Belfast Telegraph

North West 200 gearing up for a first

By Jim Gracey

The first week night racing at the International North West 200 has been confirmed for Thursday, May 17.

The major innovation, ahead of Saturday’s May 19 Race Day, was announced yesterday by North West Technical Director Mervyn Whyte, following months of negotations with residents and business people on the 6.8 mile Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine circuit.

Two races, Superstock and the newly introduced Supertwins class, will now run on Thursday evening from 5.30pm to 9.00pm, with practice taking place earlier in the day from 9.30am until 2.30pm.

Daytime practice will also take place on Tuesday between the same times.

All concerned seem to have bought into the hearts and minds exercise designed to convince that a midweek extension of racing and subsequent road closing orders would benefit the greater good of the event and the area in terms of increased visitor numbers and tourism revenues.

The north coast can now look forward to a three month sporting harvest from the North West in May, Irish Open golf in June and the Milk Cup in July.

The North West, in particular, needs a change and a rest from the ill-starred misfortune of last year when Ireland’s biggest sporting attraction in terms of numbers, upwards of 80,000, was hit by a triple whammy of freak rain, a bomb scare and oil spill on the track.

Mervyn Whyte admitted: “Suffice to say 2011 was a difficult and frustrating year for organisers, sponsors, riders and spectators alike, with a combination of bad weather, a security alert, incidents and cancelled races.

“However, we are looking forward to 2012’s North West 200 and are doing everything in our power to make it exceptional for all the right reasons. This is an exciting year for Northern Ireland tourism and the North West 200 can join the line-up of international tourist events taking place this year.”

Securing agreement for week night racing was central to that and Whyte worked hard to seal the deal, guaranteeing: “Disruption for those who live, work or carry on business on the course will be kept to a minimum and emergency access in and out will be given priority.”

Political big hitters added their seal of approval to the new Race Week format today as First Minister Peter Robinson and Minister for Tourism Arlene Foster joined some of the UK and Northern Ireland’s top names in road racing for the launch of the 2012 North West, once again backed by Coca Cola’s Relentless energy drink as the headline sponsor.

North West 200 champions John McGuinness, Conor Cummins, Ian Hutchinson, Steve Mercer, Denver Robb, Kirk Jamieson and Alastair Seeley were just some of the riders in attendance at the launch in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

Arlene Foster recognised the work put in by Whyte and his team, saying: “Events like the North West 200 simply would not happen without the commitment and dedication of the organisers, backroom staff and sponsors. They are often unsung heroes and I would like to pay tribute to all involved for the time and effort they have put in over the years to make the event what it is today.”

“With so many outstanding celebrations and commemorations, this is a pivotal year for tourism in Northern Ireland and the North West200 will contribute to an amazing portfolio of events on offer.”

Belfast Telegraph

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