Dunlop and Hutchinson geared for blue riband Isle of Man TT showdown
Dunlop or Hutchinson? That is the big question being asked by all race fans here on Mona's Isle, prior to today's six-lap blue riband Senior TT race, which brings the curtain down on this year's Isle of Man TT Festival.
Michael Dunlop took the opening day plaudits in the six-lap TT Superbike race last Saturday, setting a new absolute lap record in the process with a staggering 133.393mph (16mins 58.254 secs) effort, the first-ever sub 17-minute lap at the event.
While the Hawk Racing BMW team of Dunlop was celebrating, Ian Hutchinson and his Tyco BMW squad were left scratching their heads, wondering just how they were going to stop the Ballymoney man.
And to rub salt into the wounds, Dunlop said post-race: "To do a 133mph lap from a standing start, then better it on lap two is pretty good. My plan is to lift the bar again in Friday's Senior and 134mph is not out of the question if we have to go there."
As is so often the case at the TT, though, Dunlop's celebrations have since turned to woes.
He was stripped of second place following a hard fought battle with Hutchinson in the opening Monster Energy Supersport on Monday, after an engine purchased late in the day from Mar-Train Racing was deemed illegal.
Dunlop then retired his MD Racing BMW from the Superstock TT encounter later in the day with a broken gear linkage. But before then, Hutchinson had again turned the screw on his Tyco backed BMW, gaining the upper hand and his second win of TT2016. Not to mention a new lap record at 133.098mph on what is effectively a showroom model motorcycle.
Another engine was then flown in and a late night of bike building got Dunlop back in the game. But Hutchinson again had too much in the locker and made it a TT Supersport double for Came Yamaha, much to the delight of team owner Keith Flint of Prodigy rock band fame.
With that came the prestige of joining the legendary Mike Hailwood on 14 career TT wins, and now two in front of Dunlop in the all-time winners' list, setting the scene for a battle royale in today's six-lap Senior, which is coveted by all, but won by few.
Hutchinson is bang in the zone now, and with his Tyco BMW team having made a few minor adjustments for today, in an effort to make life a little more comfortable for the toughest race of the week, the Bingley ace has his heart set on making it four wins this week.
The aforementioned changes were tangible, with Hutchy posting a lap of 133mph during a short practice session on Wednesday. So the scene really is set for a classic encounter, with BMW Motorrad rubbing their German hands, as they look at a potential clean sweep in the 1000cc classes this TT.
One man who can never be discounted is 23-time TT winner John McGuinness. Last year he was written off by the media, which enraged the normally mild mannered Morecambe racer who went on to win the Senior, setting a new outright lap record - until broken by Dunlop.
Two other men who should not be discounted are Honda Racing's Conor Cummins, who retired his CBR1000 in the TT Superbike race with a mechanical issue on lap one and GB Moto Kawasaki's Peter Hickman.
In only his third TT, Hickman posted a lap of 132mph during last Saturday's Superbike race on the sixth and final circuit. He's big and he's strong and has all the talent to deliver on the all-new ZX-10R Kawasaki.
The Senior TT gets under way at 12.45pm, with the three-lap second Sidecar race starting proceedings at 10.45am.