Will power and woe at North West 200
The tragic death yesterday of Cookstown rider Mark Young from his North West crash injuries, underlined the decision to cut short the meeting on Saturday as right and proper.
Road racing will go on, as it always does, and as Mark would surely have wanted, as soon as his fellow riders and fans have paid their respects.
Its a daredevil sport, the risk and edge being part of the attraction for competitors and fans alike.
Riders will race in all weathers and conditions if you let them. But sometimes you do have to protect people from themselves.
That is why, despite the obvious disappointment around the course when two of most eagerly awaited races of the day, the second Superbike and Supersport, were scratched, Clerk of the Course Mervyn Whyte made the correct decision to abandon.
Weather conditions were by then much worse than affected the opening 250 race, itself stopped after the unfortunate Mark suffered his fatal injuries in a Mather’s Cross crash.
Yesterday, Whyte spoke for whole bike racing fraternity when he said: “Coleraine and District Motor Club members and myself as Clerk of Course are devastated by the news that Mark Young has died following a serious incident during the 250cc Race. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mark’s family and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.”
Ironically, within an hour of the call-off, bright sunshine again bathed the grid-locked track as disappointed thousands made their way home.
The concensus among the riders and those fans who understand the dangers of riding in such unpredictable conditions was that Whyte indeed had little choice. A no-brainer, in fact.
Whyte had closely sounded out the riders lined up on the grid, as hail pelted down, turning the delay in the start of the second Superbike race into cancellation.
Their attitude to going out was iffy and that being the case, Whyte was not prepared to take chances. He had earlier taken team managers out for two inspections of the course and found flooding in parts.
Whyte later explained: "While the decision to cancel is disappointing, the safety of riders and spectators is our top priority.
“Unfortunately, a number of red flag incidents, combined with unpredictable weather, caused significant delays to the programme.
“Despite completing two separate warm-up laps before the main Superbike race, the lateness of the day, intermittent rain and strong crosswinds on the course forced us to make the decision.
“As always, thousands of spectators flocked to the North West circuit and we would like to thank them all for their support.”
Christian Elkin, with a leg break, John Walsh, from Kilkenny, with a broken ankle, and Saintfield’s Davy Morgan (broken wrist) may now consider themselves the lucky ones on a day of mishaps amid the freakish May weather.
In sharp contrast, William Dunlop’s previously ill-starred luck took a turn for the better as he emerged Man of the Meeting with a double success on “my best day’s racing ever.”
For Stockport rider Elkin, now Broughshane-based in Co Antrim, it was painful deja vu.
Pipped at the post in the 250 last year as Michael Dunlop raced to his now famous tribute win to dad Robert, the fearless Elkin was dicing with his old foe Michael again in a thrilling first race duel that ended for them both in a dramatic pile-up in the Juniper Chicane, seconds from the finish line.
It was all or nothing for the two of them with barely a cigarette paper between them, and in the event it was zero as their machines inevitably collided.
Michael immediately sprang to his feet to the relief of the watching 100,000 on the wind and rainswept course and countless more following the action online around the world.
Elkin, alas, was in no shape to watch as another Dunlop brother, William this time, swept past for an improbable victory, given his starting position far in arrears of them.
"It was a gimme," said an unimpressed William, as he dismounted. Would his father not have been proud nonetheless? "He'd have asked me why I didn't win it properly," retorted William.
No such generosity partnered his second victory of the day in the delayed 125 race.
Those two wins not only gave 23-year-old PJ Flynn/Ballygowan RRSC rider William his first podium top spots he has craved at the North West.
They repeated a double accomplished by dad Robert on his way to a hat-trick, back in 1993.
And perhaps, most fittingly, they earned William the first North West Man of the Meeting award in memory of the great Robert, tragically killed here in practice last year.
In doing so, he quite literally stole the thunder from eight times NW winner StevePlater.
It was between those pair for the honour with two wins apiece, victory in the only other race of the day going to Carrick's Alastair Seeley on the TAS Relentless Suzuki in the Superstock after an earlier spill.
Plater had strong claims but few will begrudge young William his right to inscribe his as the
first name on the trophy that perpetuates his father's glorious memory.
He has waited an unlucky 12 months of bike breakdowns to emulate brother Michael's remarkable 250-winning feat in the tragic aftermath of last year.
No rivalry between these boys off the track, though.
No sooner had Michael dismounted the podium from his Supersport third place, than he was sprinting across the track to help William set up his bike for victory in the 125.
William also notched up a 13th and a fifth place in the Superstock and Supersport 600 races for good measure.
And, as he reflected on his day's work well done, he finally admitted:"I'm on top of the world. I never thought that this day would come, but to be fair, I was handed the 250cc victory on a plate after Christian Elkin and my brother Michael crashed out on the last lap while disputing the lead.
"I was lying in third place at the time and was content with that result when I saw both the leaders hitting the deck at the Juniper Hill Chicane. I was as surprised as the next man but was well pleased to get my first win on the PJ Flynn Honda.
"In the 125cc race, I was out on Mark Kneens KRP125 Honda, and I went for it from the start. I knew that Chris Palmer would give me a good scrap for the race, so I put my head down and just kept her flat out. I think I won the race with about 7 or 8 seconds to spare over Chris. That one felt more like a win to me as I finished the race after leading on the road from the off.
"Would it be the best day of my career to date? Yes!
"All of this would not have been possible only for the help and support I have received from PJ Flynn, KRP Racing, Chris Dowds and the Ballygowan Road Racing Supporters Club.
"These wins are for them all."