Racing

Signing Off from the Isle of Man TT

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Time ticks by quickly on the Mountain Course, but when there are delays at the Isle of Man TT, it drags on like nothing else.

Last year’s edition will be remembered for the sheer speed, with lap records falling in all classes, but this year will remembered for all the missed session. The less people think about 2019 Isle of Man TT, the better.

The weather gods didn’t play ball and one delay rolled into another. It was a miracle that a full slate of races was completed and Gary Thompson, the clerk of the course, should be commended for his foresight.

Throughout race week, it was a case of playing catch up. Races were shortened, races were red flagged due to rain, racers were nervous. Ultimately, as in all races, when the time came to line up on the start line, everyone was able to get their ducks in a row and get ready to roll.

When the action started, it was Lee Johnston that took his long awaited first TT victory. On a privateer Yamaha YZF-R6, the former factory Honda racer has been rejuvenated.

Winning at the North West 200 on the same bike marked him out as a contender, and while the four lap race was halted at half-distance due to rain, he was riding well and looked in control at that point.

Afterwards he was emotional at finally winning on the island, and it was well deserved.

Even with that victory for Johnston, and Michael Dunlop winning the Lightweight class, this TT was again about two men; Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison. The duo have separated themselves from the crowd.

They are the men to beat, and they are in a class of their own. As improbable as it sounds, Michael Dunlop has been eclipsed.

The Tyco BMW rider has been “the man” on the island for almost ten years, and he is still a very short priced favorite to overhaul his uncle Joey on the TT win list in the coming years, but suddenly there are faster riders out there.

The difference? Dunlop still rides sporadically through the year whereas his rivals are all racing at British championship level week in and week out. That has seen both riders raise the bar.

Suddenly 135 mph are the expectation for them. While that speed may not have been reached this year in the Senior TT, we saw Hickman lap at 134 mph from a standstill and on his way to the pits.

That was with limited running and not full confidence with a brand new superbike. Imagine what would be possible with a normal week of practice.

That’s the worry for Hickman’s rivals. Winning the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport TT races showed his versatility and proved that last year wasn’t a fluke; he’s the man to beat now on the roads.

Harrison is the only rider able to challenge him regularly. The Kawasaki rider inherited his Senior victory after overheating problems for Hickman, but to think it was undeserved is a real disservice.

Harrison is a world class racer and has made huge steps forward year-on-year over the last five editions of the TT. He is superb in the technical sections of the Mountain Course, and improving on his weaknesses by racing in the British Superbike class.

He is doing all he can to compete, and he is proving again that he is Hickman’s primary rival. There is very little to choose between them, and if Harrison can improve over the Mountain he’ll be right there.

The Mountain is about flowing. It is about confidence. It is also been where short circuit riders have traditionally held an edge.

Steve Plater was a longtime sector record-holder and his experience on the circuits was key to that. Hickman also uses that to his advantage, but if Harrison keeps gaining confidence on the short circuits he might close that margin.

The best thing about Hickman vs. Harrison is that their strengths lie in such different places. Both are blisteringly fast and the men to beat at different sections. It is about hooking the full lap up and Hickman has the edge right now.

Can anyone close that gap? It’s unlikely, but the TT is also a place where riders can suddenly make a step. Of the regular contenders Connor Cummins has made his step and so has James Hillier.

Both were rewarded with podium finishes this year, but are they able to push themselves further and beat the leaders? That’s unlikely. The gap is such that it is hard to see how anyone can suddenly improve to compete for those race wins in normal circumstances.

Podiums were a good reward for their work and in tough conditions having the same bike underneath them for another year was a big advantage.

Dunlop came to the TT carrying an injury, so we didn’t see his full potential. Can the same be said for Ian Hutchinson? Injuries have taken their toll on the only man to have won five races in a week, and those glory days are looking harder and harder to recapture.

It’s only a few years since he was winning races, but a broken leg in 2017 cost him the momentum in his rivalry with Dunlop, and suddenly opened the door for Hickman and Harrison. Hutchy is never a man to be underestimated, but finally the crashes seem to be adding up.

At the 2019 TT, he suffered a crash on the opening lap of Superbike practice, and having been left battered and bruised we never saw his best this year. Next year’s edition will be a massive marker in his TT career.

Hutchy’s teammate, Davo Johnson, was able to stand on a TT podium for the first time and with Padgett’s Honda Supersport rider Davey Todd having enjoyed a strong performance he could be a man to watch. The Englishman raced the BMW in the big bike class, and you would imagine that Honda are keeping tabs on him as a man of the future.

This year’s Isle of Man TT was a strange one. There are more questions than answers because of the lack of running. There will be answers to those questions over the next few years, but it is this year showed again that we are living in the Peter Hickman era.

Photos: © 2019 Steve English – All Rights Reserved

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Steve English

"Superbike Steve" is known best for his on-air hosting of the WorldSBK race feed, but when he's not looking pretty for the camera, he is busy writing stories and taking photographs for Asphalt & Rubber.

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