IOMTT: Hickman’s maiden victory

…and this was what followed the Supersport 1 race on Monday just an hour or two later.

After we had all just learnt the sad news regarding Adam Lyon, it was time to go racing again. There really isn’t much time to digest what had occurred in the previous race. I don’t really think it’s a good idea to have that time to digest if I’m honest. These racers, well, for some of them this isn’t just a hobby – it’s a job. They have a job to do and that’s to place their machine as high as they possibly can as well as grabbing some new PB’s whilst they’re at it. Sometimes your head just isn’t in it and that’s okay. It’s about recognising that it isn’t. That’s the key. Earlier on in practice week we saw William Dunlop pull out of this year’s TT due to his own personal reasons. I respect him for that as does everyone else. It was clear his head and maybe his heart just wasn’t in it this year, but he’ll be back. He’s a Dunlop after all.

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They line the machines up from 1 – 20 along the start line one after the other. The teams run around like little ants shoving tyre warmers on, doing final checks and most importantly making sure there’s someone holding that brolly because it is majorly hot here. My TT tan is current at level Hizzy helmet pink, but I would probably guess that it will upgrade to the next level come Wednesday. Dressed in their leather suits whether they be RST or Alpinestar, Sidi or Daytona boots. They must be roasting. And then on goes the lid. It’s race time.

Off they go one by one with 20 seconds in between. Harrison led Dunlolp by 3.5s at Glen Helen on the first lap with Gary Johnson slotting into third. Michael Rutter, James Hillier and David Johnson completed the top six. Notably newcomer Davey Todd (who I will keep raving about because I honestly think he’s been bloody amazing round here to date) was up into 9th. Oddly Peter Hickman appeared way down the list in 10th and was not where he was expected to be. Later it was confirmed that Hickman had indeed run on at the Braddan oak tree and was told by a marshal he would have to do around a 6-point turn to go back round the tree the correct way. After the Superstock race Hickman stated he had mis-judged his braking point after finishing a four-lap race on a little 600. Clearly the braking points are very different between the Supersport and Superstock machines with the 1000cc out-the-show-room bike needing a longer braking period due to its weight and bhp.

By the time they had reached Ballaugh Harrison’s lead was up to 4.4s and at Ramsey he was up to 4.8s. Except for mechanical issues, this year it really seems like Harrison is the one to beat. He’s been pushing these lap times out quicker than anyone has ever seen before. He sounds and looks more determined than ever and he’s ready to increase his tally of TT wins. Another ‘H’ was now joining the party however. Hickman had picked up his pace after a rookie error and he was back up from 10th into the 3rd position – 6s behind Dunlop, 3.5s ahead of Rutter. Johnson had filtered down to fifth and wasn’t able to keep up the pace he had initially started from the Grandstand to Glen Helen.

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It was getting exciting. The excitement was building on the grass bank and everyone was cheering as Hickman climbed up the rankings. I’m happy to cheer on every rider going – I think it’s spectacular what each and every one of them do whether they finish 1st, 34th or retire. They’re all insanely talented and world-class racers to take on this Mountain course. I for one, as always, couldn’t help but watch in awe as they flew past Kirk Michael filling station appearing on the left-hand side of the road less than an inch away from the curb right in front of me. A quick flick to the right-hand side of the road to kiss the long grass emerging from the hedge where the ’40’ speed limit sign hides. A little jump, a bit of an arse-end wiggle, and they’re gone. Onto Rhencullen 2, through the straight a Bishopscourt, round bendy Alpine and into Ballaugh quicker than you could say ‘what a race!’

At Ramsey it was still Harrison, Dunlop, Hickman. Harrison was slightly under the outright Superstock lap record with a lap of 133.073mph, but 4.3s ahead ahead of Dunlop. Hickman only a further 3.3s behind Dunlop. Then they were onto lap 2 – the lap with the pit stop. A lap where everything can be won or lost. As they got to Glen Helen, Harrison’s lead was up to 5.7s, Hickman was continuing his charge and slicing through the seconds that stood between him and the second place Dunlop currently held. By Ballaugh, second was his by 0.8s. The race was hotting up, so were the roads and my bare arms. We were in for a close race both time-wise and on the roads. We were ready. It was time to see what these boys could do.

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At Ramsey Hairpin Hickman had eaten into Harrison’s lead which was down to only 2.4s. Hickman had managed to keep Dunlop at bay with a 2.2s gap back to third. Rutter was still hanging onto fourth, but David Johnson and Hillier were tearing up rubber and heading his way. It was announced over the radio the Cummins had retired at Ballaugh Bridge. Gutted. Truly gutted. The whole crowed at Rhencullen deflated a little bit. Whether you’re Manx or not, to come back and race this 37.73 mile course which spat you off 8-years-ago causing pretty significant damage is gutsy. It’s amazing and it’s brave. It’s fantastic to see how determined Cummins had been to get back on a bike and to race round his home course once again. He’s a pleasure to watch round here and a credit to the Padgett’s Honda team.

