Top team boss Philip Neill, of Tyco Suzuki, has hit out at the lack of support leading to the cancellation of this year's iconic Sunflower Trophy Races, scheduled for August 3 and 4 at Bishopscourt.
Only a paltry 10 entries had been confirmed, Neill's marquee names, Alastair Seeley, Guy Martin and Conor Cummins among them.
That left the Hillsborough Club organisers with little choice but to pull the plug on the once-traditional, close-of-season event — and admittedly the date switch to a busy time on the calendar also played a part.
Neill was nevertheless forthright in expressing disappointment at the poor entry level for such a prestigious event.
He said: “We always like to support the Sunflower, and that’s why I confirmed we would run Guy Martin, Conor Cummins and Alastair Seeley. So to find out that it had been cancelled was a shock
“I can’t speak for other teams, but if we cannot collectively support the last top quality short circuit event that we have in Northern Ireland, where does that leave local racing? I mean, where else do you get a local short circuit event with decent prize money? The event has so much history. It’s a real shame.”
And he contended: “The teams that currently run local riders in British Superbikes should be doing their best to compete in the Sunflower. Some of them are racing a few days later at the Ulster Grand Prix — so why not come and race at Bishopscourt?”
The promoting Hillsborough Club took the brave decision to move from their usual October date in a bid to avoid bad weather, but the August move has sadly come back to bite them, as a bitterly disappointed event figurehead Eric Lyons accepted.
“This decision has hit me like a bomb,” said former sidecar racer Lyons, a Hillsborough stalwart since the race began in 1977.
He added: “There are many reasons behind the decision to cancel, but lack of entries was the defining factor, despite sponsorship also proving difficult to find. We have taken a heavy knock these past three years financially, and I also wonder if changing the date this year was the correct decision. I consider the Sunflower ‘my baby’ and this is heartbreaking.”
Padgetts’ Honda British Superbike rider Ian Lowry has won the Sunflower Trophy twice in the past three seasons, and the Moira man’s instant reaction was of disbelief. “It’s terrible news,” he decried. “The first time I ever saw a bike on track was at the Sunflower, so to go on and win it years later was a dream come true for me. Hopefully they can re-group and come back stronger in 2013.”
Six-time winner Michael Laverty was equally disappointed, but the Samsung Honda British Superbike rider admitted the date change would have ruled him out regardless.
“Our team dismissed it as BSB is the priority this season, but I wouldn’t have ruled out riding another Honda,” he said. “I have only missed it once in 10 years and it was always nice to come back and race in front of a home audience.”
It’s been a bad few weeks for local racing, with next weekend’s July holiday short circuit meeting at Kirkistown also cancelled due to insufficient interest from riders and teams.
It now remains to be seen if Mondello Park’s Adelaide Masters event at Bishopscourt on August 18, can provide a much-needed resurgence.