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North West 200 safety shake-up sees smaller, less congested grids and no more delayed starts

By Adrian Rutherford

A major revamp to the North West 200 that will see a quicker, more efficient race start has been described as long overdue.

The changes, announced today, will come into effect for next year's event.

They follow a review of the annual road race, the biggest date in Northern Ireland's sporting calendar.

Race director Mervyn Whyte said it was about improving the organisation of the NW200, making it safer and more efficient.

Fewer people will be allowed on the grid and there will be no more delays between the sighting lap and race.

The changes have been welcomed by race enthusiasts.

Liam Beckett, the BBC's NW200 pundit and a mechanic to the late Robert Dunlop, said the revamp was overdue.

"Fans can never understand why it takes so long to get races going, and the simple reason is far too many people on the grid," he said.

The key changes include:

Race grids will be reduced in size, with fewer riders starting in each wave.

Riders will leave the grid for their sighting lap in larger groups.

When the riders return to the grid, they will take up position and the race will begin immediately.

Fewer team and media personnel will be allowed on the grid.

Mr Beckett said he had raised the need for changes on several occasions.

"One of the most important improvements I felt was necessary was getting the races away quicker and having far less people on the grid," he added.

"When a rider comes back after a warm-up lap they are extremely focused and in the zone.

"All they want to do is see the green light and go. To hold them back is wrong."

Mr Whyte, meanwhile, referred to a serious accident that overshadowed this year's NW200.

Violet McAfee (left) suffered serious head and leg injuries after being hit by a bike during the opening Superstock event.

Mr Whyte said a review into the incident was nearly now finished.

"Thankfully, those involved in the crash are now well on the way to recovery and a comprehensive investigation of every aspect of the incident will soon be completed," he said.

"Any measures that may be recommended to ensure the continuing safety of competitors and spectators will be implemented immediately."

Yesterday Ms McAfee said she welcomed any changes that would make the race safer and more efficient.

"Any extra safety measures are to be welcomed," she said.

"There is only so much you can do to a race to improve it or tweak it without ruining it. It is about getting the balance right."

Ms McAfee said she was making good progress from her injuries.

"I'm doing okay - the help that I've had has been fantastic," she added.

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