Ian Hutchinson opened his 2017 Isle of Man TT fuelled by Monster Energy account in perfect style today, by taking victory in the race-week opening RST Superbike TT.
Cruising into the winner’s enclosure looking calm and composed you’d be forgiven for thinking the Bingley Bullet made it look all too easy. In his own words though; this year’s fortnightly visit to the legendary Mountain Course has been one of the strangest the 37-year-old racer has ever been involved in.
Bad weather, delays, and schedule changes have limited the amount of practice laps – vital for dialing in race machinery. What’s more Hutchy was riding a new bike built by BMW, shod with unfamiliar tyres. He needn’t have worried though. Through grit, determination, and sheer outright blistering speed he emerged from the six lap contest with his 15th TT win - clocking a total six-lap race time of 1:45.474 and an average speed of 128.170mph. Put another way, that’s 226miles on country roads, in less than two hours, on a fire spitting 190bhp Superbike.
“It’s been the strangest practice and start to race week that I’ve ever been involved in really. We all struggled for laps last week, and then we got loads and loads yesterday. Going into today’s race we made some changes to the bike, so I felt a bit lost on lap one. My pit board showed P4 on the first lap, which I was actually surprised about as I was struggling going into Glen Helen (9.5 miles into the lap). The gap was changing all the time – Dean [Harrison] was setting a great pace; and as the race went on the positions kept switching again.
“I just tried to focus on my own race - I thought to myself – it’s the TT; it’s six laps; just keep digging in; we’ve got a lot to learn for the race on Friday, and thank god I did keep digging in. It’s a great result with the new bike and Dunlop tyres; I’d made the decision to change the tyres and two weeks before we came to the North West 200 to prepare for the TT, the team built me a new bike. It’s basically a Superstock bike with a Superbike engine.
“It was either going to work or it wasn’t, and it looks like it did! Massive thanks to the team for trusting my decision with the tyres and making it all work. To lead the BMW charge round here at the TT is massive – everyone puts in huge effort and they look great too. If you walk up to a bike that looks good – it makes you want to win on it. And that’s what the BMW’s do."
While it was all smiles on the podium, current lap record holder, and 13-time TT winner Michael Dunlop was forced to switch from rider to spectator after his 2017-spec Bennetts Suzuki GSXR1000R experienced technical problems on lap two, at Handley’s Corner at the 12th mile marker.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Dunlop. Not only had he been in epic form since Saturday’s superbike qualifying – but right up until the his bike cut out, he was in the lead of the race – having nosed ahead at Ballaugh Bridge (the 17th mile marker) on lap one.
“It is what it is. The race was fairly nip and tuck for the first lap, the conditions were good; we’d set a solid pace on the road, and I was just getting into a rhythm,” explained Dunlop. “We’ve definitely got the pace to win, it’s just a case of ironing out the little issues. The boys will get the bike fixed and we’ll be back at it soon enough.”
The 2017 Isle of Man TT continues tomorrow, June 5th, with the four lap Monster Energy Supersport race as well as further Superstock and Superbike qualifying. Full results from the 2017 RST Superbike race are available, here.