When Peter Hickman went to the Isle of Man TT for the first time it was because he had no choice. Race on the roads or stop racing. Now he’s the man to beat as the reigning Senior TT winner and the outright lap record holder
Last year Peter Hickman completed the set. He finally added an Isle of Man TT victory to his Northwest 200, Ulster Grand Prix and Macau Grand Prix success. The 32 year old is the only rider in history to have posted a 135mph lap. He is the man to beat again this year but how did it all come about?
37.75 miles of asphalt through small villages and beautiful Manx countryside, The goal is to complete it in under 17 minutes and at an average speed of over 135mph. Any mistake can be your last. This is the most spectacular race track in the world. This is the Isle of Man TT Mountain Course
Learning your way around the Isle of Man TT course is a mammoth task. There is literally too much going on for your brain to comprehend it. When riders talk about the course they piece together section by section. Where are the bumps? Where are the traffic lights? Where are the road signs? Where are the painted kerbs?
At some sections there’s too much to take in riders only remember what matters to them. The Ballacraine comes at the end of the Gorse Lea section and leads the riders from the opening stretch of the circuit, where it’s open and easy to learn, into a technical section. For one rider Ballacraine doesn’t have a name. It’s simply, “traffic lights right.” It does exactly what it says on the tin. A first gear, 90 degree right hander at the traffic lights.
Tick, tock, tick, tock. As those second hands keep moving when you’re in the pits at the Suzuka 8 Hours the time being lost can be huge. In many cases it’s been the difference between winning and losing the great Japanese race. It might last eight hours but the race is defined by how much, or most importantly how little, time your bike spends in the pits.
Getting the bike in and out quickly is just as important as being quick through the twists and turns of the track. You can’t win the race in the pits but we’ve seen time and again that the 8 Hours can be lost in the pits.
The 2019 Suzuka 8 Hours was the greatest race I’ve witnessed in the flesh. It was tremendous from start to finish…it was just the extra time that left a bitter aftertaste.
With only one lap remaining we had witnessed the greatest spectacle imaginable. Three teams – Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda – had treated us to a feast of great racing. With the eight hour mark in sight we had seen twenty lead changes, and up until the final half hour all three teams were within 30 seconds of each other. Suzuka is always reckoned to be a series of sprint races wrapped up as an endurance outing but this race truly was just that.
It was unbelievable. Standing trackside I just wanted to get back inside to watch it on the TV and fully understand what was happening. If you believe that you’d believe anything. I was sweating so much in the heat that I was running dangerously low of bodily fluids but even in that state of reduced mental capacity I could see this was an all-time classic.
The Suzuka 8 Hours presents lots of challenges to teams and riders. The most unique for many of the WorldSBK stars in action this weekend is that they’re out there for hours on end from day to night. The hottest temperatures to the slightly cooler evening temperatures. You’re lapping traffic from early in proceedings and you’re doing it all with, at times, very limited reference points once the darkness sets in.
You’re still in a race but it’s a very different proposition to your usual 35 minute blasts. That being said there’s still familiarity. There’s still rivals to beat and champagne to be sprayed. Out on track after the sun sets the clock is ticking down and time is running out to get to the front. Bottled up behind another rider moves have to be made but with every lap the chances of getting the job done are getting slimmer and slimmer. The only problem? Other than the narrow beam of light from your bike illuminating a tiny section of the race track the riders can’t see much. They’re racing on a rhythm, They’re searching for any reference points around the track to pick out a braking point.
“We do so many laps in practice and testing that it’s all automatic and you can ride on instinct,” said Jonathan Rea when asked about the challenge presented by the darkness. “Some places are quite well lit up, some places can surprise you. The kerb at Degner 1 really does pop out of nowhere! That side of the track isn’t very well lit so you ride a lot based on feel. The big challenge during the race is to understand the speed and ability of the riders that you’ll lap during the race.