Road Racing: Hutchinson and what might have been
Five in a week. A TT legend. All before you think about various comebacks from injury. Ian Hutchinson has certainly had a career unlike any other. By any measure Hutchy has earned his status as a TT legend-five race wins in a week would do that-but a further eleven wins and a total of 27 podiums places him high on the list of all-time greats.
It’s also amazing to think that the Bingley Bullet’s career can be distilled into a what might have been saga. Without his litany of injuries he would certainly have added more successes. Just months after his historic triumph in 2010 he was lying in a Northampton hospital facing the prospect of a leg amputation. He missed the following year’s TT as he recovered but was back in action at TT 2012 where he gave a very good account of himself despite being in obvious pain.
The decision was made to immediately restart his recovery and this would lead to another spell on the sidelines and missing the following year’s TT. He returned to action at Macau and took pole position and the win. Any doubts about his determination and speed were firmly cast aside.
It would not be until 2015 that we saw the return of the true Hutchy. Three wins-in the Superstock and Supersport classes-showed he was still the same rider as before. Competing in British Superbikes kept him sharp and he had now proven the doubters wrong by winning again on the Mountain Course.A weight had been lifted and a switch to the Tyco BMW squad for 2016 would see him go toe to toe with Michael Dunlop on the same bike in the Superstock and Superbike classes. The two riders were now elevated above all competitors as the top Road Racers in the world. Their battle was now against one another rather than the course. Dunlop wanted to prove he could beat his rival on a 600cc machine and Hutchinson was out to assert himself on the big bikes. It was a fascinating duel between them over the following two years.
First blood, in the Superbike race, went to Dunlop but Hutchinson made amends by winning both Supersport races. The Superstock race went to Hutchy too but the blue ribbon, Senior TT went in Dunlop’s favour. The following year saw Hutchinson beat Dunlop in a Superbike race and he backed it up with a win on the Superstock bike before a crash in the Senior TT saw him break his leg again. That elusive second Senior TT win seems as far away now as it did in late 2010.
Suddenly his world was once again staring at the ceiling of a hospital room awaiting surgery and then undergoing the recovery needed to be a front runner again. How many hits can one man take? Over the course of the last ten years he has scaled the highest of heights but plunged into the deepest of holes. His ability to overcome adversity is incredible and he certainly would have amassed more wins if not for his injuries.
With Dunlop sitting on 19 wins and 27 podiums their careers have remarkable parallels. Both will feel they missed out on opportunities to add to their win tallies through injury and circumstances. Both will, grudgingly, accept their rival spurred them on. Made them work that little bit harder. Fans will remember the battles but they’ll also think about what might have been.
The cancellation of TT 2020 cost us a chance to see Hutchy in action again for Tyco BMW. Would he have been able to challenge Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison? It’s hard to know because last year, on the Honda, we didn’t see a true reflection of Hutchinson but the game has moved on now. The only certainty is that the clock is ticking on Hutchinson’s career and this was a missed opportunity for the soon to be 41 year old.
His career has been unique. His speed and ability on the most fearsome race track in the world was second to none for a period of his career. He made history by winning five races in a week. Will we see him stand on the top step again? Did we see the best of Hutchy at the TT? That’s the question that leaves a more bitter taste in the mouth.
How can you look at his career and not see someone incredible. It’s a miracle that he was able to find the strength to keep coming back. It’s amazing to think that if with a little bit of luck falling his way that he had a real chance to be regarded as the greatest Road Racer of all-time. Sixteen wins despite suffering huge injuries in his prime. The record books place him fourth on the list of all-time winners and there’s an argument to made that his place on an all-time list should be higher.
Picture Credits: Racing Lowdown and Tony Goldsmith