Last week’s Ulster Grand Prix saw the Dundrod circuit re-establish itself as the fastest road race in the world with Peter Hickman lapping at a sensational speed of 136.415mph during Thursday’s Superbike race and although weather conditions on the feature Saturday race day prevented that from being challenged, the racing – and Hickman in particular – was superb.
The Smiths Racing rider simply blitzed the opposition with some quite stunning riding and seven wins from seven starts left no-one in any doubt as to who the best road racer in the world currently is. Threats of a wash-out on Saturday thankfully disappeared and everyone who was in attendance witnessed another superb set of races around the high-speed 7.4-mile course.
Simply the best
Coming into this year’s Ulster Grand Prix, everyone was expecting another head to head battle between Hickman and Dean Harrison but it simply never happened as Hickman put in seven perfect rides to dominate the meeting and leave his rivals firmly trailing in his considerable wake.
Whether it was the dry conditions of Thursday or the damp of Saturday, his victories in the 1000cc races never looked in doubt and whilst his 136mph+ lap was out of this world, a Superstock victory of more than 24 seconds was almost unbelievable.
He did a lot of hard work in qualifying with the Superbike session seeing him get out to the front immediately and reel off eight successive laps, five of them at more than 134mph. The signs were ominous and soon became reality as he became the first rider to win seven races in a meeting.
What was particularly impressive about Hickman’s wins was his race craft and if he didn’t take the lead on the opening lap, which was rare, he sat behind the leader for the first one or two laps before making his move. And when he did, he simply pulled the pin and ran away with the race victory.
Only Lee Johnston, in the Supersport class, pushed him close but he took the lead when it mattered most and with his confidence, talent and skill sky high, Hickman has everything in place to dominate road racing for the foreseeable future.
Johnston came into the Ulster aiming for a hat-trick of Supersport 600cc wins at all of the International events having already tasted victory at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT. He fell just short but with three second places he made Hickman work harder for his wins than any other rider.
Since setting up his own Ashcourt Racing team and returning to the British Supersport Championship for the first time in seven years, Johnston has reignited his career and with an acceptance and realisation that his small stature works against him on the big bikes, he’s reaped the rewards by focusing on the 600cc class. That’s not to say he can’t still perform in the Superbike and Superstock classes (he finished fourth three times last week) but he’s a contender for the race wins each and every time a Supersport race gets underway.
A happy rider is a fast rider and this could be seen in his riding all week. The gaps to Hickman in the two dry Supersport races at the chequered flag were just 0.145s and 0.357s and whilst he was bitterly disappointed and frustrated not to have won, particularly in the second race on Saturday, the fact remains he pushed Hickman the most. And coming so close to beating the fastest road racer in the world is no bad thing.
Best of the rest
Whilst nothing is ever a given in road racing, Harrison and his Silicone Engineering Kawasaki team would have been hoping, or perhaps even expecting, to take at least one race win at this year’s Ulster GP.
Victories in 2017 and 2018 along with the outright lap record two years ago made the Bradford rider a firm favourite for honours but the truth is, except for the first two laps of the opening Superbike race, he never got close to Hickman.
Technical issues in the first Supersport race, of which he was none too complimentary of the Kawasaki in parc ferme, meant he missed both of Saturday’s races and the Superstock encounter was only one lap old when he raised his hand and retired. True, he came second in all three of the Superbike races but he didn’t have the pace to run with Hickman and he was simply best of the rest all week.
Having been the man to challenge Hickman the most in the last two seasons, it will certainly have given him plenty to think about in the months ahead. He’s upped his game in recent times but he’ll have to do so again if he’s to stop Hickman running away with it.
Cummins and Todd impress
Although Hickman, rightly so, grabbed all the headlines, impressive performances came from the Milenco by Padgetts Honda pairing of Conor Cummins and Davey Todd.
Manxman Cummins has always gone well at Dundrod with the circuit seeing him take his maiden International victory in 2009 and this year was no exception as he ended the week with an impressive five podiums. He took third in each of the three Superbike races and although he was pleased to end the year as the only rider to finish on the podium in all of the International Superbike races, his body language, like Harrison’s, showed he was far from happy with being so far behind the flying Hickman.
An area where the now 33-year old would benefit would be more time in the saddle with the Ulster being his first time racing since the TT, a gap of exactly two months. His main rivals have done a lot more mileage in that time but, as he rightly pointed out, it requires more funding to do that, something his team doesn’t have. However, it’s equally something that seriously needs to be looked at for 2020.
Todd, meanwhile, continued to confirm his status as the brightest prospect in road racing at present as he finished all but one of his races inside the top five, a retirement in the first Supersport race his only non-finish.
Podiums were taken on the Padgetts bike in the Supersport class and also the Penz13.com BMW in the Superstock race but although he’s been winning in the International Road Racing Championship, he too would benefit from a full season in the British Championship.
Disappointment for Dunlop
Having taken two wins at the Armoy road races just two weeks after picking up a number of injuries, which included a cracked pelvis, at the Southern 100 in mid-July, hopes were high that Michael Dunlop could put up a good fight at the Ulster GP. But sadly for the Tyco BMW team, his legion of fans and the home contingent, it never happened.
It was clear from the outset that he was struggling and after failing to make an impression in any of the qualifying sessions, he sat out Thursday’s races. He returned on Saturday but after only managing eighth in the opening Superstock race, he withdrew from the rest of the meeting.
Aside from his win in the Lightweight TT race, it hasn’t been an easy year for Dunlop and Hickman’s success will have given him plenty of food for thought. However, his immediate focus must now be on getting himself 100% fit in order to come out fighting in 2020.
The meeting was also of significance for Paul Jordan who claimed his first ever International road victory when he took the first Supertwins race by just 0.092s! Whilst it was his maiden victory, it continued the success enjoyed by the Dafabet Devitt Racing team who have previously been victorious in the class with Harrison and Ivan Lintin.