Phillip McCallen: Mervyn Whyte and North West 200 team weather the storm and put on a show
It was a rotten day for Mervyn Whyte and his team at Saturday’s North West 200 but they rescued it in the end.
The first race started at 11am and wasn’t completed until after 3pm, which was a disaster really; but a lot of the fans stayed put and many were still there at 8pm on Saturday evening. Mervyn still managed to run four of the five scheduled races, plus the parade lap, and if the bad weather hadn’t come back in again then the final Superbike race would have gone ahead as well.
What happened on Saturday could only happen in Ireland, couldn’t it? Throughout practice week the sun shone and we had the best Tuesday and Thursday for years, but then came the rain. This kind of weather really tests the organisers of the event, and as if that wasn’t enough, they had a non-racing issue with power lines near York corner, which seems to have been related to a helicopter hitting power cables in Portrush earlier in the day.
You couldn’t make it up and these kind of problems are out of the organisers’ hands, but at least we got some racing completed. The really good thing on Saturday was that there were no serious injuries or accidents, given the conditions the riders faced.
Many chose not to race, including plenty of the big names. It comes down to personal choice and if a rider feels they are not at 100%, then that is their choice. But on the flip side of that, there are thousands of fans who have come to see them race and paid good money for the privilege. They also deserve to get something back but it’s difficult to find a balance in the situation that we experienced on Saturday.
Ultimately the Clerk of the Course has to make a decision over whether or not the circuit is safe to race on and we saw later in the day that a number of those riders who said they wouldn’t race, actually changed their minds once they saw that racing was going ahead.
I spoke to Jonathan Rea on the grid and he said the throttle works both ways, but of course if there is a situation where there might be a substance on the track such as oil, then there is no way anyone should be going out to race.
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It was a long and trying day for everybody but the races we saw were good. None of the wins were handed out and every rider had to work hard to get them. We could see how much Glenn Irwin’s Superbike win meant to him and it was the same for Jeremy McWilliams in the Supertwin race.
We had seven races in total, counting Thursday’s schedule, and seven different winners. Every rider who got the win certainly had to work hard for it.
James Hillier won the Man of the Meeting award and who would have thought that coming into the North West 200? That’s not to knock James in any way because he is a fantastic rider and he rode brilliantly in every class, but there were a few surprises on the day.
Davey Todd rode the race of his life to win the Supersport race and it was great to see one of our top national road racers, Derek McGee, fighting for the win with Davey and Conor Cummins. Those boys will benefit a lot from the experience of being at the front in a big international race like that.
Italy’s Stefano Bonetti pulled off one of the most popular wins this year in Thursday’s Supertwin race but unfortunately for him, he crashed at York on the first lap in Saturday’s race. It just shows you how quickly things can turn in this sport and I know it only too well myself. I remember the year after I won five races in a day I was knocked off at Church corner in the very first race, which was a real downer for me.
No-one would have predicted that Alastair Seeley wouldn’t win a race this year but for the first time since 2008, Alastair left empty-handed. His EHA Yamaha team worked so hard for him but they just didn’t have the luck. Paul Bird’s team spends an unreal amount of money running their Ducati machines, but it just didn’t happen for Alastair. It’s a very powerful and temperamental bike and he just didn’t seem to be able to get it working in those tricky conditions on Saturday.
It wasn’t a fantastic North West 200 with everything stacked against the organisers, but Mervyn Whyte is a remarkable man for what he does. A lot of things were out his control and he’s often stuck between a rock and hard place, but he got through the day as best he could and I think he did a very good job for all that was thrown at him.