The Vauxhall International North West 200 — and Northern Ireland road racing in general — has been given a huge boost by the announcement that the Government is set to change the law surrounding road closing orders to allow promoters greater flexibility to deal with bad weather conditions.
A three month public consultation, initiated by Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy following the cancellation of this year’s North West 200 because of torrential rain, offered overwhelming support for the proposed changes.
Kennedy will now seek to have the bill fast-tracked through the Assembly in time for the 2014 event in May.
“Events like the North West 200, Ulster Grand Prix and Circuit of Ireland have an enormous following both locally and internationally and they attract tens of thousands of visitors to Northern Ireland every year.” said Kennedy yesterday.
“These events and many other similar motorsport meetings are weather dependent.
“Following the cancellation of the North West 200 in May this year, I made a firm undertaking to all road race organisers that I would examine the situation and work to provide a solution in time for the 2014 season,” he added.
It is understood that race promoters will only have to provide 24 hours notice rather than the previous 48 hours required to bring Saturday race days forward to a Friday.
“This is excellent news, for the North West 200, the Ulster Grand Prix and for all of the national road races as well,” said North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte on hearing of the DRD’s decision.
“We currently have Tuesday and Thursday for practice and Saturday is our race day and that will stay as it is.
“It would only ever change if we have an emergency situation as we had in May and this change will give us the flexibility to respond.”
Ulster Grand Prix Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston was quick to echo Whyte’s approval of the development.
“It is what is needed and it will make the difference between running a race and not if there is bad weather,” he said.
More controversially, Minister Kennedy also raised the intriguing possibility of racing being pushed back to a Sunday, pointing out that the current road closing legislation does not rule it out.
“The Bill does not seek to break any existing prohibition,” said the Minister.
“It is for race promoters to decide whether they wish to race on a Sunday and to make the necessary application.”
It is understood that Coleraine Borough Council recently rejected the idea of Sunday racing and it may be difficult to persuade churchgoers in Portstewart, Portrush and Coleraine on the 8.9 mile circuit to agree to a road closing order on a Sunday.
“There would be nothing happening on a Sunday without consultation with local churches and residents,” was Johnston’s cautious response to the idea for Dundrod.
But whatever develops from this point onwards, there is no doubt that greater flexibility for event promoters should help remove the prospect of full-scale cancellations in future and the upheaval and cost that invariably entails.