Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Grand Prix organisers facing insolvancy in weeks over six-figure debt

Out in front: Peter Hickman wowed at last year’s Ulster Grand Prix with a 136.415mph lap that regained the event the title of ‘World’s Fastest Road Race’
Out in front: Peter Hickman wowed at last year’s Ulster Grand Prix with a 136.415mph lap that regained the event the title of ‘World’s Fastest Road Race’

By Roy Harris

Drastic and urgent action is needed to save the historic Ulster Grand Prix, organisers have admitted after revealing the extent of the six-figure debt crippling the host Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club.

Following Wednesday's red flag over the future of the race, promoted by the club, its president James Courtney and chairman Robert Graham detailed the financial dilemma facing the club and event.

Courtney said: "It is tough to run any event as costs have escalated in the last number of years - in 2008 it took £200,000 to run the Ulster. Ten years later, it was three times that.

"Don't get me wrong, we had good years, then ups and downs and suddenly we were in debt. We had a plan in place and were dealing with the debt that would have wiped it out in a year and a half.

"For 2019, pre-sales were good, Wednesday and Thursday were promising, but there was not the usual buzz about the place and then due to a very bad forecast nobody came on Saturday and we found ourselves with a six-figure sum in debt on Saturday night and in trouble.

"Arguably the internet live-streaming had an effect where people could sit at home and watch the action in comfort. That doesn't bring us in any money."

The Ulster Grand Prix is the only road race that legally charges spectators an admission fee, but as Courtney said: "That's not much use when people don't turn up. I've never seen as poor a crowd as this year. The grandstands we had erected didn't have enough people in them to cover their costs, even the main Joey Dunlop Grandstand had the worst ever crowd in it."

When asked if there was a solution to all these problems, Courtney emphatically said: "Yes. International events are now too big for a single club to take on. What is needed is a commercial team to run the event, then the club can run the race, what they are good at.

"The meeting has to be run as a business. We had the commercial side half in place, unfortunately probably too late to save us now."

Graham commented: "It has to be run like the TT. The Ulster Grand Prix is now two different entities, the races themselves and the commercial side.

"No amateur club can be expected to run professional race meetings and all they entail in their spare time and after their normal day's work."

Meetings have been ongoing between the Dundrod club, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP and Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council, but to date it has all been talks with no action and the club are rapidly running out of time.

Courtney said: "We only have two to three weeks to find a solution, certainly before Christmas or we as a club will be insolvent."

Certainly, a bleak situation for one of the greatest road races in the world.

After the 2019 races which were arguably some of the best seen around the Dundrod Circuit, once the dreaded weather had relented to allow the competitors to put on a spectacular show, were the riders paid for their participation?

Courtney admitted: "Everybody had been paid up to date until this year. We have only been able to pay half the guaranteed money, but no prize money was paid. There is still money coming in, little by little, but not enough to save us."

Graham said: "Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council have been very good to us over the years and the Ulster Grand Prix Supporters' Club have been so good to us, but even their numbers have been dropping."

On the sport's future, Courtney added: "I firmly believe that we are not the only club running on empty. Change is required. I believe the racing has gone stale, no variety. It's all too similar, Supersport, Superstock, Superbike and Supertwin, for non-racing people they don't know the difference and even if you follow the sport it is the same thing week in, week out. Road racing is at a crossroads and the future is not rosy."

One of those riders awaiting prize money, Peter Hickman, the Dundrod outright lap record holder at 136.415mph, said yesterday: "It will be a real shame if something cannot be sorted out.

"I don't know the ins and outs, but it is a sad situation as I love racing around what is a mega circuit in front of knowledgeable fans. It looks like a big cash injection is required from somewhere."

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