Dunlop makes big switch to Suzuki for the new campaign
Michael Dunlop has ended speculation as to his whereabouts for the 2017 season, having agreed terms for a third season with Hawk Racing - but this time it's to ride Suzuki's new GSX-R1000 at the Isle of Man TT, with support from the factory in Japan and Yoshimura, Suzuki's long-time tuning specialists.
The Bennetts-backed Suzuki ride will be another new challenge for the 13-time TT winner, who has taken Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha and BMW machinery to various class wins at the Isle of Man TT since his debut top step in 2009, and with it ends a winter of speculation as to which machinery he would eventually race in 2017.
Speaking of the deal with the father and son pairing who own and run the Hawk Racing team, Stuart and Steve Hicken, Dunlop said: "I was chatting with Steve for a while, and obviously we've worked together a lot before.
"With the new bike coming it's been a bit different and we had to gather up exactly what was happening," he said of Suzuki's new GSX-R1000 that the Hawk team will also run in the British Superbike Championship with former World Superbike champion Sylvain Guintoli in the saddle.
"I know Steve and I know Stuart well as people, so I know they can take a new bike and get it right for me," said Dunlop, showing a level of trust and respect that he doesn't share freely.
Giving an insight to the factory support from Suzuki's tuning specialists in Japan, he added: "This is a good team and there's a good link with Yoshimura. It's going to be interesting this year.
"I've been helping the team build my own bikes and it'll be good to have a run around at Mallory for a shakedown before we go to Spain," said Dunlop, who will be at the Cartagena Pro Test next week, followed by two further days at Almeria with suspension company Bitubo.
Dunlop has previously ridden 600cc Suzuki machinery, albeit for a brief spell, but having taken three of the last four TT Superbike wins at the opening day of the June festival - not to mention two coveted Senior TT victories in the same period - the pugnacious Ulsterman will be hoping to add Suzuki's GSX-R1000 to that coveted list.
If he does, it will be the Japanese manufacturer's first 1000cc class win on the island since 2009, when they filled the TT Superbike podium with Cameron Donald, Bruce Anstey and Adrian Archibald.
And who would bet against him, having manhandled BMW's all-new and then unrefined S1000RR to three wins in the Superbike, Superstock, and Senior TT back in 2014, with a TT Supersport race two win the cherry on top in his fabulous four-timer.
Bennetts Suzuki team manager Steve Hicken, added: "With a proven winner like Michael on board, there's no reason we can't be winning races right away. That's got to be the aim."
A Superbike race winner at last year's North West 200, Dunlop will make his international debut on the Suzuki at the Triangle in May, and is also expected to add the Southern 100 and Ulster Grand Prix to his 2017 schedule.
Dunlop is also expected to announce a new high-profile personal sponsor in the coming days.
Intriguing times for the speedy Ballymoney man.