Hutchy’s journey to hell and backby Mat Oxley on 13th January 2016
Why Ian Hutchinson beat Britain’s latest world champions to win Britain’s biggest biking gong
Each year dozens of motorcyclists win world championships of every shape and form but very few fight back from injuries that seemed destined to leave them ex-racer amputees. Mick Doohan was one, Ian Hutchinson is another.
Hutchy’s tale is an inspiring story of the wonders and the possibilities of the human spirit. Just a couple of months after becoming the first man in history to win five Isle of Man TTs in one week, Hutchy crashed out of a Silverstone BSB Supersport race and was hit by another bike. The accident shattered his lower leg. Surgeons gave the limb up for lost and told him the only way forward was to amputate from below the knee.
Hutchinson disagreed, for one main reason: not so much because he wanted to continue walking with his own two legs but because he couldn’t bear the thought of never racing a motorcycle again. That gives you some idea of the compulsive thrill of bike racing, especially around the Isle of Man Mountain course, where Hutchy returned to his winning ways last June, scoring a hat-trick of victories.
During the intervening five years the Yorkshireman became something of a guinea pig for his team of surgeons, who carried out more than thirty operations on the supposedly doomed limb, including back-to-back twelve-hour and sixteen-hour epics from which he awoke in a darkened intensive-care unit, convinced he was on his way to meet his maker.
Despite all that – despite losing the fibula bone in the leg, despite coming close to losing the whole leg once more when the wounds turned rotten and despite finally realising that the leg wasn’t up to changing gear, so he would have to learn to shift with the other leg – Hutchy never once considered surrendering to a life without racing. He let his surgeons do whatever they wanted to do to try saving the leg, no matter what the risks and complications. He still spends three or four hours in the gym every day, working to maintain strength into the leg’s wasted muscles.
He has shown jaw-dropping courage and tenacity in fighting his way out of that dark and lonely place and that’s why yesterday he found himself in the salubrious environs of London’s Pall Mall to pick up the Torrens trophy, now the country’s top bike-racing prize, awarded by the Royal Automobile Club. He beat Britain’s latest world champions Danny Kent, Jonathan Rea and Tai Woffinden to the award, in recent years won by Shakey Byrne, Tom Sykes and James Toseland.
Hutchinson’s whole career has been a greater journey that’s taken him from street hoodlum to sporting great. Unlike the huge majority of today’s racers he didn’t start out as a kid, thrashing minimotos around go-kart tracks. He started racing on the open road, getting up at the crack of dawn to race his mates to the Lake District and back. He admits to being somewhat, er, “disrespectful” of the laws of the Queen’s highways. No wonder he feels such an affinity with the TT course, where tearing through sleepy villages at 180 miles an hour is considered the right thing to do. His first visits to the Island were as a fan, living on Douglas Prom in the back of a van, amusing fans and terrorising locals by pulling wheelies between the tramlines. He didn’t start his legal racing career until he was 21, the same age at which Kent won last year’s Moto3 world title.
His recognition at the Royal Automobile Club’s vast and imposing HQ is particularly fitting because it was in that building that the very first TTs were planned a hundred and ten years ago. The first motorcycle TT of 1907 followed the club’s first car TT of 1905 and followed much of the same course. Even the famous TT trophies of Mercury/Hermes were based on the original car trophy cast in 1905. It is interesting to note that back then the now truly terrifying descent down Bray Hill was considered “absolutely the least interesting” part of the course.
It is great that the Royal Automobile Club (by the way, nothing to do with the RAC breakdown service) is showing such renewed enthusiasm for bikes and bike racing. For many years the club lost interest in its automotive roots, so that wonderful trophies like the Torrens gathered dust in its cabinets. Hopefully the club’s reawakening will lead to more interest from Britain’s movers and shakers, which will in turn lead to more support for bike racing, always so badly lacking in this country.
The Torrens is awarded in memory of 'bike journalist Arthur ‘Torrens’ Bourne who edited The Motor Cycle from the 1920s to the 1950s. Bourne would feel some affinity with Hutchinson. He was one of the first people in the country to get a speeding ticket (complete with a personal reprimand from the Chief Constable at Scotland Yard) and during the 1920s he conducted the magazine’s performance testing on the newly opened Kingston bypass.
During the Second World War Bourne was responsible for training army despatch riders, employing expert off-roaders like Allan Jefferies (grandfather of TT great David Jefferies) as teachers. He also helped create the Flying Flea, an ultra-lightweight 125cc two-stroke beloved of soldiers after the D-Day landings.
Bourne recalled his first Flying Flea training exercise with Britain’s 1st Airborne Division. Not surprisingly, the battle-scarred paratroopers – who had already fought in North Africa and elsewhere – were wholly unimpressed by the dinky little two-stroke. And they thought it a great joke when Bourne told them the bike could happily cross a deep dyke on the Lincolnshire fens.
The paras waited to be amused by the sight of bike and rider flailing around in the water. Instead, Bourne’s instructor rode to the dyke, climbed off, stepped into the waist-high water, picked up the Flea, deposited it on the opposite bank, scrambled out of the water, climbed aboard, kicked the engine back into life and rode off. The paras were immediately won over and the Flying Flea played a useful role during the final year of the war.
There’s a lot of history wrapped up in the Torrens and hopefully much more to come.