Defending Isle of Man TT champion Peter Hickman feels fully prepared for this year’s event after a week of practice – and he’s determined to make sure that he wins at the slowest possible pace.
Coming into this year’s event as the undisputed king in recent years and the reigning champion in the superbike and superstock classes after 2022’s races, he’s also the outright lap record holder at the TT – but is adamant that he’ll be unsure of his true pace this year until he has to push things in the races.
“It all depends on everyone else,” the nine-time TT winner told The Race. “I say this quite a lot, but you win the race at the slowest possible pace. Last year, I did 133.4mph from a standing start in race one, managed to break everyone because no one else did a 133, and then didn’t go any faster because I didn’t need to. I sat at 132mph and managed the gap.
“If this year everyone else is doing 134mph, then I’ll have to do 135, won’t I? That’s just how it is. I don’t know, but Dean [Harrison] has done a 133.5mph from a standing start, I don’t know what Michael [Dunlop] has done but I think he’s done a 133mph too, so obviously it’s going to be 133mph+.
“But is that just because they’ve done one lap, and they can’t manage that for two, or for six? I don’t know, and we’re only going to find that out on Sunday with the big bikes.
“There’s always a bit of cat and mouse here, and you never really know where everyone’s at until the flag drops and the bullshit stops.”
And while he’s more used to being flat out all the time in practice in his day job in the British Superbike championship, he says that one of the many things about the TT that makes it unique is the way in which you approach practice week – when many of the sessions are in the evening so that the roads can stay open for the Isle of Man population in the daytime.
“In BSB, you have to be flat out all the time. You’re so short on time, you don’t have the time not to be flat out all the time. Every lap there is a qualifying lap at BSB, but it’s not here.
“Especially this year, the low sun has been horrendous, probably the worst bits for me, and I’ve kind of knocked the gas off in the bits where it’s bad. It doesn’t make any difference – it’s not going to be there on race day because it’s going to be high up in the sky, so I’m not getting too stressed about the job.”
And when outright asked if he’s been holding back, he admits that he hasn’t yet taken it to the limit in search of what’s actually possible in terms of lap times – even during a week of exceptionally good weather throughout practice.
“I’ve not been stressed, put it that way,” he admitted. “I try not to worry too much about what other people are doing and to concentrate on what I’m doing and what I’m capable of, or what I think I’m capable of and the bike is capable of.
“I’m quite happy with where we are with the superbike, just a few things I want to change but overall it’s fine, and 131.8mph standing start on Wednesday was no stress at all. I’m happy enough. Again, you don’t know how hard everyone else is riding – are they absolutely on the limit? I know that I’m not, but let’s see.
“Everyone keeps saying it, but the weather doesn’t make that much difference. The reason I say that is that 2018 was an unreal year, with lap records smashed. Then in 2019, we had probably one of the worst years I’ve ever had coming here, I had a brand new bike, I did two laps in practice, and the first race ended up only two laps long.
“I did one more lap of practice, so five laps was all I ended up having on it before the Senior – and from a standing start I did 134.2mph.
“My sixth ever lap on the superbike, which was a brand new bike, was 134.2mph. Practice means f*** all! Weather means f*** all, because the weather was s****! It doesn’t really matter. It’s nice, because it gives you the chance to do more laps, so it should come easier, but if you’re capable of doing it, you’re capable of doing it.”
Despite having not been on the limit so far during practice week, he’s still been fast – something that’s actually a bit of an abnormality for the normally slow-to-build Hickman, and it’s clear that he’s going into Saturday’s first race quietly confident that the task of defending his record and adding more wins to his CV is well on track.
“I’ve done 134mph already,” he told The Race, “only on night four, which isn’t like me and I’m quite happy with most things. The bike isn’t perfect yet, but we’re still fast. I tend to be someone who builds up through practice week and even race week, and to be fast pretty much off the bat isn’t like me.
“In previous years, and who knows what’s going to happen this year, other people have been a lot faster to begin with but then haven’t really gone much faster when it comes to racing. Their curve tends to go one way and mine another. Hopefully that’s still the case, because if it is we’re in a good position and if not then I need to go faster, don’t I?
“But let’s see. We don’t really know what anyone else has got until race day, and that’s really always the case.
“Dean is always strong, Michael is obviously super strong this year too which is really good to see, and Davey [Todd] is still a little bit of an unknown on the superbike but I think he’ll be there or thereabouts too. Conor [Cummins] has been quick again too. The usual suspects. It won’t be an easy race. It’s never an easy race, it won’t be an easy race this year again.”