Former Senior TT winner Steve Plater is expecting another heavyweight showdown between big guns Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson around the Mountain Course, where practice gets underway on Saturday.
The duo dominated the festival last year, with Hutchinson repeating his 2015 treble in the Supersport and Superstock races, while Dunlop reigned in the showpiece Superbike and Senior events.
Ulsterman Dunlop has made the move from BMW to Suzuki machinery this season on the all-new GSX-R1000 and although Hutchinson has remained with Northern Ireland’s Tyco BMW team, he has changed tyre brands from Metzeler to Dunlop, adding extra intrigue to their renewal of hostilities on Mona’s Isle.
Plater, who will once again be part of host broadcaster ITV4’s expert team of pundits at the festival, says it is impossible to look past Dunlop and Hutchinson once more, who have now won 13 and 14 TT races respectively.
“Realistically if you look at the formbook and the obvious choices, your podium would be numbers four and six on the starting grid: Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop. I’d have been putting John McGuinness in there as well,” Plater told the News Letter.
“Of course Michael Dunlop’s on a new bike and he’s got a big workload with the Lightweight race as well this year, but for sure he can manage it – no problem. I’m not saying John [McGuinness] would have beaten the Suzuki or BMW, but I don’t think he’d have been a million miles out on the Honda.
“Hutchy’s on the same package and the same bikes, but with different tyres. So he doesn’t have any real base settings heading to the TT with the Dunlops. Both riders have got a lot to learn and that will be made even more difficult if the weather isn’t fantastic.
“Last year it wasn’t a problem for anyone because the weather was so good and everyone got as many miles done as they wanted. But it only has to rain for half of practice week and all of a sudden, it puts those boys with new bikes and new things to learn on the back foot,” added the 2009 Senior winner.
“If that happens, then that opens the door for people like James Hillier, who will be on the front foot. It’s a really difficult year to read in my opinion but 100 per-cent, Michael and Hutchy for sure will be there.”
Records tumbled last year as Dunlop became the first rider in history to crack the sub 17-minute lap barrier around the infamous 37.73-mile course.
The 28-year-old also raised the outright lap record to within a whisker of 134mph, establishing a red-hot benchmark of 133.926mph on his way to victory in the Senior.
That was on his slowing down lap on lap two as he came in for fuel and if conditions prove favourable throughout practice and race week again this year, then the first 134mph lap at the TT will surely be accomplished.
The rivalry between the Ballymoney man and Bingley Bullet Hutchy boiled over last year during race week, culminating in Hutchinson’s rant at Dunlop in the post-race press conference after the TT, when he accused him of spreading rumours about the legality of parts in his race-winning Yamaha Supersport machine.
Hutchinson apologised to Dunlop via social media when it transpired that a question mark had been raised initially by the TT’s then technical director Adrian Gorst about the size of the bike’s pistons, who later said the parts were found to be eligible following ‘closer inspection’.
The atmosphere between the pair remains frosty and their rivalry is set to be fiercer than ever when they lock horns once more at the biggest road race on the calendar.
TT promoters have produced two versions of the official race programme this year featuring each rider on the front cover and Plater feels the opposition between road racing’s big two is good for the sport.
“It’s good for the sport and it’s no different to the Marquez-Rossi rivalry, on a different scale. It adds that bit of argy-bargy and as long as it’s kept under control, it’s not a problem.
“Hutchy won three races last year, Michael won two and they’re both winners. They had the same big bike last year, there was a bit of needle and they have the same kind of nature to a certain degree: second place is the first loser. So it’s no surprise really because they are each other’s biggest rivals at the TT,” he added.
“We’re talking hypothetically about everyone’s chances but if you had £500 in your pocket and you needed to pay the mortgage for the next six months, who would you put your money on? I’d put mine on Michael Dunlop.”