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How to win the Isle of Man TT, by a 16-time victor
Advice from Ian Hutchinson, one of the TT's bravest, most successful riders
Ian Hutchinson is among the Isle of Man TT’s most successful riders, with 16 wins to his name, five of those during one record-breaking week back in 2010. He competes at the 2019 TT after a comeback year following a horrific leg injury
The Isle of Man TT is like going on a rollercoaster. In the build-up, you’re sat in the chair, strapped in, and you’ve no idea why you’re doing it again. But as soon you get going, it’s a different story.
When you’re down in the paddock and the race is about to start, you think there’s got to be easier ways to earn a living. You’re thinking of all the things that can go wrong. Then as soon as you set off down Bray hill, you enjoy riding the bike and it all goes out the window. You’re no longer nervous, because you’re in control. You know what you’re doing, barring anything that’s out of your hands. Which can happen anywhere in life, can’t it?
The more years you come, the more deaths you’ll have seen here, so then at every corner it’s happened, you remember it. It’s not a bad thing to think about it, because most of the time it’s happened for a reason, and it just makes you realise ‘don’t go 100 per cent here, it can bite you, this corner…’
I think you need to get yourself sharp and up to speed on a race circuit, but then come into road races like the TT and pull back a little bit from that commitment level, knowing there’s no gravel pit on the outside to catch you. It’s getting to the point that there’s riders doing short circuits, getting a sniff of a win, then they’re coming here and riding exactly the same, they’re not pulling back. You need to remember you’re doing a road race, if it bites you, you’re f****d. I always feel like I’m a little below flat out. I’ve got six laps to try and win the race, not six miles.
I remember watching in 2014 when I was coming back from injury. I went to Barregarrow to watch the Superstock race and when the first few bikes came through, I thought ‘I’m never going to be able to do that again, they look f***ing mental!’ Then one year later, I won the Superstock race. But now every time I approach that corner on the bike, I have visions of what I’d seen. I try to avoid watching now, because I don’t want to be thinking how bad it all looks from the outside.
The time you most enjoy riding at the TT is if you have a decent lead, because any other time than that, you’re always trying to find the limit of the bike. If it’s the last lap, and you pretty much know if you don’t break down you’re going to win, you can back off a little bit, shift up a bit early, just let it wheelie a bit… it feels dead nice, you know. You still might only be 1mph slower with your average speed, but it’s so different. I criticise myself at every corner when I’m trying, when I’m fighting for a win. Whereas when you’re leading, you can take all that out the window because you’ve done your bit, you don’t need to be better.
I think the TT is very unusual, in that very few riders are actually good at winning, rather than just putting in fast laps. People like Joey Dunlop, going on to still win three races when he was 48 years old. He’d had windows of not winning so many TTs, then things just went for him that year. So you can keep plugging on and plugging on, think ‘I’m done now’, but then you come back and win again. After all my injuries, it’d be easier to pack in. But if you do, then that’s it: you’re never riding round the Isle of Man like that ever again.