The 23rd March saw the official launch of the 2017 Isle of Man TT Races with a star-studded evening on the island and with it came a number of announcements that will well and truly have whetted the appetite in preparation for the main event in June.
A simply stunning line-up has been assembled, particularly within the top twenty seeded riders, and with no less than five manufacturers represented, the Superbike and Senior races should again create the biggest headlines.
Norton to start at number one as McGuinness opts for five:
The honour of starting at number one in 2017 goes to David Johnson and Norton Racing, just reward for their efforts and near 131mph lap of last year but, arguably the biggest news – and biggest surprise – is the rider at number five, John McGuinness. That places the Honda Racing rider right in between Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop, the latter two continuing with numbers four and six respectively.
With the exception of 2014, McGuinness has had the number one plate every year since 2011 so a lot of thought has clearly gone into his decision. Clearly he feels his best chance of another Superbike victory is to compete with his main rivals on the road and as he said at the press launch, gone are the days that he can start at number one and disappear into the distance – ne needs to try something different.
Round two for Hutchinson and Dunlop?
With the Tyco BMW of Hutchinson starting ten seconds in front of him, McGuinness has the ideal target to chase but that philosophy applies to Dunlop too. Riding the new Bennetts Suzuki, the Northern Irishman will be aiming to repeat his wins of 2016 and better his outright lap record so with his two main rivals starting directly in front of him, he’ll certainly be able to gauge his progress during the races.
Indeed, Dunlop and Hutchinson believe that they are the men to beat and whilst not discounting any of the opposition, especially McGuinness, they will expect to be disputing the wins. There’s clearly not a lot of love lost between them and are desperate not to let the other beat them. Dunlop has no doubt he can win on Suzuki with Hutchinson feeling that the switch to Dunlop tyres is the final piece in the jigsaw that will enable him to win a Superbike and/or Senior TT again.
More potential race winners:
In no way shape or form will the big bike races at TT be just about these three though and the top twenty is littered with potential race winners. Bruce Anstey, who already has 11 wins to his name, will carry the number two plate on the Padgetts Honda, his seventh year with the Batley based squad, and with the choice of either the all-new Fireblade or the exotic RC213V-S, there’s no way the others will be ignoring the threat he poses.
Behind him comes James Hillier and although he has just the one TT win to his name, the 2014 Lightweight, he’s the fifth fastest rider of all time and took three podiums last year. Success in the big bike races are what he wants though with the same applying to Conor Cummins. The Manxman continues with Honda for a fourth successive year but announced his switch to the Padgetts team where he completes a formidable looking squad alongside Anstey.
Too big an ask for Martin?
The returning Guy Martin starts at number eight and with 16 podiums to his name, there’s no doubt the Lincolnshire rider has the potential to win. His participation at this year’s TT is both eagerly awaited and a massive injection to an event that is already enjoying some boom years.
However, with considerable development work to be done with the Fireblade, the 2017 TT might be the most difficult for him yet. Combine that with his own race rustiness – his last competitive race was the Ulster Grand Prix in August 2015 – and it’s a big ask for the now 35-year old to be standing on the top step.
Martin’s return may have been the one to grab all the headlines but another exciting man on the TT comeback trail is Josh Brookes. His passion for the event is clear for all to see and if the Norton makes further strides forward in 2017, like it did in 2016, the 2015 British Superbike Champion will make another significant impression. He’s only competed at the TT twice though, the last time being in 2014, so it’ll be a case of gradually building up for the amiable Aussie.
Strength in depth:
No less than 19 out of the top 20 seeded riders have all lapped comfortably over 128mph, and between them they have a staggering tally of 71 TT victories and 195 TT podiums, further emphasising the fact that the strength of depth and quality at the top end of the field is at an all-time high.
Dean Harrison took three podiums on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki last year with the youngster still learning his TT trade as his Peter Hickman. The fastest newcomer of all time, his progression in three years has been staggering and already the fourth fastest rider ever, he’ll be looking for a maiden podium this June.
Michael Rutter, the 11th and final member of the 131mph Club, will again ride the Bathams/SMT Racing BMW whilst another former race winner, Gary Johnson, will be the second seeded rider to be mounted on the new Suzuki.
Lee Johnston (Jackson Racing Honda), Dan Kneen (Penz13.com BMW), William Dunlop (Halsall Racing BMW), Steve Mercer and Ivan Lintin (Devitt RC Express Racing Kawasaki), Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles BMW) and Dan Hegarty (Top Gun Racing Honda) complete the top twenty.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.