Almost three years since motorbikes last powered around the fearsome 37.7-mile Snaefell Mountain Course, they are back with riders, teams and fans prepared for what is primed to be the biggest - and potentially the fastest - TT yet in its distinguished 125-year history.

Indeed, while organisers took the reasonable decision to cancel the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Isle of Man TT to protect residents of the small island from the estimated 45,000 people that make the annual pilgrimage amid a very active COVID-19 pandemic, they have gone to lengths to ensure its welcome return comes back with a bang.

Anchored by an ambitions new live television package, updated regulations for the Supersport, Supertwins and Sidecar classes and a veritable who's-who of the great and good of road racing poised to pin the throttle down Bray Hill once more, the stage is very much set for almost two weeks of motorsport’s most extreme test.

Will the 2022 Isle of Man TT Mountain Course lap record fall?

Victories are one thing but for many riders competing at the Isle of Man TT, it is the acclaim of holding a lap record around the Snaefell Mountain Course that inspires many to push both themselves and their machines to the limits.

It’s a benchmark that has steadily risen over the years as new advances in technology give riders the confidence to push on harder in order to shave those precious few hundredths of their personal bests.

Unconventionally, the Isle of Man TT doesn’t express its lap record as the quickest time, instead highlighting the average speed it took to complete it. It just serves to emphasise the extremities of the 37.7-mile course, which is currently attributed with an extraordinary record average speed of 135.452mph, or 16mins 42.778secs.

That accolade is currently held by Peter Hickman, who set the record in 2018 aboard the Smiths BMW S 1000 RR. The Louth rider - who made his TT debut in 2014 - has been the form man at the event in recent years and is broadly considered the man most likely to break the record again.

However, while rivals are also tipping him for something special this year, the man himself says he is focused on victories, rather than performance. Moreover, it might take some longer than others to shuck off the rust of inaction for two years, while of course the great British summer weather tends to have its say on matters.

Senior TT, Superbike, Superstock - The Main Contenders

While there will be plenty of fresh looking machinery lining up on the startline this year, road racing’s finest warriors cut familiar figures at the head of the anticipated favourites list… 

Indeed, the two-year pause has only heightened expectation for its return, especially for Peter Hickman, who is firmly planted as the rider to beat among his rivals and commentators, even if the fan favourite is maintaining a fairly modest outlook for his fortunes.

Indeed, the pandemic certainly halted the momentum Peter Hickman had amassed come 2020, notching up five victories across 2018 and 2019, including the lap record and Senior TT title in the former year. He’d have likely made it back-to-back success in 2019 but for technical issues opening the door for Dean Harrison.

It means Hickman is considered a rider with more to come on the Mountain Course, a status elevated by a number of developments in his favour since 2019. Indeed, despite his beloved Smiths Racing winding down its motorsport operation, Hickman and his trusty mechanics were promptly adopted by well-financed and passionate Macanese entrepreneur Faye Ho, through her FHO Racing team.

Moreover, his S 1000 RR has been upgraded to the more powerful and gadget-laden BMW M 1000 RR, which unlike Hickman’s FHO Racing BSB entry, comes with full factory backing from BMW, plus distinctive sponsorship from Gas Monkey.

However, as his 2019 issues show, it’s unwise to pick a winner before the flag falls and there are a number of worthy rivals more than capable of causing an upset on pure pace alone.

Defending champion Dean Harrison flies the flag again for Kawasaki with the same DAO Racing squad, the Bradford rider eager to prove his brilliant success in 2019 shouldn’t be described as simply ‘fortuitous’. 

Like Hickman, Harrison is one of the few in the field who has stayed ‘match fit’ during the hiatus with a steady campaign in BSB, whereas many of their rivals have been limited to scant outings in the absence of barely any road racing events since the start of 2020.

Honda arrives on the island ready to celebrate 30 years of the Honda Fireblade, an occasion they are marking in style with the return of its most successful talisman, John McGuinness.

The second most successful racer of all time at the Isle of Man TT with 23 wins, alas his pursuit of Joey Dunlop’s record of 26 wins has faltered since his last success in 2016, the combination of a serious leg injury, his calamitous stint with Norton and then COVID-19 costing him five years of attempts.

In the year he turns 50, McGuinness is back with Honda as the ideal ambassador for the brand amid talk this could be his final TT. His won’t be drawn on it, but it is telling that this year’s event is seen as something of a changing of the guard with the much anticipated debut of Glenn Irwin.

The latest BSB front runner after Hickman and Josh Brookes to give the Isle of Man TT a go, Irwin does at least have some impressive road racing credentials to his name with six wins in three years at the North West 200. While victory will be a target in future, Irwin’s progress will be keenly observed this year.

Sitting right behind McGuinness on that all-time winners’ list, Michael Dunlop has time on his side to exceed his uncle’s hallowed record, even if his best hopes of increasing his victory tally will likely come in the supporting classes.

