Hill's heroics have put him in Super demand
World stage calling for Kent man who lost his spleen, a kidney and twice broke his thigh
Thursday 20 October 2011
Tommy Hill, whose passion for motorcycle racing survived a near-death experience and two broken thighs, has this week been fielding calls from top European teams after making an incredible comeback from injury to win this year's British Superbike championship.
"The phone's been going mad," Hill, 26, said this week. "Some options in World Superbikes are available, and I'd like to get back to world level. But in this industry you can get promised a lot, and I will only accept a good package. I don't rule out riding in British Superbikes again, because the championship just keeps getting bigger."
If Hill was to return to World Superbikes over the coming weeks he would be following a well-worn path of champion Brits competing in the series; from Leon Haslam to James Toseland to Leon Camier.
Hill broke his right thigh twice in eight months in 2007 and 2008 in devastating race-track smashes. On the second occasion he was still limping from the effects of the earlier crash when he was knocked off his bike at the Nürburgring in Germany only 10 seconds after the start of his comeback race.
"I tried to get up and walk, but I collapsed," Hill says. "I thought, 'Surely this can't happen again'. The injuries that I've had would have ended the career of a lot of people. But these are hurdles you try and get over."
The Kent-born Hill's mother Jackie had already endured seeing him almost die as a teenager when he lost his spleen and a kidney in a motorcycle racing crash. She watched the Nürburgring accident on TV, and said: "They're all the same. After a crash they're lying in bed thinking: 'Why am I doing this?' But once they start to recover they start thinking about racing again. That's what racers do."
Hill got a ride with the experienced Crescent Suzuki team last year, and was leading the British Superbike championship going into the final round when he made an overtaking move that many observers thought was headstrong, and he crashed his GSX-R1000. It cost him a chance of the title, and he ended the year in third place.
So when the 2011 title came down to a last-race shootout at Brands Hatch between Hill, on a Swan Yamaha, and the more experienced Californian John Hopkins, 28, there were fans who worried that the local boy might wobble mentally.
The lead changed five times in the last lap over the 2.4-mile circuit, but this time it was Hill who kept calm as they headed into the final corner. "Hopkins had better drive off the last corner and would have beaten me to the line if he'd followed me until the exit," Hill says. "But he tried to pass me on the brakes, drifted wide, and I was able to turn back inside him."
Hill held on to win from Hopkins by six-thousandths of a second and the crowd burst on to the straight for the podium celebrations.
The championship was also a reward for Shaun Muir, the Yorkshire engineer who owns the SMR team that fields Hill's Yamaha – and an indication of the level of competition in the British Superbike series.
Muir invests between £500,000 and £750,000 into the team every year, but it's taken him seven years of trying to win his first title. "The last round in 2005 gave us our first podium, and we've improved every year," Muir said. "In 2008 we started hitting the podium on a regular basis with James Ellison, and with Stuart Easton we were winning on a regular basis."
But it took Hill's special touch – he won seven races this year, two more than Hopkins – to win the title. "Tommy has got a heart like a lion to dig as deep as he had to," Muir said.
"It's a testament to his ability to rise above the rest. I would like to see him go into World Superbikes with a great team. But if that does not happen I want him to stay with us and keep winning."
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