Ulster Grand Prix: TT stars assemble for launch of 2018 event

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Peter Hickman won the Superstock and Senior races at the Isle of Man TT

Peter Hickman, Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison, who dominated the recent Isle of Man TT, have all confirmed they will compete at August's Ulster Grand Prix.

The trio were among the riders who gathered for the launch of this year's revamped event in Lisburn on Monday.

The Dundrod 150 races have been dropped for 2018, with four Ulster GP races now scheduled for Thursday 9 August and seven for Saturday 11 August.

Practice will take place on Wednesday 8 August and on the following day, before the race programme begins.

Lincolnshire rider Hickman now enjoys the title of 'The World's Fastest Road Racer' thanks to his final lap of 135.452mph in the Senior TT on 8 June, which saw him see off Harrison by two seconds to take victory.

That bettered Yorkshireman Harrison's Dundrod lap record speed of 134.617, set in the second Superbike race last year.

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Dean Harrison won the final Superbike race at last year's Ulster Grand Prix

Hickman will again ride for the Smith's Racing team, with his compatriot on board Silicone Engineering Kawasaki machines and Dunlop campaigning a Tyco BMW Superbike, MD Racing Superstock and Honda Supersport.

Honda Racing pilot Lee Johnston, Padgett's Honda ace Conor Cummins, Cookstown BE Racing rider Davey Todd, ILR Racing representative Joey Thompson, Adam McLean of McAdoo Racing and Dominic Herbertson also guested at the launch at Lisburn's Lagan Valley Island.

Among the other changes to this year's event are a restriction on the number of newcomers at the meeting.

Superbike, Superstock, and Supersport races will only be open to international licence holders with national licence holders eligible to compete in the other classes.

Dean Harrison and Peter Hickman are expected to be at the fore at the Ulster Grand Prix in August
Dean Harrison and Peter Hickman are expected to be at the fore at the Ulster Grand Prix in August

Four races on Thursday

The Thursday programme will now see four initial Ulster Grand Prix races taking place including the first of the meeting's three Superbike races, plus Supersport, Ultralightweight/Lightweight and Supertwins classes.

"Obviously I'm keen to see Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison in action after their incredible battle at the TT," said UGP Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston.

"It definitely puts an exciting spin on this year's event now that 'Hicky' has made the TT the World's Fastest Road Race. The fan banter has been great but, all of that aside, the key focus for me is rider safety.

"We now have two days of international road racing on Thursday 9 and Saturday 11 August, with the introduction of a 20-minute warm-up session on the Saturday.

"Ultimately these changes and additions have been made with both safety and practicality in mind and we must keep pushing the bar on both fronts as Bike Week continues to grow."

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Lee Johnston clinched a treble of victories in 2015

Last year's hat-trick hero Hickman added: "If we get weather like we did at the TT there's a really good chance we'll be bringing it (the title of world's fastest road race) back to Northern Ireland as it's such a fast circuit."

"I'm really looking forward to Dundrod. The Smiths Racing BMW has been amazing and while BSB has got off to a slightly slower start, the road racing side of things has been really strong.

"The track time has been invaluable though and I'm really happy with what I've got and the people around me, and that's what makes a big difference."