Peter Hickman warmed up for the MCE Ulster Grand Prix with an unlikely podium double in the Bennetts British Superbike Championship at Thruxton.
The Smiths BMW rider, who won the Darran Lindsay Trophy after being named as the man of the meeting at Dundrod last year, hauled himself out of his hospital bed on Sunday morning to take his place on the grid after being diagnosed with a kidney infection.
Hickman missed morning warm-up but against the odds, the Louth man battled his way to third place in race one and finished as the runner-up in the second encounter, crossing the line only 0.3 seconds back on Josh Brookes as he celebrated his maiden BSB rostrum results of 2018.
He said: “I only got discharged from hospital at 12noon 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 and got back to the circuit and gave it my best shot.
“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.”
It was an eye-catching performance by Hickman, who arrives at Dundrod in terrific form as he bids to add to his international road racing victories this year at the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT.
The 31-year-old earned his first North West win in the Superstock class in May and broke his duck in style at the TT, where he set a new lap record of 134.403mph on his Smiths BMW Superstock machine as he narrowly edged out Michael Dunlop for the win.
Hickman then raised the bar in the prestigious Senior race, establishing the Mountain Course as the fastest road race in the world with a final lap of 135.452mph as he overhauled long-time leader Dean Harrison in a memorable duel to secure the sport’s greatest prize.
Both riders will renew their rivalry this week at Dundrod, although Hickman has dismissed any suggestions the Superbike events will come down to a two-horse race.
“No, there’s always a good few guys there and it’s not just about us two – Conor (Cummins) is always up there at Dundrod,” Hickman said.
“The racing is always close at the Ulster Grand Prix and it’s very difficult to make that breakaway.
“I’m looking forward to getting out there and doing battle the rest of the guys and hopefully we can get some more good results.
“I had three wins last year and maybe we should have had a couple more, but we were just unlucky with a few things.”
Hickman handed the ‘world’s fastest road race’ title to the TT in June but admits there is every possibility of a new benchmark at Dundrod in the right conditions.
“Noel wasn’t too happy with me and I had to give him a grovelling phone call afterwards but with two weeks of good weather at the Isle of Man TT, it helped us to reach that lap record.
“If the weather is good at Dundrod then absolutely the lap record can go again. In saying that, you’d like to try and win at the slowest pace possible but it’s not always possible when everyone is riding so fast.”
Bradford rider Harrison is the outright lap record holder at Dundrod after lapping at 134.614mph last year as he finished third in the feature Superbike race behind Bruce Anstey and Hickman.
The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider won the second race to clinch his first victory around the 7.4-mile course and Harrison is in confident mood after stepping up another level this year.
“The team has been working fantastic this year and I’m feeling pretty relaxed with things. I’m comfortable riding at the pace we’ve been doing. The team is good, the bikes are good and now we can really start and push on,” he said.
“The Ulster Grand Prix track is brilliant and it’s just one of the best in the world when the sun is shining. All the riders enjoy racing around there and the track is just so fast and flowing.
“Lap records are there to be broken but race wins cannot be taken away from you. I’m looking forward to getting out there but I’m definitely not counting my chickens.
“If the sun is out then I definitely think we’ll see the Ulster Grand Prix lap record broken,” he added.
“There are at least 10 other riders who all have a chance at that podium and it won’t be easy out there. We’ll just get our heads down from the start and see where we are in qualifying.”
Hickman and Harrison are the standout favourites in the Superbike and Superstock classes, when their main opposition includes Manx rider Conor Cummins on the Padgett’s Honda and Lee Johnston on the Honda Racing Fireblade.
Michael Dunlop is a doubt following the death of his brother William in a crash during practice for the Skerries 100.
Aussie David Johnson will be hoping to challenge for the podium after joining the Tyco BMW team to ride the carbon frame HP4 Race machine, while Derek McGee will be aiming high after dominating the Irish National meetings over the summer.
Young gun Davey Todd is a dark horse on the Burrows Engineering Racing machines, although his team-mate, Derek Sheils, is a non-starter.
Adam McLean (McAdoo Racing) and Paul Jordan (Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki) will also be hoping to make their presence felt.
Rising prospect Joey Thompson is one to watch on the Paton in the Supertwins and Lightweight races especially, while Paul Robinson – a double winner last year – and Christian Elkin lead the line-up in the Ultra-Lightweight class.