ULSTER GP: Form man Hickman ready to shine on big stage
Man of the moment Peter Hickman is brimming with confidence as the Smiths BMW rider heads into Saturday's MCE Ulster Grand Prix on a high.
Hickman has been the standout rider at Dundrod so far, completing a practice treble on Wednesday and Thursday at Dundrod as he topped the times in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes.
The 30-year-old underscored his favourite tag in spectacular style with a record breaking performance in Thursday’s Dundrod 150 Superbike race, smashing Ian Hutchinson’s one-year-old outright lap record (134.089mph) as he raised the bar to 134.210mph on the Smiths BMW S1000RR.
The British Superbike frontrunner, who has emerged as a serious title contender after moving into third place in the Showdown standings with a victory and runner-up finish last weekend at Thruxton, could afford to roll off on the final lap of the feature race after establishing a lead of almost four seconds. He eventually crossed the line with 1.7 seconds in hand over Dean Harrison.
It was Hickman’s second victory at Dundrod after he secured his maiden international triumph on the big stage in the Superbike class in 2015 following a battle with Conor Cummins and Michael Dunlop.
Undoubtedly, he takes his place on the grid in front of the Joey Dunlop Grandstand as the man to beat, but Hickman is refusing to rest on his laurels and expects to have a real fight on his hands to add to his tally of Ulster Grand Prix victories.
“Everything has been going good. The Smiths BMW has been working really well, and it’s been mega all week. I can’t complain,” he said.
“I’m feeling confident going into Saturday but qualifying and practice are one thing and then racing is another, so you never really know what’s going to happen.
“Nobody is that far behind, it’s not like we’re miles in front. The pole on ’stock and Superbike are by like 0.1 of a second so we’re not running away with everything, as much as it might seem that way sometimes.
“It’s all close, the boys will keep me honest and I’m looking forward to a bit of a battle. We want some real good racing for everyone to enjoy and fingers crossed we still come out on top.”
Hickman will start from pole in the Superstock and Supersport races and although he headed the times in the Superbike practice sessions, Saturday's Superpole shootout will determine the final grid positions for the blue riband races.
With dry weather expected at Dundrod, the lap record looks certain to fall once again and Hickman is eager to hold on to his status as the fastest road racer in the world.
“Track conditions were really good on both Wednesday and Thursday so we got some good practice in. Everything just worked out and then in the race I was really happy. I knew I needed to try and get away but it’s difficult to do that at Dundrod,” he said.
“The slipstream means even if you are half a second or a second faster than someone they can make it all back on the straights. I got a good start and didn’t really see anyone all race.
“I just wanted to put my head down for the first couple of laps and then we managed to break the lap record, but by that point I think we had a three second gap so I just backed off a little and managed the race from there.
“Laps three and four were fast so I thought if anyone comes with me then fair play, we’ll have a race on our hands.”
The affable English rider has been in terrific form this season on the Smiths Racing machines, finishing on the rostrum in all five major solo races at the Isle of Man TT in June.
Hickman has really gelled with the Dunlop-shod S1000RR and has no plans to alter his Superbike before today’s races.
“Not even a click,” he said. “We’ll kick the tyres a bit and put some fuel in and we’re good to go.”
Bradford rider Harrison (Silicone Engineering Kawasaki) and Flying Kiwi Bruce Anstey (Padgetts Honda RC213V-S) finished second and third respectively in the Dundrod 150 race behind Hickman on Thursday and will be aiming to push him much closer.
Dan Kneen is also getting to grips with the Tyco BMW after being drafted into the team as a replacement for the injured Hutchinson, while Michael Dunlop will be hoping to throw down his challenge on the Bennetts Suzuki.
Conor Cummins, forced out of the Dundrod 150 Superbike race, is also one of the main protagonists on the Padgetts Honda Fireblade.
Saturday's Race Schedule (roads closed 9.30am-8.30pm):
Race 1: Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council Superstock
Race 2: Centra Whitemountain Service Station Supersport
Race 3: Plant Lubrication NI Lightweight/Ultra-Lightweight
Race 4: MMB Surfacing Superbike
Race 5: Barron Transport Services Supersport
Race 6: Maxwell Freight Services Supertwins
Race 7: Around A Pound Superbike