A full day of events started the countdown to TT 2017. After most of the riders had frozen their rocks off clay pigeon shooting; the group gathered at the Motor Museum in Jurby for lunch; then interviews and photo shoots with the assembled press corps.
Whilst there was not a whole heap of new information it was good to ascertain how things are going as the season approaches at a rerate of knots. One of the worst kept secrets was officially revealed; with Conor Cummins announcing his tie up with the Padgett’s team. He is slated to ride the new Fireblade; but could yet join Bruce Anstey; who retains number 2; on one of the fabulous looking and sounding RCVs. Conor has long been associated with number 10; but this he chosen to move to 7, sandwiched between Michael Dunlop and Guy Martin. Both Conor and Bruce will be on the CBR600RR machines in the Supersport Races. With the excellence of Padgett’s preparation behind them both will fancy their chances of more podium finishes.
Perhaps the favourite for more wins is the amazing Ian Hutchinson whose comeback is the stuff of legend. He stays where he was so has familiar machines and support crews in all of his races. The machinery will just have a few minor tweaks; with the Superbike going to Dunlop tyres. Ian was, as usual, shy and self effacing when I spoke to him; but beneath the soft persona is a fierce determination; it will take something special to beat him this year.
John McGuinness was as usual the most sought after by the visiting press. He is enthused by the prospect of riding the new Fireblade. However there have been teething problems with the machine and the upbeat exterior may just have been hiding inner disappointment with bike; we shall see come the Superbike Race. His decision to move from bird scarer (no. 1) to number 5 is interesting. Having Hutchy to chase and Michael behind should ensure that he is right on the case from the drop of the flag.
Guy Martin was absent from the event; so we shall have to wait until May for the thoughts of Chairman Guy. The undertones suggest that there may not be the harmony of the last two years in the Honda camp. His multitude of fans would love Guy to win; but a year away from racing will not be a positive; I sense that he is destined to be the finest rider never to taste victory.
Michael Dunlop missed the day time events but was in full flow in the evening. He like John McGuinness has a book coming out shortly; it will no doubt be a warts and all expose; can’t wait to read it. Michael has taken a gamble by moving from proven BMW machinery to the new GSXR Suzuki. Short circuit testing is highly promising; but as Michael admits, short circuits and the TT are vastly different propositions. Michael was highly entertaining and had the best quote of the night, saying that some of the roads that he has raced on Ireland are not fit for herding sheep on. Michael is fully committed and if the big Suzuki can handle the vagaries of the circuit he will be the man to slug it out with Hutchy.
James Hillier is dropping his Supertwin ride to concentrate on his Supersport and big bike endeavours. If the bike upgrades work he can most certainly mix it with anyone; having lapped at over 132mph. Another Kawasaki rider who is ready to challenge for the top step is Dean Harrison; he too stays put so has familiarity with the bikes and team on his side. He has been rewarded with his first start in the top 10; at number 9.
Peter Hickman is with Smith’s Racing; he reverts to BMW from Kawasaki. He is on top form; loves the bike and having “raced for the first time” in last year’s Senior; rather than holding something in reserve; is one who will be looking to take some podium finishes; as befits the fourth fastest rider of all time (132.465mph). He has number 10 and would have liked to have been nearer to the front end of the line up.
For the first time since 1966 a Norton will carry the number 1 plate in the Senior TT (and of course the Superbike Race). The rider in 1966 was Joe Dunphy; this year it Davo Johnson. He put last year’s machine around at over 131.5mph and was set to go faster until he made a detour at Sulby Bridge. If the new bike is as good as is rumoured he will be knocking more loudly on the door. He is joined in the team by fellow Australian and former BSB Superbike Champion Josh Brookes. He made sure that he could ride here; but it will take a time for him to settle into it again after two years away and having only limited racing in his two years competing in the event.
Michael Rutter was faster than ever in 2016 and is another with the comfort blanket of staying with familiar bike and team. More top six finishers must be his target. After a problematic year Gary Johnson is master of his own destiny and seems to perform best when he a small team that he is comfortable with. Gary’s preparation is going well; he is a very fast rider and given a good machine could easily challenge for the podium in all of races. He is confident that his mount is capable of beating the Kawasakis in the Supertwin Race; now that would be something special.
After a problematic 2016 Lee Johnston has the Hondas of Jackson Racing at his disposal, including the bike campaigned in WSB by Nicky Hayden last year. The General is fast enough; but his Superbike may not be against the best of the BMWs; Kawasakis and works Hondas.
The second Manx 130mph lapper, Dan Kneen has moved to the Penz BMW team of Rico Penzkofer; the fastest German rider in TT history at 124.926mph. Dan will be looking to move his best past the 132mph mark and hopefully to secure some top 6 finishes. The RC Express Kawasaki riders, Ivan Lintin and Steve Mercer were also in attendance. With such good machinery both will be looking to crack 130pmh and grab some top 10 finishes in the big classes.
In the Sidecars the Birchall Brothers will be the team with the big target on their backs. The lap record holders retain the same set up; so will be looking for just marginal gains to help keep themselves on top.
John Holden’s long partnership has ended; local man Lee Cain has joined John and they seem certain to be challenging for the laurel wreaths. Tim Reeves has been joined by Mark Wilkes; with whom he won the 2015 S100 Championship. With Klaffi backing Tim will have the best of everything. Tim was not present; so no clues as to how preparation is going on the TT machine. 17 times winner DaveMolyneux continues to have the best passenger in the business in the shape of Dan Sayle. After suffering from engine problems all of last year; Dave has moved to Yamaha and is very happy with how matters are progressing. The machine is a missile and looks resplendent in the old Yamaha colours; as raced by Kenny Roberts. He believes that he can win and take back his lap record; I for one also believe that he can.
The event was a success and it has raised the sense of expectation amongst the hordes of bike fans on the island.