Honda has confirmed that 16-time TT winner Ian Hutchinson will spearhead its assault on the 2018 road racing season, including the blue riband races at the Isle of Man TT. In a completely new line up, the 38-year-old Yorkshireman will be joined by popular Northern Irishman Lee Johnston, a two-time podium finisher around the gruelling TT course.
Hutchy, who has been dominant in the superstock and supersport classes at the Isle of Man in recent years, is currently recovering from a badly broken leg – which was sustained during last year’s Senior TT – but expects to be fit for the 2018 event. Hutchinson has been with the Tyco BMW squad for the past two seasons but is no stranger to Honda, having completed his historic ‘five-in-a-week’ for the Padgett’s Honda team in 2010.
“I’m really looking forward to getting started with Honda Racing,” he said. “It’s a new challenge and a fresh start for me. I suppose I have quite a bit of history with Honda, ten years ago I rode with this official team and in 2009/2010 I rode with Padgetts Honda, where I scored five-TT wins in a week, so I know the Fireblade pretty well. I haven’t ridden the Fireblade SP2 yet and will have to wait until we go testing early next year, but I can’t wait to start making some progress. The Honda team has a lot of experience at the TT and its history speaks for itself with the wins and successes over the years, it’s also nice to see a lot of the team still here who I worked with in the past, so I’m confident that come the new year we can get started and start aiming to where we want to be.”
Johnston added: “I am genuinely excited about being with Honda Racing next year, I’m probably the most excited I’ve been in years if I’m honest! I have had two tough years and it’s nice to have everything organised and in place early so I have nothing to worry about apart from riding motorbikes. So that for me is the biggest thing and what I wanted more than anything, as I have no outside distractions and I can just concentrate on doing my job. I’ve ridden the Fireblade SP2 already at Le Mans, when I was a reserve rider for the Honda Endurance Racing team, so I’ve got a bit of a head start in that respect. I enjoy riding the CBR, the tank fits me well and it isn’t as big as it looks! I just can’t wait now for testing to start in March and just get going with the new programme for the year.”
The signing of Johnston and Hutchinson means no place for last year’s pairing of Guy Martin and John McGuinness. While Martin’s departure is no surprise (the TV personality endured a torrid time on his return to racing), the omission of 23 times TT winner McGuinness is something of a surprise. The Morecambe ace is inextricably linked to the Honda brand, having won all but a few of his TTs with the Japanese giant, but has not announced his racing plans for 2018. He also suffered serious leg injuries but hasn’t officially announced his retirement, perhaps paving the way for a shock switch of manufacturer for TT 2018?