Northern Ireland, motorbike racing and a heritage coastline – it’s a cracker!

This was all new to me. The nearest I’d got to motorbike racing on a road course was when my uncle in south London used to play a vinyl disc of sound effects from the TT when I was a kid. That is preparation of sorts, but doesn’t really allow the brain to tap into the profound excitement generated by the noise, power and speed of these amazing machines. The skill and courage of the riders is also beyond the grasp of an ordinary mortal. How do they hold their belief that they can do this incredibly dangerous sport and come through unscathed?

NW200 start grid melee

NW200 start grid melee

Gary Johnson, Keith Amor, and Michael Rutter

Gary Johnson, Keith Amor, and Michael Rutter

In the past few years, the weather has caused the NW200 to be cancelled twice. Last Thursday, the sun shone and a light breeze blew in from the Atlantic as we stood high on the grandstand overlooking the start grid and beautiful coastal scenery. The evening progamme of three races started with the Ballymoney Borough Council Supersport. Alastair Seeley got the holeshot on his Yamaha and roared away, popping a wheelie before taking the first bend. Man and machine at one. Awesome!

Saturday racing

The locals were delighted with their sunny weather, but on Saturday, it was business as usual as a chilly breeze blew in the rain and clouds. Most of the races were either delayed and/or shortened so that they could take advantage of the drier roads in between showers. The programme of 5 races started at about 10.30. For me, the absolute highlight was a stunning last lap dice between the local Dunlop brothers in the Eventserv Superbike race, with William taking first place, for once, on his Suzuki. There was also a bad-tempered, slow speed collision between Alastair Seeley and Lee Johnston that completely altered the result and produced some sullen post-race interviews.

Lee Johnston later went on to win the Supertwin. In my opinion, it was because he was so fired up. Michael Rutter was consistently impressive, taking second place in three races. The Australian, Josh Brookes, had a fantastic battle with Michael Dunlop and Alastair Seeley in the final NW200 Superbike race but lost it as he took the Magherabuoy chicane at unbelievable speed and ended up on the grass (although he stayed on the bike and came in second!). Michael Dunlop took the win on his BMW and was the star of this year’s NW200, with two wins and Man of the Meeting award.

NW200 James Cowtons Honda

NW200 James Cowton’s Honda

Tragedy – another young racer dies

When we heard that the Superstock race was red flagged, we knew something terrible had happened. The commentators at Metropole had only seen a riderless bike hurtling down the road towards them in the commentary box. Detail later emerged of a rider being airlifted to hospital. After the road cleared up, racing resumed and nothing more was said. I discovered later that Simon Andrews was in critical condition.

On Monday, I learned that he had died. I can’t think about the NW200, without the taint of this dreadful tragedy. I don’t have the stomach for death as part of a spectator sport. It begs the question as to how Ballymoney boys, Michael and William Dunlop, continue to race despite the deaths of their father, Robert, in 2008 and their uncle Joey in 2000. Not to mention countless others who have died. But it must be a bigger thing that propels them; something that allows them to accept the risk and yet still desire to race, above everything. I salute them.

Hondahontas

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