His soft way of speaking and the pretty clear Yorkshire accent made me feel comfortable straight away. In Hutchy’s living room I would have wanted to ask a lot of questions. Too many questions. For the first time after his shock Honda deal, Ian Hutchinson is granting an interview and the subjects couldn’t be other than his recovery after 2017 TT crash and his switch from TAS BMW to Honda Racing.
The weight of his character is massive: 16 TT wins (the 4th most successful rider in the whole history of the Isle of
Man) plus wins at the Ulster GP, North West 200 and Macau. What stands out most, though, is probably his inconsumable determination. After the amazing ‘5 out of 5’ at the 2010 TT (a record that stands still), Hutchy was victim of a horrific injury during a BSB round in Silverstone, luckily avoiding the amputation of his left leg. He came back to racing after an unbelievable number of operations, but in 2012 he crashed again and re-broke that very same leg during an exhibition at the London Motorcycle Show. Back to the start, with operations and a record recovery, plus the necessary modification of his riding style switching to a right-hand gear shift.
In 2013 Ian was back in Macau claiming an astonishing win. As for the TT, it took him until 2015 to be back on the top step of the podium: 3 wins in 2015, 3 wins in 2016 and 2 in 2017. But, while he was chasing the third triumph in a week last June, he crashed at the 27th Milestone on the Mountain, breaking his left leg for the third time in 7 years. In November came the unexpected announcement of his switch to Honda Racing after two seasons with Northern Ireland based TAS Racing and the S1000RR. The 38 year old from Bingley (West Yorkshire) is now back with
the same brand he won 5 TT’s in 2010 with, that time with Padgett’s, now with the factory squad, who will try to forget the horrible 2017 season of John McGuinness and Guy Martin’s misfortunes right with the Bingley
How is the recovery going Ian, how is your leg?
My recovery is going good, it’s all on target, it seems like it’s really slow but everything is within the time I was told. The gap where I had to lenghten my leg I was told would be healed for the 10th of February, so we keep working for that. The foot plate came off, so my ankle is fully healed now. I just have to work on building the strenght in my leg.
Can you tell me anything about your shock Honda switch? I mean, why did you take this decision?
It’s still possibly a strange question for me. I was happy with the team TAS and BMW but a few things happened in the last couple of years so I just wanted to have a change. I was either ‘in forever with BMW’ or ‘make a change’. And something ticked to my mind to make a change.
Do you already know well your new team mate Lee Johnston?
Yep, we did the launch at the workshop together with Lee, it’s good to see he’s got a good ride.
Have you ever thought about retiring or quitting road races after your last crash?
No. I think the last time I had the accident I went through times when I thought ‘I’m not going to be able to come back from this, if I’m not winning I’m not going to be happy doing it, so maybe I’m going to quit’. But from the minute I had the accident this time, that was such a strange crash, none of it put me off wanting to come back racing because it’s just like something that could never happen again. We know anything can happen at the TT and it did happen to me, so that’s that but I think from the second that it happened through the whole path I’ve always wanted to come back.
Do you want to go back to short circuits as well?
Not now. People could think it sounds crazy to do road races and not short circuits, because they are safer. But you don’t go to a road race with the possibility of crashing; yes it can happen but it’s not a possibility, whereas in the British short circuit races you have to expect to fall off every single weekend. Last time I was always thinking that my leg wouldn’t be able to take a fall and then eventually maybe 5 years on I thought ‘maybe everything is ok now’, so I ended up going back to the short circuits. I’m in the same position now, everybody was asking for me to do Superstock again but I think I need some time away for my leg; the season starts in 2 months and my leg is not ready for that. Whether I come back again to short circuits or not I’d love doing it and to be competitive again, so it will always be a possibility.
Let’s talk about the limit: it is commonly said that in road races you have to ride well inside your limit, opposite to short circuit races. Is that true for a top rider as well or do you feel you are closer to your limit?
In short circuits, especially in qualifying, you’re pushing and you get the feeling of losing the front. In road racing you wouldn’t got to this point. You do try a little bit harder in a short circuit to qualify and if you lose the front you end up only into the gravel. In the road races you never try to lose the front.
I saw a few riders at the TT riding slightly differently from others, braking a little bit harder, mainly because they come from short circuits. Do you think it pays off ?
