The overriding narrative from last year’s Isle of Man TT was reinforced last week as Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison proved they are on a different level to their rivals.
Triple winner Hickman is now the undisputed master of the Mountain and the Smiths Racing rider looks poised for a period of domination.
The 32-year-old was in total control of the blue riband Senior last Friday until an ongoing technical issue with his 2019-spec BMW S1000RR handed victory to Harrison.
No one would begrudge Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider Harrison the dream big bike success he so badly craved, particularly after bad luck robbed him of almost certain victory in the 2018 Superbike race; but the manner of Hickman’s performance in the six-lap finale was an ominous parting shot.
Despite limited qualifying laps due to a fortnight of predominantly miserable weather on the Isle of Man, Hickman – who only managed a handful of practice laps on his full-blown Superbike – fired in a 134mph lap from a standing start and repeated the feat on his second lap, stamping his authority on the six-lap showpiece.
He had streaked clear by almost 18 seconds after four laps and had the race at his mercy until the problem recurred, forcing him to roll off the throttle and nurse his machine home for a gallant runner-up finish.
The British Superbike contender was forced to ride his full-spec Superbike after his Superstock race-winning machine was stripped down by the scrutineers following his runaway 26-second victory in the class.
Given the reliability concerns with his 2019 Superbike, Hickman’s preference was to run his Superstock motor in a ‘hybrid’ Superbike set-up in the Senior, as he did when he won the RST Superbike race.
His fears were realised when the issue with the cooling system reared its head again, but it is clear that Hickman is leading a new order at the TT.
His 135.452mph record lap last year was no fluke. A brace of 134mph laps in the Senior after two weeks of poor weather, limited qualifying time and a two-lap Superbike race, leaves no doubt that his 135mph benchmark will become the norm for Hickman during an average year weather-wise at the TT.
Worryingly for his rivals, he is now also a proven winner in the Supersport class, and who would bet against him staking his claim for victory in the Lightweight race on the right machine? His eighth place on the uncompetitive Norton Superlight bears testament to that.
It’s Hickman’s time to shine at the TT and the rest will have to up their game considerably to keep pace with the now five-time winner.
Harrison is next in the pecking order and the most likely man at present to offer any genuine resistance.
The 30-year-old has shown a marked improved over the past few seasons, but the problem is that Hickman has set the bar even higher.
By his own admission, Harrison is conceding far too much time to Hickman over the Mountain, although that is certainly something he can work to redress and his progress in the British Superbike Championship will also aid his cause.
Of the regular top-six men, Manx favourite Conor Cummins appears to be riding at his maximum level on the Padgett’s Honda, while Quattro Plant Kawasaki’s James Hillier also has no answer to Hickman or Harrison in the premier class. Neither rider has managed a lap of 133mph, never mind the 134mph speeds that we have come to expect from the ‘big two’.
Only two other riders – Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson – have lapped the 37.73-mile course in excess of 133mph.
Whether 19-time winner Dunlop can up the ante to match the pace of Hickman and Harrison is yet to be seen. He came within a whisker of a 134mph lap on his way to victory in the 2016 Senior, clocking his best ever lap at 133.962mph.
A clear conclusion cannot yet be drawn as the Ballymoney man was always going to be up against it this season due to the well-documented events of last year, which I don’t feel the need to highlight again here.
It will take a significant step up to challenge for more Superbike and Senior glory, but with the right preparation, maybe the ‘old school’ road racer can take the fight to the new breed of TT racer, which is personified by Hickman and Harrison.
For Hutchinson, the path back to the summit is seemingly on a much steeper trajectory. A crash on the Honda Racing Superbike in practice was the worst possible start, but the 16-time winner has a lot to find to return to his former glory based on his performances this year.
However, one man I do believe will soon be challenging Hickman is Davey Todd.
The 23-year-old only made his debut at the TT in 2018, but Todd finished sixth in the Senior and lapped at 131.49mph on the Penz13.com BMW.
That was a sensational performance and I am in no doubt that he is the real deal and a definite TT winner of the future.