THE BATTLE TO BE BMW’S NO.1
Hutchy and Dunlop are both riding BMWS in the big bike races at the TT, but who will come out on top?
One of the things that makes the current era of TT racing so fascinating are the personalities and rivalries involved.
All through the field there are battles being fought between riders and manufacturers, and in 2016 one of the fiercest confrontations will be between BMW rivals Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop.
Hutchy appeared to be rising to road racing dominance in 2010 as he became the first man to win five TT races in a week on the Padgetts Hondas. The Yorkshireman’s well documented leg injury halted his relentless progress but the 36-year-old bounced back to win three races in 2015. With 11 TT career wins on his CV, Hutchy has joined the Tyco BMW squad as he bids to make up for those lost years.
Michael Dunlop’s star has risen during Hutchy’s absence, something the Bingley man is always keen to point out. Dunlop has won 10 of his 11 TT races since 2010, including two unprecedented four-timers in 2013 and 2014. The Ballymoney man wanted to prove that he could win on any bike, jumping from manufacturer to manufacturer to chock up numerous successes before last season’s disastrous union with Milwaukee Yamaha saw his brilliant run of success crash to a bitter end.
Dunlop has now returned to the BMW fold with Stuart and Steve Hicken’s Hawk Racing, and the highly charged Ulster man is determined to show his 2015 annus horribilis was nothing more than a temporary blip.
Meanwhile, Hutchy and his Tyco
BMW squad will be equally determined to prove his 2015 treble Tt-winning annus mirabilis is the resumption of a dominance that was only interrupted by his horrific injury.
“I got a little buzz today when I rode the superbike from Windy Corner round to the 33rd,” Hutchy said after taking his new mount for his first spin on the Mountain course during a photo shoot at last week’s TT press launch. “I thought f**king hell this is going to be good.”
The Bingley man had already covered hundreds of miles on the BMW during pre-season Spanish tests before putting the S1000RR on the podium in the Superstock race at the opening Silverstone BSB round.
“It was brilliant for me to get back to that level and that’s because I am so comfortable with the bike,” he explained. “It’s just effortless to ride fast, you’re not forcing it to do a fast lap and I just rode round. I’m just hoping that everything transfers well to the Isle of Man.”
Dunlop was also in action in the BSB races at Silverstone as he enters what will be a third season on the German superbike after his defection from Yamaha last year. Will that offer him an advantage over Hutchy in 2016?
“Not really,” he says. “I don’t think continuity is the be all and end all. A bike is a bike and you have to ride it. I won on my first year on Kawasaki, Honda and BMW, and John Mcguinness has ridden a Honda Fireblade for seven or eight years and he hasn’t won every Senior TT has he?”
But the 26-year-old, who established the second fastest TT lap of all time at 132.5mph on a S1000RR in last year’s Senior race, is clearly determined to retain his status as the most successful BMW rider.
“Since BMW brought out the new RR I am the only man who has won the big bike race for them at the TT and I am still the fastest BMW rider in Superstock and Superbike,” he says.
BMW’S policy of offering supposedly equal race support to every team running their machinery plus offering factory-built engines for sale creates some confusion as to what special support Tyco will receive as the ‘official’ Bmw-supported team at the TT.
“I went to test at the BMW camp at Almeria,” Hutchy says. “They did some upgrades on my bike and I finetuned it and then they gave it to every other BMW rider there so we all got the exactly same info! Maybe it’s just that we’ve not all got the same pay packet or company cars.”
But Dunlop, who had a German engine builder on hand to work on the factory-supplied engines he raced with at the TT in 2014, is more circumspect.
“They will have access to everything they need,” he says referring to the Tyco BMW’S ‘official’ designation.
‘All BMW riders get the same data, maybe it’s just that we’ve not all got the same pay packet’
“My bikes are built entirely by Hawk Racing with no input from BMW and no special parts,” he says.
Does that put him at a disadvantage against his great rival?
“No” he smiles. “Everybody has been running round with special parts for the last 10 years and we are still winning races.”
The old adage that a happy racer will be a fast racer will be put to the test in 2016 with both men appearing equally content with their team set-ups.
“The whole thing with the team has been pretty effortless,” Hutchy says of his Guy Martin-less Tyco squad.
“Everyone has just clicked into place. All the riders get on, everyone’s doing a good job, everyone’s happy with the bikes and the mechanics all know what they are doing.”
“I am getting what I want so there is no reason to be unhappy,” Dunlop, who has not always enjoyed that luxury, says. “I get on well with Steve (Hicken) and everything I’ve asked for has been delivered so you cannot ask for more than that. When you are in that sort of environment it makes life a lot easier.”
Despite their contentedness, both men face significant challenges as they take on Mcguinness, Anstey and Co as well as each other in June.
Hutchinson’s Tyco team have not won a Superbike TT since 2008 and nor has the team’s tyre supplier, Metzeler. The team may be in their second term with BMW but it is Hutchy’s first year on the German machine and in spite of his huge TT success, the Bingley man remains over a 1mph down on pace against his principal TT rivals.
Dunlop is also faced with his own challenges. The Hawk team will not have the same level of BMW factory support that his rival’s Tyco squad will enjoy, and the Ballymoney man is coming off the back of a very bad year that involved several confidencedenting crashes.
“If the bike doesn’t have the power, I can make up for a small lack of speed or a small lack of handling but you can’t make up for being 25 horsepower down,” Dunlop said. “There is so much pace around at the moment that you won’t stand a chance.”