Keith Huewen: Hickman 'magnificent', but five Isle of Man TT deaths 'horrendous'

With MotoGP taking a weekend off, Keith Huewen was present at the Isle of Man TT - his thoughts on an event that sadly claimed the lives of five competitors starts this week’s MotoGP podcast.
Peter Hickman - Gas Monkey FHO BMW
Peter Hickman - Gas Monkey FHO BMW

The TT, held at the legendary 37.73-mile street circuit (that hosted grand prix until 1976), was roaring back into action after a two-year hiatus due to Covid-restrictions.

The event saw wins for Peter Hickman in the Senior, Superbike, Superstock and Supertwin classes, with Michael Dunlop triumphing in the Supersport races. But the ultimate price was paid by five competitors - Mark Purslow, César Chanal, Davy Morgan, Roger Stockton and his son Bradley Stockton.

A statement from race organisers ACU Events Ltd has confirmed a ‘comprehensive investigative process’ is being followed for each of the serious incidents. TT Clerk of the Course, Gary Thompson, said: “Any fatality during an event is a tragedy. As an organisation we promise to take any actions that can help improve safety and undertake this at the earliest opportunity.”

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Summing up this year’s bittersweet return of the TT, Huewen said: “The Isle of Man is a beautiful place to visit whether there are bikes going on or not. But I go there with some trepidation, because you always know something negative is going to happen alongside all the fun and games.

“It’s a fantastic event with so much tradition behind it and every single one of those guys that managed to do that course properly is an absolute hero. It really is a special event. To watch Peter Hickman, whose dad Dave I used to race with, ride that place the way he does is just magnificent. And the same goes for most of the guys just behind him as well.

“But of course, five deaths this year and one sidecar competitor that's hanging in there, is horrendous. Absolutely horrendous. I mean, can you imagine any other sport where you had five deaths and it would continue to run?

“It's a sad comeback for the Isle of Man, even though it's been a great event. But I think the Isle of Man authorities are going to have to do a fair bit of ‘box ticking’ over the next few months to try and make sure they are at least being seen to try to mitigate what has happened. A proper analysis, a proper look into how these things happened.

“The sidecar deaths were on a part of the track that doesn't seem to be compatible for the sidecars. Ago’s leap is literally Ago’s leap. There's an aero issue, there's a balance issue with obviously two riders, in what is it slightly awkward machine to ride in normal circumstances. And it was very, very windy as well.

“I think the Isle of Man authorities will have to look at things like training, how old these guys were, how much experience they had on the track, even whether sidecars aerodynamically are not really compatible at the moment for some reason or another - I have no clue whether that theory is fact or fiction.

“There's quite a lot to look at. But they've got to be seen to be doing it in a correct way.”

“Interestingly, you may remember a tweet that Stuart Higgs put out about being terrified at a bike that had gone bang over the mountain, because of the gaps between the marshal posts and access to the track. He was comparing it obviously with how strict they are on a short circuit,” Huewen continued.

“I don't think he was being critical of the Isle of Man as such, I think genuinely he was terrified at the fact that you couldn't check to see how much oil had been laid down.

“But he came up with some very interesting technical innovations that they're trying out in BSB, where you can light up the dashboard with a with a yellow flag or a flashing light or whatever it was.

“There was an issue coming down Bray Hill where a football, whether it was kicked or whether it blew out of a front garden, was rolling down the racing line on live television and through came motorcycles at 150-160 miles an hour. If they'd had this innovation that Stewart Higgs was talking about, they would have been able to flick on a flashing yellow on the dash of the approaching machines well in advance of that sector.

“They've got flashing light panels like we have in MotoGP. But like I say, the size of the racetrack; 37 and three quarter miles! I mean, just absorb that for a second.

“I went round the track yesterday before I came home. It seems to take forever, I know it takes the top guys just over 15 minutes, but it’s a bloody long way around. And the distance between marshalling posts and sector marshals, and so on is just naturally bigger than it is in other places. So there are innovations that that could be brought in.

“It was quite funny, when I was looking to do an interview with Stuart Higgs, I went to the press office and asked if they had somewhere we could do the interview. And when I said it’s with Stuart Higgs, it looked like I'd farted in the office! They really didn’t seem so keen!

“But I think he’s got some quite good ideas and it's positive that he's taking away something from the Isle of Man to go back to BSB and offering up ideas to the Isle of Man that will enhance that event as well.

“I think sometimes we get stuck in this mould of people being for or against a circuit or a situation, when we should work together to try and make it better. MotoGP podcast with Keith Huewen MotoGP podcast with Keith Huewen

‘Not my cup of tea. But banning it? No’

“I'm 100% against things being banned. I always have been. The Isle of Man, I did it once. Not my cup of tea, is all I can say. But banning it. No. You see the pleasure it gives to so many people.

“The highs and lows there are massive, but banning something is not an option for me, instead work towards making it as safe as you possibly can.”

While all of the competitors know the risks they are taking at the TT, that doesn’t make it much easier for their families and friends.

“When you are there and you see the absolute anguish that families are going through,” Huewen said.

“John McGuinness is a fine example. 50 years old and I can't remember how many tens of thousands of miles he’s done around that race track. He’s got anguish on his face, but Rebecca, son Ewan, who was working on his Supersport bike, daughter Maisie. They are going through hell.  

"Which must make it fantastic on the other side of things, when you come away with a good finish. But when the ultimate accident happens, there's devastation. We had a situation in one of the sidecar races, where one guy was killed and another badly injured. And they apparently - and I repeat apparently, I have no verification of this - as a tradition might have swapped dog tags.

“So the guy who was then named as killed in the press release, wasn't the guy that was killed. He was the one that was in hospital. So it was an absolute nightmare. The wrong guy was declared dead. And I can't imagine what that does to families and friends that are all trying to deal with the situation.

“Everybody I spoke to competing in the TT understands what's going on [danger wise]. None of them even leant towards ‘I don't know whether it's worth it’. I never heard that once out of competitors. But from a family point of view. I did.

“How it all plays out in the future, I don't know. From an organisational point of view, they've got to be seen now to be putting together a programme of what else they can do. They’re never going to make it safe. There are always going to be people killed at the TT in racing incidents. I’m sorry to say that. It’s a fact.

“The Isle of Man is so complex. It's such a massive, massive event. It's such an undertaking. Where else would you get a situation where because of the side car accident on the Friday, the Senior ended up having to go on to the Saturday. And then a lot of people had already gone home because the ferries are full, the flights are full.

“So there's all sorts of things that need to be thought through.

“I think after three years off, it was a fantastic event. They really seem to have got a lot of things organised. But I think that there are going to be question marks and there are going to be boxes that have to be ticked, just because that's the world we live in nowadays.”

Podcast host Harry Benjamin then switches attention to MotoGP, with MotoGP editor Pete McLaren giving a rundown of the Catalunya test before all three discuss Jack Miller’s move to KTM, plus Pol Espargaro’s possible return to the Austrian brand.

All three also make their predictions for this weekend, which will see someone other than Marc Marquez take MotoGP victory for the first time since 2012.

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