Smashing Three Lap Records In A Single Race: This Is The Isle Of Man’s Main Event
Photography by Will Broadhead
Six laps to win it. Six laps to go faster than you, or anybody, has ever gone before. 226.2 miles of closed public roads, towns, villages, lamp posts and every other bit of furniture to navigate around. Two pit stops to get right, to brim the tank and change the rear wheel. 1,500 corners, or thereabouts, to nail a perfect line on and get maximum drive out of, jumps to land, a mountain to climb, and all whilst holding the throttle wide open for 70% of the lap for six of them in a row. Then if you get all that right, maybe, just maybe you will be the winner of the Senior TT, the marquee event at the Isle of Man motorcycle races, the greatest show on earth.
There are great races in the history of motorsport, debated for hours afterwards and considered with a smile. Then, just occasionally there are the true classics, those events that live long in the memory and appear on all of those “Top Ten Best Ever” shows for years to come.
They don’t transpire that regularly, but every so often the planets align and a spectacle is delivered that simply leaves us breathless. Ecstatic and stunned, we make our way from the circuit hyper aware that something very special has just taken place. At this year’s Senior TT, myself and all of the thousands watching were lucky enough to encounter just such a contest.
The Senior TT is the blue riband event of the TT fortnight, it’s the one everyone wants to win and after countless laps and miles around the toughest of tracks, these gladiators on two wheels sit astride their 1000cc superbikes to pit their wits and nerves against each other and the track one final time. One last chance to become King of the Mountain. Over the years it has produced some stellar action, incredible performances, and in 1992 possibly the greatest bike race ever when Steve Hislop and Carl Fogarty went at each other for six laps. The greatest ever, until this year perhaps.
The festival itself had already been a belter, with staggeringly good weather conditions and no practice sessions lost to rain that often besieges the island, the circuit was in great shape. Great big patches of rubber had been lain down around the 37.7 miles of public roads, the racers had enjoyed plenty of track time. Each race had produced lap records, including a stunning 134.4mph average lap from Peter Hickman during the Superstock race, on a stock bike that you and I could buy in a showroom today.
Hicky lined up on the grid for the Senior, alongside other bookies’ favorites Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop. All had taken victories throughout the week, all had great bikes underneath them, and all were the fastest men to ever thread a superbike through the treacherous roads of the Snaefell Mountain Course. None of them could possibly have predicted what was about to take place though.
Gardens and hedgerows around the track were crammed with people, pubs were full and grass verges served as makeshift grandstands as fans lined the road. Even the remote sections of the mountain had been taken up by punters wanting to catch a glimpse of their heroes. Conor Cummins, the tall and quiet Manxman was away first, he had been having a good TT on his Padgett’s Honda, beating the men in the company’s factory outfit and being there or thereabouts with the fearsome trio of Hickman, Harrison, and Dunlop.
As the bikes tore around the first lap, it was Bradford man Harrison who took an early lead. On his Kawasaki he had already put down a marker during the opening superbike race of the TT, when he recorded a pulverizing lap of 134.4mph (laps are typically measured by average speed if you’re wondering) from a standing start, but had then suffered heartbreak when his clutch let go whilst leading the race. Today though the mechanical gremlins seemed far away and as the bikes made the first of two scheduled pit stops for fuel and rubber, he was the man in control.
Strangely, Michael Dunlop seemed to be having an off day, by his standards at least, toiling as he was in fourth place. The Ballymoney man seemingly not gelling with his Suzuki. Local lad Cummins was circulating in second, but the rider on the move was Peter Hickman and after the pit stops he set about chipping into Harrison’s lead. Bit by bit and sector by sector he closed down upon the Kawasaki, despite starting further down the order than Harrison and thus having to pass more riders on the road. At the end of the fourth lap he signaled his intent with a blistering lap of 134.456 mph that beat Harrison’s six-day-old record, all the more remarkable as the riders were slowing on the fourth circuit to come into the pits.
Both riders left pit lane knowing that there were just two laps left of this TT, 75.4 miles remaining to win or lose and at the current incredible race pace only 35 minutes or so to go. The crowd sensed a tumultuous finish. The atmosphere was charged, radios receiving commentary around the course were turned up and live timing feeds refreshed as all gathered in this amphitheater of speed tried to keep up with Harrison and Hickman’s progress. It was advantage Harrison starting the last lap, but Hicky the Hunter had the scent of Dean’s Kawasaki and was just 1.9 seconds adrift.
Harrison responded as both riders pushed to new limits on the last circulation, as fans cheered and programs were waved. No advantage was held as the racers took to their final assault on the mountain, great black lines were deposited on the road as each man left Guthrie’s and pushed on across the mountain before the final drop into the finish. Harrison crossed the line first, delivering a staggering 134.918mph lap, smashing the lap record at a staggering pace.
Surely that would be enough, there was just no way Hickman could win the race now. As the BMW rider crossed the line some 40 seconds later, all of us around the course held our breath, waiting for the lap time to flash up. To cries of disbelief and amazement the commentator announced that the impossible had happened, Peter Hickman had set a new lap record of 135.456 mph, a tremendous, terrifying time of inconceivable speed and in doing so had snatched victory from Harrison.
At the end of the race the top two men were split by just two seconds, three lap records had been set during the six laps and the race pace was the like of which that had never been seen on the Island before. The crowd erupted in their appreciation of the bravery and commitment these riders had shown, and I made my way down from my vantage point up on the mountain in stunned silence. It had been a fitting conclusion to two weeks of incredible racing, the fastest road race in the world and the greatest spectacle on two wheels. The 365 days until next year’s Senior will tick by slowly, but the story of the greatest race ever will live long in my memory.