Isle of Man TT 2017 Race Preview

200+ mph, views of the Irish Sea, and a rivalry for the ages: it’s TT time 2017!

IOMTT 2017
Newcomers set off for their compulsory speed controlled lap of the Course.Photo: IOMTT

2017 is the 110th anniversary of the Isle of Man TT, and this year's action promises to be a fitting tribute as record-breaking times are expected around the legendary 37¾ mile Snaefell mountain course.

The main storyline this year revolves around the rivalry between two all-time greats: Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson.

Ian Hutchinson at IOMTT 2017
Ian Hutchinson, 'The Bingley Bullet,' at the Northwest 200.Photo: Tyco BMW
Dunlop at IOMTT 2017
Michael Dunlop on the Bennetts Suzuki Superbike.Photo: IOMTT

Last year, Michael Dunlop won the RST Superbike TT and the Pokerstars Senior TT, and in the process posted a new outright lap record with an average speed of 133.692 mph.

Hutchinson won three TTs in 2016: both Monster Energy Supersport TTs and the RL 360˚ Quantum Superstock TT.

That brings Dunlop’s tally of victories to 13 and Hutchinson’s to 14, a number he shares with Mike Hailwood. Only Joey Dunlop and John McGuinness have more bike wins with 26 and 23 respectively. Sidecar specialist Dave Molyneux is next with 17 wins.

Hutchy at IOMTT
Ian Hutchinson on the Tyco BMW Superbike.Photo: Simon Williams Photography

The rivalry is not limited to the record books, however. During the press conference following last year’s Senior race, the typically soft-spoken Hutchinson mistakenly accused Dunlop of spreading rumors about his Supersport-winning machine.

“I’ve done my best to congratulate Michael all week when he’s done well,” Hutchinson explained, “and you know, I was pretty disgusted about the behavior, to be honest. The scrutineers were suspect about something that was nothing wrong, and then Michael’s team protested and then he tried to spread a rumor that we had oversize pistons, so I need to have a pretty big think about coming back to the TT to be honest, unless the organizers can explain what was going on there.”

For MotoGP fans, this sort of controversy is all too familiar, drawing comparisons to the Rossi-Marquez dispute at the 2015 Sepang press conference. Similar to that rivalry, when two opposite personalities are fighting over the same piece of tarmac, things are bound to get tense. While Dunlop took Hutchy’s aspersions on the nose, you can be sure it’ll give him more motivation when he sets off down Bray Hill.

If we’ve learned anything from the Sepang debacle, it’s that personal rivalries stoked by the media and adopted by fans make for a highly intriguing atmosphere. The TT organizers, keen to play up the situation, have even printed programs with two different covers, one featuring Hutchinson, the other Dunlop.

For one more layer of intrigue, Dunlop will be campaigning a new machine for 2017, moving from his Hawk Racing BMW to the new Bennetts Suzuki GSX-R1000 in the big bike classes (still run by the Hawk Racing Team). Hutchinson will remain on Phillip and Hector Neil’s tried and true Tyco BMW S1000RR, but is switching from Metzeler tires to Dunlops.

IOMTT 2017 Michael Dunlop
Michael Dunlop posing with the Bennetts Suzuki GSX-R1000.Photo: Suzuki Racing

While racing is unpredictable in the first place, there’s no more mercurial place than the Isle of Man, where the vagaries of man, machine, and fate are exposed to their most erratic core. Dunlop and Hutchinson are the heirs apparent, but the island may have different ideas, choosing to chasten one of a host of other worthy candidates.

Unfortunately, John McGuinness will not be one of those men, absent this year after suffering injuries from a practice crash at the North West 200 in Northern Ireland.

Dean Harrison, who had a string of podiums in 2016 and won the Lightweight TT in 2014, is in fine form, coming off a Supersport podium at the Northwest. He’ll be brimming with confidence as he remains on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki for a second year.

Bruce Anstey
Bruce Anstey on the Padgett's Honda Superbike.Photo: IOMTT

Harrison’s mate Lee Johnston is also coming off a strong Northwest showing where he finished second to 21-time winner Alastair Seeley in the second Superstock race and third in the first Superbike race. The diminutive Northern Irishman parted company with Jackson Racing just days before TT practice began, trading his Honda CBR1000RR to return to the East Coast Racing BMW for the big bike classes. He’ll be campaigning a Padgett’s CBR600RR in the Supersport race alongside Bruce Anstey and Conor Cummins.

Anstey, the evergreen Kiwi and 11-time TT winner, is always a threat if he wakes up on the right side of the bed, as is often said of him. Once again, he’ll campaign an RC213V-S in the Superbike and Senior races and will be hungry after a fairly disappointing 2016 TT. While he did win the TT Zero race last year, a crash during qualifying earlier in the week put a damper on his overall performance.

Conor Cummins stays with Honda but moves from the official Honda Racing team to the Padgett’s team. The Manxman is a consistent threat from the moment he starts down Glencrutchery road, but has yet to stand at the top step of the podium.

Lee Johnston
Lee Johnston on the Padgett's Honda Supersport.Photo: IOMTT

After a year away, Guy Martin returns to carry the flag for the official Honda Racing team. Always a fan favorite, Martin is still in search of an elusive first win, though he’s visited the podium 16 times. Honda will no doubt have high hopes for him to give the new Fireblade a strong showing.

Josh Brookes is also returning to the TT, having been absent since 2014. The 2015 BSB champion will contest the Senior and Superbike races on the Norton V4, and is assuming McGuinness’s Supersport seat at Jackson Racing. This is only the Australian’s third TT, but he’s already shown he has no trouble translating his short circuit speed to the mountain course.

Two-time Macau Grand Prix winner, Peter Hickman returns to the TT with high expectations. He had an impressive 2014 debut and is one to watch out for on the Smiths Racing BMW S1000RR. Hickman campaigns the Smiths BMW in BSB, so he’s comfortable on it and we know it goes well at the TT.

James Hillier is once again with the Bournemouth-based JG Speedfit Kawasaki team and is a consistent podium threat across all the classes.

As always, weather could play a big factor and has already disrupted the earliest scheduled practice sessions.

Regardless of the outcome, you can be sure the 2017 TT will be filled with drama and heroics. In the United States, follow the action on Discovery Velocity Channel and at velocity.com.