Back at the front Hickman was still on that quick lap… a quick lap which saw him smash the lap record put it in a 134.077mph giving him a 1.2s lead over Harrison with Dunlop 1.8s behind in third. Just three seconds covered the top three. Insane. These road racers were in another league, a league of their own, a race against the road, against the time, against each other. It was on and it looked as though Hickman was there to stay at the top of the timing. David Johnson had moved on up into fourth after hunting down Rutter, but this was only one second that stood between Johnson, Rutter and Hillier. Us spectators were in for a treat, a frightening one maybe, but they were all so bunched up on the roads – it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before!

Then Davey Todd. 127.890mph. The second fastest newcomer ever to lap this Mountain course which saw him take 7th place on lap 2.

As I was saying, a race can be won and lost in the pits. We definitely saw some shuffling oing on as Dunlop hit the top of the timesheets at Glen Helen on lap three after a blistering pit stop. All credit to those who are involved in the pits. They have such a vital job, a job which is out of the racers hands and they rely so much on their team to ensure everything is present and correct. Hickman had slipped back into third with Harrison remaining in second. Johnson was hanging onto fourth, Rutter was down to sixth and Hillier in fifth. Gary Johnson was announced as a retirement despite seemingly having the pace at the beginning of lap 1. Gary – go visit those fairies and ask for some luck as all you seem to get is the shit end of the stick!!

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Dunlop was still the race leader at Ballaugh, but only by 0.178s as Hickman had re-grouped, his head was clearly back on track. Harrison was still hanging on only 1s behind Hickman. The battle for fourth was still cracking as Hillier and Johnson were fighting hard – only 0.047s between them. Then we were back to Ramsey. Glen Helen to Ramsey appears to be a quick section for Hickman. He always jokes about being shit on the first lap, I think I would be to trying to get your head into speeds like that and still managing to pick out P1 +0.178. But seriously, that man is quick and he was back in P1 +0.87s at Ramsey. Up the Mountain and down. Round the creg-ny-baa pub, down through hillberry and sign-post corner into Governor’s and onto the start/finish… lap four – it’s gonna be a corker.

Half a second. That’s all. Only half a second between Hickman and Dunlop. Could you even imagine that? You would think not much could happen in 0.5s, but if you think that you’ve never been to the Isle of Man TT.

The sun was still blazing, but a light breeze had appeared. At Glen Helen Hickman had pulled another eight tenths of a second out, but Dunlop was responding and he was responding quick. The gap was down to 0.146s at Ramsey. That’s now less than half a second to think about… it takes me longer than 0.146s to change gear never mind grab some clutch, some brake, change gear, throw your weight to the left than back to the right ready to twist that throttle some more. I don’t know how they do it! With Hickman obviously catching a glimpse of a pit-board showing Dunlop’s pace increasing it was down to him to do the same. And so he did. Hickman set the fastest eever sector time form Ramsey to the Bungalow then for the Bungalow to Cronk-ny-Mona… followed by a new lap record on a stocker of 134.403mph.

It was beginning to look too close to call, but after Hickman set a sensational lap of 134.403mph he took the chequered flag and became an Isle of Man TT winner for the very first time. Huge congratulations! Us spectators can only dream about what it must feel like to race around here let alone put in a new stocker lap record followed by a win. Incredible scenes and what a race it was to watch. A pleasure to listen to and, although I love a Dunlop on the top of the podium, so amazing to see someone take their first TT win after such a hard four-lap battle. Dunlop took second 4.4s behind and Harrison took third. Johnson won that incredible battle for fourth with Hillier and Rutter fifth and sixth respectively. Sam West had a mega race and finished in 8th as top privateer and it was newcomer Todd who rounded out the top ten. I can imagine he’ll be snapped up pretty sharpish by a team in that paddock this week.

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That Superstock race was sensational. The crowds were wild for Hickman and I still think there’s more people on this tiny little island in the middle of the Irish Sea than I have seen in years. Probably the last time I remember it looking and feeling this busy was back in 2003. The atmosphere is just incredible and of course the weather helps, but I can’t help but feel that this year the Isle of Man TT has found its mojo again. Maybe next year, it’ll be even bigger than ever before with the likes of John McGuinness back to race the Norton and Hutchinson hopefully back to full fitness. I’d also like to mention a huge get well soon to Bruce Anstey who is currently undergoing treatment. I know there’s a huge amount of people who are missing the Flying Kiwi both on the roads and in the paddock. Keep on fighting!!

For now the racing will go quiet and take a day’s rest. The action returns on Wednesday for the second Supersport race followed by the Lightweight TT.

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