Well, I’ve noticed even in my own riding that in some places you are braking 100%, to the maximum, at the last point where you can brake, but this is only good in certain sections of the TT. In other places you know you could brake much harder and much latter but then you’d lose a lot more in the next section. Like breaking into Ramsey Square, yeah you brake as harder and as latter as you can because you are just coming to a stop, but in other places this doesn’t work, you need to be really smooth and carry the speed. I think it pays off to use a little bit from either but you have to keep in mind it’s a road race.
Which is your favourite section at the TT?
I don’t really have one, there is nowhere that I really look forward to or that I really hate. Well, I think Governor’s Dip is terrible, with the big Superbikes trying to get to stop down to the bottom of it, trying to get through it is not great! But there is nowhere I really love or hate round there. I think a flying lap going down Bray Hill is the best feeling ever. Once you know the place so well everywhere just flows into the next section.
Do you even like the bumpy section from Ginger Hall to Ramsey then!
Yes I’ve always gelled well with that section, I think it comes from the times I did offroad and enduro.
What about the Mountain section?
I think it’s a very important part of the track. As soon as you exit the Gooseneck you can be really really flowing and keep up the speed and not be aggressive on the brakes, because the speed you are carrying through the corners always leads onto a straight. But also when you’re running into the corners you’re travelling so fast, you have to be so accurate with the peeling point because if you’re peeling slightly earlier the whole corner is wrong, you end up to the apex too soon, then you have to get off the gas for the exit instead of getting on the gas. I really like the challenge of making every inch perfect over the Mountain and when you get it right it feels amazing. When you’ve not got it right or you’re on a bike you are struggling with it feels so bad because you cannot do what you know you can do. The 3 corners of the 32nd Milestone are so hard to get perfect and not exit and think ‘oh I’ve exited too slow’ or exit and be almost running out of road; it’s such a hard section to get right and it all comes back from your exit from Brandywell; when you come out of there, if you’re not on point going through the little right before it you’re not going to get the 32nd right.
Is the TT Course your favourite track?
Hard question, as the TT is not comparable to any other race, the TT is on its own. But the Ulster Grand Prix has always been my favourite place to race as a circuit. As a short circuit Oulton Park is my favourite place to race.
What about Macau?
I kinda have a love-hate relationship with Macau. On the startline you hate the place and you’re never coming back and then when you finish the race you love it and you want to go back again. But I won’t be doing Macau again. I already decided from the end of last year that I’d not go back this year. I’ve had my time there and I won the race.
I remember it very well, I was there and it was emotional to see you back on the top step after the two injuries. Which one of the three recoveries has been the most difficult one for you?
Obviously the very first injury was horrific and I could barely even talk for 3 weeks, I was so drugged up, then it made good improvement and it was fixed within one year; but it was still infected and re-broke. From the infected re-brake it was a long long time because I rode the North West and TT with it, then I came back and they cut out 160mm off my tibia and to grow it back was the worst thing ever. So the second was bad. Then this time my tibia survived but my ankle was removed and then they broke my tibia to make my leg longer, so I still had to get into the lenghtening thing I did last time. And then on top of all that my femur broke in about 6 parts. So it’s hard to compare them but I think this time I have a lot more damages to my leg because my femur was ok last time, it was just tibia; now it’s ankle, tibia, femur.
Was the first one the worst mentally?
Yes because I’d never had any injury before that, I’d only broke a collarbone which took like 3 weeks. It was so unknown whether I could come back from it, whether I could race again, whether I could be fast again or whether I could even ride a bike; I moved to the right-hand gear shift. All in my head seemed like a normal thing to do but it wasn’t a normal thing to do, it was very difficult to change to this. This time I don’t have any of that, this time I know that I can come back, I know how I came back last time, I’m already on the right-hand gear shift so I don’t have to learn all this. I think this time will be much better.
You surely are a real inspiration for many people and for the third time you’re going to go back to what you do best. Do you have any target for this TT, considering both your injury and the new team and bike?
Yes, my target is only to win at the TT. I don’t see any reason why it’s not possible. I have to put in a lot of hard work on the leg, I know the position I was in last time, I know what I have to do. The Honda has always been a great bike at the TT and they’re putting a lot of effort in for me so I think everything is in a situation where I can go and win and this is the only way I can look at it.