will also be Yamaha-mounted riding for CBG Contractors. He lapped in excess of 113mph 12 months ago to edge out James Cowton in the Formula 2 race and will be keen to add another win to his CV.
Cowton will again line up this year although his machine is yet to be confirmed, while former British champion Dan Cooper is another potential race winner. The Stroud rider, who recently took his maiden international road race victory at the Ulster Grand Prix in the Supertwins race, will ride a TZ Yamaha for Turner Racing.
Kneen’s elder brother Dan will have his first taste of two-stroke action around the Mountain Course riding John Chapman’s beautiful RS250 Honda.
Northern Ireland’s Davy Morgan (Strangford Holiday Park Honda) is joined by fellow Ulsterman Neil Kernohan in the class, who won both 250cc races at the Ulster Grand Prix. Kernohan is an interesting addition to the line-up on the Logan Racing Honda following his excellent performances at Dundrod.
Bedfordshire’s Olie Linsdell is another rider expected to lap above 110mph on the Peter Berwick/Flitwick Motorcycles Yamaha and also cannot be dismissed.
Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston would have been considered a key player in the race but has been ruled out after sustaining a broken collarbone during a crash in practice at Dundrod. Johnston was testing his 250cc Honda ahead of the Classic TT when he came off at the hairpin.
His rides on the MV Agusta machines in the Black Eagle Racing team for the Bennetts Senior 500cc and Okells Junior 350cc races at the event have been taken over by Michael Dunlop, who will also defend his Classic Superbike title on a Suzuki XR69 for Steve Wheatman’s Team Classic Suzuki outfit.
Johnston was also due to ride a Suzuki for Wheatman but his place in the team has now been filled by former Grand Prix rider Danny Webb.
Practice for the Classic TT and Manx Grand Prix is due to get underway this evening.