North West 200 to start on a Thursday
A major hearts and minds exercise will hopefully result in the first weeknight race at next year's International North West 200.
Thousands of residents and business interests populating the 9-mile Portrush, Portstewart, Coleraine track are being asked to give their blessing to the Thursday night race proposal as part of a major revamp leading up to the main event, now fixed for Saturday, May 19, 2012.
The Thursday race would feature a first for the North West, introducing the popular 650cc Supertwin bikes, as well as a Superstock race. Five more races will be run on the Saturday.
A period of consultation with local people will begin next week with a letter drop, outlining the plans for next year which also include Tuesday and Thursday daytime practices.
It's a big ask with three days and one night of road closures effectively being sought.
But race chief Mervyn Whyte is hopeful that a raft of assurances, promising minimum disruption to residents, schools, business people and farmers, coupled with the event's value to the area, will sway a majority behind what is being seen as a much-needed uplift for the North West following this year's disastrous abandonment.
The Thursday race is also a fallback position, a form of insurance against the combination of events that conspired to ruin Race Day this year — a bomb scare that forced the evacuation of the pits area followed by prolonged hold-ups due to heavy rain and finally an oil spill on the coast road, calling a halt.
With Government figures showing the North West generates £7million for the Northern Ireland economy, £4million of that locally, from crowds up to 80,000 over the week, racing needs to take place to safeguard the event and its tourism spin-off.
Last year's heavy hit prompted the rethink by the Coleraine Motor Club organisers and having crucially secured local Council support for the race expansion, it's now time to test the water with the public approach.
Mervyn Whyte revealed: “Following the club’s presentation and proposal to Coleraine Borough Council earlier this month, consultation will get underway next week in terms of proposed daytime practice on Tuesday, May 15 and additional evening racing on Thursday, May 17.
“Detailed letters will be delivered to all residents located in and around the course and local people will be invited to respond to us by Tuesday, November 15.
“We aim to close the 8.9 mile circuit roads on Tuesday and Thursday from 9.30am until 2.30pm providing substantial time for practice including valuable newcomer sessions.
“There would be windows for access to and from the course during these times and immediately in cases of emergency. We are anxious to retain the goodwill on which the race runs.
“To expand our race programme and broaden the appeal to fans, we hope to introduce two exciting races on the Thursday evening — a Superstock event followed by a Supertwins Race — with roads set to close from 5.30pm to 9.00pm. We believe the new revitalised programme will attract additional spectators and add a little more live action to our Race Week schedule.
“The addition of the Supertwins race is a first for the North West 200 and we will be following the same regulations as the Isle of Man TT who are also set to introduce a Supertwins class for the first time in 2012.”
Whyte also confirmed that Saturday’s 2012 Race Day programme will follow last year’s schedule and feature five races — two Superbike and two Supersport races as well as the Superstock class. A new aggregate points system will also apply to both the Thursday and Saturday Superstock races.
The Saturday, May 19 date means a full complement of top riders will be available with no clashing commitments as happened this year when HM Plant Honda stars John McGuinness and Keith Amor missed out due their team's involvement in the World Endurance event in Albacete, Spain.
Riders make the race but the continued success of the North West and its standing as the biggest outdoor sporting spectacle in Ireland in terms of numbers, hinges on public support for the new moves and Whyte's renowned persuasive and diplomacy skills. Interesting times lie ahead.