Peter Hickman and the Gloucester-based Smiths Racing BMW team took their first podium positions of the 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championship season at Thruxton today with the 31 year old defying illness to claim second and third place finishes at the Hampshire track which hosted round seven of the series.
Having topped the times during free practice on Friday, Peter and the team had high hopes for qualifying yesterday, but the pace was hot, and he found himself in 11th on the grid for today’s opening 20-lap race. However, unbeknown to most, the Louth-based rider had been feeling unwell and he was admitted to Winchester hospital last evening where he was diagnosed with a kidney infection.
It put his participation in today’s races very much in doubt and whilst he was subsequently forced to miss morning warm-up having just been released from hospital, he amazingly took his place on the grid at 1.30pm for the opening encounter. Completing the first lap in 13th place, it initially looked like it was going to be a long race for Hickman but that soon began to change and by lap six he’d moved up to seventh.
This was where he remained for the next ten laps, but he was regularly the fastest rider on track and that allowed him to close right in on the leading group of six riders. Once there, he wasn’t content just to sit there and fifth place became his on lap 17. It looked like this would be where he would finish but he took full advantage of a coming together between Jason O’Halloran and Josh Brookes at the chicane on the final lap to claim the final podium finish and a stunning, almost unbelievable, third place.
His efforts saw him line up in the much better position of fifth and the second row for the second 20-lap race and, sixth at the end of lap one, by lap six he’d moved back into fourth place. Showing no ill effects, he was soon up to third but by half race distance, race leader Josh Brookes had edged away by almost two seconds and with the pack behind constantly changing position it looked like he already had the race sewn up.
However, Hickman fought his way to the front of the group and used the clear track to pull away and slowly began to reel Brookes in. He ultimately ran out of laps but closed to within 0.305s of the Australian at the end and the haul of 36 points saw him jump up to seventh overall in the Championship table to lie just seven points adrift of a Showdown position.
Team-mate Sylvain Barrier, meanwhile, was having his first outing at the fastest track on the Bennetts BSB calendar, which is renowned for being difficult to learn, but he consistently improved throughout the weekend and qualified in 23rd place for the opening encounter. However, despite slipping back to 25th on the opening lap, he quickly regrouped and was soon up into the top 20.
Indeed, getting more and more to grips with the high-speed circuit, the Frenchman continued to move up the leaderboard and was duly rewarded with a strong 14th place at the chequered flag for two more championship points. Despite of this, he still lined up in 23rd place on the grid for the second race and on this occasion, he wasn’t able to advance as far forward. Suffering with chatter from the front end, his lap times were subsequently compromised slightly and he had to settle for 18th place.
Peter Hickman: “I only got discharged from hospital at 12 noon today so to be standing on the podium at 2pm was pretty unreal! The weekend had started well on Friday but on Saturday I started to feel unwell and although I managed to put a lap in during qualifying, I became worse on Saturday evening. The paramedics were called out and I was whisked away to hospital subsequently being diagnosed with a kidney infection. I felt a bit better today and got back to the circuit and gave it my best shot. I was a long way back at the beginning of race one, but I kept chipping away and gradually the front group came back to me. I had a bit of luck on the final lap after Josh and Jason came together but we deserved a bit of luck this weekend. In the second race, we were battling too much amongst ourselves which allowed Josh to make a break, but I had a good rhythm and got second place. We needed a good weekend after a poor start to the season and that’s what we got so to be right back in Showdown contention is just what I wanted.”
Sylvain Barrier: “Race one was good for me as Thruxton is a difficult track to learn so to score points was a real bonus. In race two, I had a minor problem, but I couldn’t add to my points score. I’d just like to say massive congratulations to Peter as he has been incredible today to come from hospital to score a double podium. This team is fantastic, and I’d like to say well done to them all. I’m looking forward to the next round at Cadwell Park and hope we can get some more points on the board there.”
Darren Jones, Team Co-ordinator: “Considering how the day started, it’s ended in a very positive way and although we knew Peter had good pace, given how well he’d gone on Friday, sitting here now with a second and a third is simply superb given how ill he was. He was determined to race and the goal in each race was to be patient and play the waiting game and although he got a bit lucky in race one, you’ve got to be in the position to take advantage of other riders’ errors and he did exactly that. In race two, he had the pace to win and perhaps saved his tyre a bit too much as his lap times at the end were incredibly strong. Josh had managed to escape a bit and Pete just ran out of time to catch him, but two podiums has put him up to seventh in the table and right in contention for a Showdown position. For Sylvain, it was always going to be a tough weekend due to being unable to test here but he got quicker throughout the weekend with his result in race one being particularly strong. It puts us in good stead now for Cadwell and the second half of the season.”
Bennetts British Superbike Championship race one (20 laps)
1 Leon Haslam (Kawasaki)
2 Jake Dixon (Kawasaki)
3 Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW)
4 Josh Brookes (Yamaha)
5 Glenn Irwin (Ducati)
6 Jason O’Halloran (Honda)
14 Sylvain Barrier (Smiths Racing BMW)
Bennetts British Superbike Championship race two (20 laps)
1 Josh Brookes (Yamaha)
2 Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW)
3 Jake Dixon (Kawasaki)
4 Leon Haslam (Kawasaki)
5 Tarran Mackenzie (Yamaha)
6 Jason O’Halloran (Honda)
18 Sylvain Barrier (Smiths Racing BMW)
Championship Standings (after seven rounds)
1 Haslam 280pts
2 Dixon 198
3 Brookes 168
4 Irwin 163
5 Ray 119
6 Buchan 111
7 Hickman 104
23 Barrier 7
Pictures courtesy of Double Red: Peter Hickman (60) and Sylvain Barrier (20).