Superbike champion Tommy Hill on winning races, Lingfield life and carp fishing in Surrey
PUBLISHED: 15:14 24 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:55 20 February 2013
He featured in one of the greatest motorcycle races ever seen when winning the British Superbike Championship after an epic last lap at Brands Hatch, beating his nearest rival by a split second...
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2012
He featured in one of the greatest motorcycle races ever seen when winning the British Superbike Championship after an epic last lap at Brands Hatch, beating his nearest rival by a split second. But TOMMY HILL is equally happy quietly carp fishing in his home county of Surrey. In an exclusive interview at his home in Lingfield, he reveals to Louise Poynton what led to him getting expelled from Oxted School, why he has no motorbike licence and how he finds living in Surrey a haven of relaxation for him...
When Tommy Hill told teachers at school during a careers lecture that he wanted to be a motorcycle racer, they nodded in polite agreement and kindly asked him to sit down. It was a defining moment for a teenager who spent all his free time riding motocross bikes. I knew from a very young age what I wanted to be, he says, so if anyone didnt believe me, I would have to prove them wrong.
One of the most talented riders of his generation, and the winner of the British Superbike Championship at Brands Hatch last October, he has certainly done just that, his success captured recently in Superbiker The Showdown, a fly-on-the-wall documentary about his season.
Winning the championship last year meant the world to me I rode that last lap as though it was my last race, says Tommy, 27, who beat his nearest rival by a split second in what is regarded as one of the greatest ever motorcycle races. This year, I want to win it again; I love winning, standing on the top step of the podium.
I was never going to be a bank manager or accountant. I simply hated maths at school. I would try, but if there was no way I was going to improve, I would switch all my effort into something I was good at.
For me, that was art and design, which is now a career alongside my racing, running my own graphic design business from home, but nothing was ever going to stop me from achieving my dream. I knew racing was my destiny.
At 20, he was the youngest race winner in the British Superbike Championship and at 21 the youngest to win pole position in a World Superbikes race. More recently, his success last season has seen him go on to become a national sporting treasure, his value rocketing since winning the MCE Insurance British Superbike title by just two points with the Swan Yamaha team in front of 50,000 fans redemption for having been denied the title the previous season.
He now clocks up thousands of miles a year making personal appearances, but until winning the championship, Tommy was very much low profile in the county.
Now I get stopped in the supermarket! he exclaims. I am taken aback when people in the street recognise me. I was driving through town the other day and a woman went berserk, screaming and stuff that was a surprise! he laughs, raising his eyes to the sky with a look of disbelief.
Life in Lingfield
Days at home in Lingfield are a missing commodity during the eight-month racing season, but those spent with family, walking his British bulldog Busta, fishing at Thorpe Lea Fishery in Egham he recently landed a 21lb 8ozs mirror carp or keeping fit by riding his mountain bike across the undulating Surrey Hills are time well spent.
One of the best off-road rides in Surrey is the one called Barry Knows Best at Holmbury, says Tommy, who you can often spot tearing across Leith, Pitch and Holmbury Hills. I so enjoy the big climbs and the superb views from Leith Hill, but when Ive burnt off all those calories I try to avoid the delicious cake stop at the top!
The whole area offers good training for me on my mountain or road bike and I train not to race, but to win.
While he often goes motorcycle trialling at Hookwood or Betchworth Quarry, you certainly wont see him on Surreys country roads as, surprisingly, he doesnt hold a bike licence. I passed my CBT (Compulsory Basic Training) when I was 16, and at weekends, I was charging around the tracks in Surrey on my 600cc supertuned Supersport bike and in the week riding a 50cc moped at 29mph, he recalls. The day I passed my test, though, I crashed three miles down the road, smashed my bike and have never ridden on the road since.
Away from the sport, Tommy shares his life with girlfriend Kate, who runs her own aroma spa beauty business in Oxted. The couple, who are expecting their first baby in November, met at primary school and started dating three years ago.
His family are all in the area too: his younger brother Jimmy, who used to race on the BSB programme (he retired from racing this summer and runs his own company, JJ Hill Construction) lives close by, while older brother Daniel, sister Lauren, and parents Mick and Jacquie all live in Surrey as well.
Tommy nods approvingly when admitting to having inherited his mothers aggressive streak that definitely helps me when I am racing and acknowledges that his dad was right to make him start work when at the age of 16 he was expelled from Oxted School for fighting.
I had started to become a naughty boy; staying out late, mixing with a young crowd, and things were not going well. I was always trying hard at school, but when I was expelled I thought it would be great spending the rest of the summer riding my bikes, recalls Tommy.
Dad had other plans, though, paying me 60 a week to help him build racing transporters for race teams, looking after the interior design. I realised I had to work for money; things dont come for free. Going to work like that, and then being able to concentrate on my racing, saved me.
