Isle of Man TT outright lap record holder Michael Dunlop has signed with the Bennetts Suzuki team to ride the all-new GSX-R1000 on the roads in 2017.
The Ballymoney star has ended months of speculation over his choice of machinery, with uncertainty lingering over his plans after Hawk Racing’s Stuart and Steve Hicken switched manufacturer from BMW to front Suzuki’s official effort in this year’s MCE British Superbike Championship.
Dunlop has excelled on the German-built S1000RR in recent seasons, clinching Superbike and Senior doubles at the Isle of Man TT in 2014 and 2016 along with Superbike victories at the North West 200.
The 27-year-old became the first rider in history to complete a sub 17-minute lap of the 37.73-mile Mountain Course last year in the Superbike race before shattering the outright lap record, clocking a staggering speed of 133.962mph on his way to his 13th career TT triumph in the blue riband Senior.
Dunlop and BMW have proven a formidable force, but the ‘Maverick’ has opted to put his faith in Suzuki’s new GSX-R, which has received rave reviews in the specialist biking press.
The change of manufacturer will evoke memories of his short-lived association with Shaun Muir’s Milwaukee Yamaha squad in 2015, when Dunlop controversially split from the team during practice week at the TT and renewed his ties with the Hickens’ Hawk Racing concern to ride a BMW again.
However, Dunlop is confident history won’t repeat itself as he prepares to take on the challenge of firing Suzuki back to the top of the TT rostrum for the first time since Aussie Cameron Donald won the Superbike race in 2008 for TAS Racing.
“I was chatting with Steve [Hicken - team manager] 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,” Dunlop said.
“We just needed to see what was going to be able to happen and to see where we were both going to be at this time.
“I know Steve and I know Stuart though, as people, and I know they can take a new bike and get it right,” added Dunlop.
“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.”
Team manager Stuart Hicken says he believes Dunlop is the man to make the new GSX-R into a winner on the roads from the off.
“We’ve known Michael for a long time and always wanted to work with him again this year, so we’re really pleased we’ve been able to put a deal together,” he said.
“We’ve made good progress already with the development of the new GSX-R1000, and we know the potential is there with the bike.
“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.”
After a test at the team’s base at Mallory Park on Wednesday, Dunlop will then take part in the annual Pro Test organised by former Honda Britain and Norton team manager Barry Symmons at Cartagena in Spain, which runs from March 1-5, followed by a further test at Almeria.
He is also set to take in the opening British Superbike round at Donington Park in April as part of his preparations.
Dunlop will also be Suzuki-mounted under his own MD Racing banner for the Superstock class on the GSX-R although he is yet to confirm his choice of machinery for the Supersport races.
His first roads outing on the new Suzuki is likely to be at the North West 200 in May.
Dunlop will also contest the Southern 100 and the Ulster Grand Prix, where he will renew his rivalry with Honda Racing’s Guy Martin.