Nonetheless, he cannot be counted out on a big bike either, despite the age of his Hawk Racing-run Suzuki GSX-R1000R, a machine he last raced in 2017. The last minute deal came after his plan to ride the Paul Bird Motorsport-prepared Ducati Panigale V4 R fell through, rumoured to be down to the bike proving unsuitable for the demands of the Isle of Man TT.

Yamaha will throw its weight of support behind a RICH Energy OMG Racing squad currently riding high from its impressive success in the early rounds of BSB. The team originally planned to debut in 2020 when it was aligned with BMW, but while it has since defected to Yamaha, it has retained the same riders with James Hillier and David Johnson experienced contenders on a Yamaha R1 machine working very well in OMG’s hands right now.

Perhaps the most intriguing dark horse of the Isle of Man TT, however, comes from Padgetts by Milenco Honda and specifically Davy Todd. The former works Honda rider switches to one of road racing’s most esteemed privateer efforts and was the standout in the run up to the Isle of Man TT with a head-turning performance at the North West 200.

Moreover, with the Honda CBR1000RR-R Fireblade seemingly a weapon in road racing trim, this could be Todd’s chance to make a name for himself as the factory effort goes through a period of transition.

Elsewhere, Isle of Man TT record breaker Ian Hutchinson - a five-time winner in 2010 - is back on the TAS Racing-run Milwaukee BMW M 1000 RR looking to roll back the years and show his form after several years blighted by punishing injury woes, while veteran racer Michael Rutter (Bathams) and Lee Johnston (Ashcourt) are two more popular highlights for a vast BMW entry.

Other names to look out for include, and Jamie Coward on the KTS Yamaha R1, Derek Shiels on the Roadhouse Macau BMW S 1000 RR and Philip Crowe on the Handtrans BMW S 1000 RR

However, the jarring flip-side of the TT’s spectacle has already made itself known after Sam West, one of the practice front runners and stand out in 2019, was forced out with a suspected broken leg after crashing his The Street Diner BMW S 1000 RR during Tuesday evening’s practice sessio

In addition to their Superbike efforts, the majority of the riders will also compete in adapted machinery for the Superstock class.

Supersport - The Main Contenders

As ever, many of the leading Superbike riders will be measuring up against one another in the Supersport class, which for 2022 has had its regulations brought into line with that of the WorldSSP and British Supersport by allowing models up to 960cc.

The main beneficiary of this loosening of the rules is Hickman, who will make use of his PHR (Peter Hickman Racing) prepared Triumph Street Triple 765 RS that competed in British Supersport last year to replace his Daytona 675.

However, the category is - like most Supersport series’ around the world - dominated by the proven Yamaha R6 package, the contenders of which are led by six time SSP TT winner Dunlop with his personal MD Racing set-up.

Others to look out for include Coward, Hillier, Johnson and Johnston, a 2019 winner in one of the two races that take place over the event.

Not to be discounted, Harrison retains allegiance to Kawasaki with his DAO Racing ZX-6R, while McGuinness is also mounting an alternative bid for glory on an Honda CBR600RR operated by SMT Racing.

Supertwins - The Main Contenders

A category - motorcycles up to 660cc - dominated by Paton machinery in recent years, the Supertwins TT (formerly known as Lightweight TT) beckons a new era with a more mixed up field than in recent years.

Dunlop is arguably the rider to beat on the exclusive Italian machine following victories in both 2018 and 2019, but he faces significant competition from Hickman aboard the same motorcycle.

The lap record holder contested the 2019 Lightweight TT on the factory Norton Superlight, scoring a creditable eighth place despite shocking rumours of quality control issues in the months leading up to former CEO Stuart Garner almost running the firm into the ground.

Sensing potential in the bike, Hickman purchased the Norton and set about upgrading it to compete in this year’s TT but saw his plans were scuppered when organisers ruled against its use because it wasn’t based on a roadgoing model. He purchased an Aprilia RS 660 instead, but has since settled on the Paton in his efforts to keep his target of six wins on track.

Aprilia remains a notably fresh addition to the field with its new V-Twin, with Stefano Bonetti and Raul Martinez the most notable leading contenders.

Beyond Dunlop and Hickman, Coward is an anticipated threat on a Kawasaki Z650, as is 2017 winner Rutter on another Paton and Gary Johnson on a Kawasaki ER-6.

Sidecar - The Main Contenders

The Sidecar TT class is pulled into the 21st century with a change to the regulations to allow engines up to 900cc (twin).

The Birchall brothers - Brian and Todd - remain the pair to beat having won seven of the last eight Sidecar TT races, though fans will likely be cheering on local favourite and long-time competitor Dave Molyneux, who has racked up 17 wins since his debut way back in 1989.

Also, look out for Mike Russell, who not only makes his Sidecar debut this year but will do so alongside a full solo two-wheel campaign. It makes him the first person in 125 years to attempt the feat of competing in all eight races of an event