Belfast Telegraph

Hickman or Sheene? Weather could prolong argument

Lean machine: Peter Hickman at Quarry Bends on Thursday
Lean machine: Peter Hickman at Quarry Bends on Thursday

By Roy Harris

Flyaway Peter Hickman grabbed the headlines with his phenomenal 136.415mph absolute lap record on his way to victory in Thursday's opening Superbike race at the fonaCAB Ulster Grand Prix.

His astonishing high speed heroics made the UGP the fastest road race in the world again and Staffordshire rider Hickman, on his Smiths BMW, the world's fastest road racer.

The old lap record was 134.614mph set by Dean Harrison in 2017 and 'Hicky' obliterated that on lap three, bypassing the 135s and going 2.612 seconds faster than the old mark.

Remarkable when you consider he went from being 0.180 seconds behind going into that third lap and ended it 3.228 seconds ahead. Yes, Harrison made a mistake at Leathemstown, running wide, but it was still a fantastic lap to regain the world's fastest road race title for the UGP from the Isle of Man TT, where Hickman also holds the outright lap record of 135.452mph which he set last year on his way to winning the Senior TT.

Hickman said: "Once ahead after a good slipstream and getting alongside Dean and then past him, the plan was to stay ahead to Deers Leap and if I managed that I knew I could press on.

"The BMW may not be the quickest out bike there, but it handles superbly and I hit all my markers to get away and it worked. It's great to bring the fastest race in the world title back to Dundrod."

Some would contend that, technically, the fastest racer on roads honour belongs to the late, legendary Barry Sheene who set a record lap of 137.150mph on his way to winning the 1977 500cc Belgian Grand Prix at an average speed of 135.067mph on the old 8.774-mile Spa-Francorchamps road circuit in Belgium.

But, although a roads circuit, it was not a road race but a World Championship event. However, it is surprising in itself, given the advances in racing machine technology, that Sheene's speed has not been surpassed in 42 years.

The Ulster, which can claim the fastest road race title for a course still in use, is moving closer to that mark, but the prospects of Hickman today ending all arguments are slim if you go by the weather forecast - but hopefully it is wrong.

However, if correct it throws another spanner in the works as far as the racing and event in general is concerned.

Rain levels the playing field and opens the door for wet weather specialists to make their mark on today's races, but it also threatens the organisers' income and jeopardises the future of the event.

Harrison, Conor Cummins, Davey Todd, Lee Johnston and Paul Jordan will look to take the fight to Hickman in Superbike, Superstock and Supersport, but it is hard to see who can up their game to challenge the 32-year-old.

There's Michael Dunlop, who pulled out of Thursday's Superbike, struggling with injury. Who knows what he is capable of today, but if it rains it could well be a godsend for the 30-year-old, who hasn't won at Dundrod for six years.

It's not all about the 'big bikes' today and Jordan goes for an international double in the Supertwin race after a stunning, split-second maiden international victory on Thursday over relative newcomer, 26-year-old Joseph Loughlin from Castleblaney, and Jamie Coward.

Neil Kernohan and Davy Morgan had an absolute ding-dong battle in the Lightweight on Thursday, but Davy is not a big fan of wet conditions.

The pair were 23 seconds ahead of the next rider Paul Williams on a 400cc machine, which if wet could be easier to ride rather than the 250GP bikes.

It was similar in the Ultra-Lightweight race, with Michal Dokoupil and Christian Elkin nose to tail until Elkin got caught behind slower riders leaving the Czech Republic rider to take his second UGP victory.

Melissa Kennedy from Florencecourt was a brilliant third on Thursday on her KNR M3 Honda for a first podium at Dundrod and will look for similar this afternoon.

Let's hope for a safe, thrilling day's racing and hope the weather forecasters got it wrong.

Roads close this morning at 9.30am with the scheduled race programme as follows;

Daly' Hyundai Superstock - 6 Laps

Centra Whitemountain Supersport - 6 Laps

Chimney Corner Hotel / Plant Lubrication Lightweight and Ultra-Lightweight - 5 Laps

MMB Surfacing Superbike - 7 Laps

Maxwell Freight Services Supertwin - 5 Laps

Skegness Raceway Supersport - 6 Laps

Around A Pound Superbike - 6 Laps

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