Friday’s blue riband PokerStars Senior TT is set for a winner-takes-all shootout between big hitters Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson.
Ulsterman Dunlop set a new absolute lap record for the 37.73-mile Mountain Course of 133.393mph on his way to his 12th TT win in last Saturday’s RST Superbike race, achieving the first ever sub-17 minute lap on the Hawk Racing BMW as he defeated arch-rival Ian Hutchinson on the Tyco BMW by 19 seconds after a pulsating six laps.
However, Bingley Bullet Hutchinson has since surpassed Dunlop on the all-time roll of honour, rattling off a quick-fire treble with a dominant brace in the Supersport races and a commanding win in the Superstock race to draw level with Mike Hailwood on 14 island triumphs.
Dunlop was excluded from the results of the opening Monster Energy Supersport TT on Monday after an engine supplied to him by Northern Ireland’s Mar-Train Racing team was deemed to have been in breach of the rules.
More misfortune followed in Wednesday’s RL360 Quantum Superstock race, when the 27-year-old retired from second place at the end of the opening lap with a damaged gear lever.
In contrast, Hutchinson has been going from strength to strength and blasted the Superstock record from a standing start, lapping at an incredible 133.098mph.
The 36-year-old Yorkshireman took Wednesday’s Supersport race by the scruff of the neck to clinch his 14th victory and Hutchinson is now on a roll as the anticipation surrounding Friday’s showpiece Senior TT – the undisputed Holy Grail of motorcycle road racing – builds towards a nerve-jangling crescendo.
Hutchy threw down the gauntlet during Wednesday’s final Senior practice lap as he clocked his first 133mph Superbike lap on the Tyco BMW at 133.15mph from a standing start.
It was agonisingly close to a sub-17 minute lap, with his average speed equating to a time of 17m 00.097s.
Dunlop had in fact been a few seconds up on Hutchinson’s time to Ramsey, but he slowed dramatically on the run over the Mountain and his speed at the finish was 129.13mph.
Should Hutchinson beat Dunlop in the six-lap Senior showdown, the English rider will leave the Isle of Man with maximum bragging rights.
However, Dunlop can have the last laugh by completing a prestigious ‘big bike’ double and perhaps setting the first ever 134mph lap to send him back to Ulster as the King of the Mountain.
All the attention is rightly focused on the record-breaking duo, but Honda Racing’s John McGuinness will come out swinging as the 44-year-old bids for an unlikely repeat of his sensational Senior triumph in 2015.
Flying Kiwi Bruce Anstey is also feeling physically stronger following his practice crash at Keppel Gate and will be laying it on the line on the Valvoline Padgett’s Honda RC213V-S MotoGP replica in his quest for a podium.
It is hard to envisage anyone else having a realistic chance of upsetting the mighty quartet, though James Hillier on the Quattro Plant Muc-Off Kawasaki and Dean Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) may be best of the rest.
Dunlop, unable to build on his stunning Superbike victory during the week, will be a different proposition on the Hawk Racing Superbike, when he again sets off at number six – 20 seconds behind Hutchy.
“We struggled with the 600 and Superstock bikes all week so it’s time to get on the Superbike and push,” said Dunlop, whose team arranged for a private jet to fly over an engine for his Supersport machine for Wednesday’s race.
Hutchinson’s response was decisive when he was asked if he felt he could carry his form into the Senior TT.
“Definitely. It’s been brilliant between us two this week and we both want to win a lot and we’re always going to be disappointed when we don’t win, but I’ve a lot of respect for what he does on a bike,” he said.
“Hopefully we can push a bit harder on Friday and make a race of it.”
Sure Sidecar Race 2 – 10.15am (3 laps)
PokerStars Senior TT – 12.45pm (6 laps).