Tommy grew up in Warlingham and Dormansland where the surrounding woodland offered boundless opportunities to ride his BMX and motocross bikes. We would build jumps and BMX tracks in the woods. The first track I ever rode on was at Caterham; we were there all the time and I was always competitive.
Some friends of mine, Nicky and Lee Hopcraft, would race in competitions. I envied them and persuaded dad to buy a cheap motocross bike and second-hand race kit. Dad ran a construction company in Croydon and we would use a work van to travel across the country to races.
As a youngster, Tommy showed a natural ability, adapting his riding style having been born with Perthes disease, a hip disorder that causes a limp and limited rotation. He underwent corrective surgery at the age of six where his hip was broken and reset leaving his right leg shorter.
In all, his body carries some 20 scars of racing battle and surgery not least from a near fatal motocross accident in Scotland at the age of 14, when he was given 15 minutes to live after suffering severe internal bleeding, losing a kidney, his spleen and rupturing a lung.
At the time, his dad Mick decided to sell all the bikes, but was eventually persuaded by Tommy to reconsider and switch from motocross to road racing, investing thousands of pounds to chase the dream.
The money had dried up by 2003, but that same year Tommy went on to win the Virgin Yamaha R6 Cup and with it a much sought-after works ride in the BSB. Career progress was being made, but then, in 2008, disaster struck again when a World Supersport testing accident in Spain almost smashed him to pieces, breaking his thigh bone, ankle and hand. He underwent surgery before flying home for further treatment at the East Surrey Hospital in Redhill and had to use a wheelchair for 10 weeks.
Nine months later, in his first race back at the Nurburgring in Germany, he crashed on spilt oil breaking the same thighbone. His body is now held together with bolts, screws and plates. Despite the constant injuries, Tommy still insists: Giving up was never an option, no matter what happened. My job is to win races and championships.
Back to school in Oxted
Now of course at the top of his game, Tommy returned recently to Oxted School, offering careers advice and explaining the opportunities available in the motorcycle racing industry, from team hospitality and media to engineering and graphic design.
It wasnt about me pulling up on my bike and being asked, how do I become a motorcycle racer? says Tommy, who runs his graphic design company, Imagedezign, from his Surrey home. It was to help them make a career choice. I went back to explain that your career doesnt have to be restricted to the mainstream market; you could be a bike mechanic with a race team travelling the world; working as a graphic designer on helmet designs; or the engineering side for a team. Some might want to be a motorcycle racer like me though; maybe I inspire them in that way!
Perhaps, like him, a few of those pupils will also be inspired to prove their own schoolteachers wrong one day too.
- NEED TO KNOW: Look out for Tommy Hill over the next few weeks as the championship heads into the showdown part of the season where the top six riders will contest the championship. The title will be decided over three rounds at Assen in Holland (Sunday September 23), Silverstone (Sunday September 30) and Brands Hatch (Sunday October 14). For more information about Tommy, see his website at tommyracer.com or follow him on Twitter @tommyhill33
Tommy Hills Timeline:
2001: Shows promise competing in the Junior Superstock Championship.
2002: Goes on to compete in the British Superstock Championship.
2003: Wins the Yamaha R6 Cup winning a works-supported ride.
2004: Competes in the British Superbike Championship for Virgin Mobile Yamaha. Becomes youngest rider to qualify on front row of the grid.
2005: Wins first BSB race at Cadwell Park, finishing 12th in championship.
2006: Enters World Superbike Championship race at Silverstone, takes pole position and collects points in race. Finishes eighth in British Superbike Championship.
2007: Stays in BSB and makes a handful of World Supersport rides on SSP Yamaha.
2008: Switches to World Supersport with Altea Honda, and crashes on first test breaking his thigh bone, ankle and hand. Has screws and a plate inserted into ankle, titanium rod bolts his hip and pelvis together. Picks up blood infection and suspected deep vein thrombosis. Nine months later rebreaks the same hipbone in crash at the Nurburgring in Germany in his first race back.
2009: Loses his World Superbikes ride mid-season. Steps in to replace injured Sylvian Guintoli at Worx Crescent Suzuki but when he returns, switches to Hydrex Honda collecting four top-ten results. Finishes 11th in British Superbike Championship.
2010: Joins Worx Crescent Suzuki and leads British Superbike Championship by 26 points at one stage. Crashes in final round, loses championship and finishes third overall.
2011: Joins Swan Yamaha team in British Championship, injures his shoulder early on in the season. Nine pole positions, nine podium finishes including seven wins and eight fastest laps. Also featured in one of the greatest races ever seen winning the title by 0.006 of a second from his closest rival.
2012: Stays with Swan Yamaha to defend his title taking 12 podiums, including five wins, in the opening 15 races. Takes part in the prestigious Suzuka eight-hour endurance race in Japan with the Monster Energy Yamaha YART team, which started from pole but were forced to retire early on with mechanical problems.