Belfast Telegraph

'Real and imminent danger': Cash-hit Ulster Grand Prix in fight for future

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

The future of the Ulster Grand Prix is up in the air after organisers announced that the event is struggling for financial support to remain part of the annual road racing calendar.

Last year, Peter Hickman raced around the famous Dundrod circuit in 136.415mph, which saw the event regain its status as the 'World's Fastest Road Race' and, while more fantastic racing was to follow, a severe weather warning forecast for Saturday's main race day saw most fans decide to remain at home, resulting in perhaps the smallest crowd the Ulster Grand Prix has ever witnessed.

The huge loss of income, compounded by existing liabilities, has resulted in a major financial crisis for the organisers of the event, the Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club.

Professional advice has been sought and an urgent review is being carried out in respect of the viability of the event for 2020, together with the options available for dealing with the existing financial liabilities.

Race organisers will consider the outcome of this review and a decision will be taken in the coming weeks.

"The Ulster Grand Prix celebrated its 97th birthday in 2019," said Robert Graham, Chairman of the Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club.

"The race organisers have met with local MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, alongside representatives of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council as we continue to seek a solution to the financial problems that would enable Northern Ireland's most prestigious and historic motorcycle race to continue towards its 100th anniversary.

"It is clear, though, that in the absence of significant financial support, the Ulster Grand Prix is in real and imminent danger of disappearing from the road racing calendar, an outcome that would be a major blow for motorcycle sport in Northern Ireland."

The Ulster Grand Prix - which first ran on October 14, 1922 around the 20-mile Clady Circuit - has survived a number of crises in its history, from financial issues, a switch to Dundrod in 1953, losing world championship status, the Troubles, promoter changes and, in recent years, the weather.

This world-renowned race survived all those plus the Great Depression, the Second World War and withdrawal of Tourist Board funding, resulting in the formation of the Ulster Grand Prix Supporters Club in 1963, since when over £1million has been provided in financial support.

Back in 1971, just two months after the epic 250cc race won in horrendous conditions by Ray McCullough, Grand Prix House was left in rubble from a terrorist bomb.

The Prix did not run in 1972 due to the civil unrest in the province - with a short circuit staged at Bishopscourt instead - and then, in 1973, world championship status was withdrawn from Dundrod by the Federation International Motorcycling (FIM).

Along came TT F1, and Joey Dunlop's five world titles kept the event buoyant through the eighties, but in 1993 the promoters, Ulster Centre Promotions, went bust when the UGP Supporters Club refused to back them and the future of the Prix looked in doubt.

In stepped Billy Nutt and the Coleraine Club, who kept the wheels turning until the local Dundrod and District Club took over the reins.

It was in 2007, when the event was in doubt due to a lack of commercial sponsorship and Government funding, that the Belfast Telegraph stepped in as title sponsor and, with other new backers, the event was secured.

Now would appear to be the end game for the Ulster Grand Prix under the Dundrod and District Club but, if the worst comes to pass and the Prix does not run in 2020, the implications for road racing in the province could well be bleak.

The immediate impact would be on insurance premiums, which are currently shared by the organising clubs, many of whom could be liable for additional costs to cover the missing contributions from absent parties, while dwindling crowds have hit the income of most clubs and, indeed, is a major factor in the event's current predicament.

Of course, a backer could yet step in with the necessary finance to once again allow the UGP to recover from the brink of extinction, but for how long?

Alternatively, the Governing Motorcycling Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre), whose AGM is this Saturday in the Lodge Hotel, Coleraine, could run the event to give a year's breathing space while promoters are sounded out.

An even bigger plan whereby Government steps in and underwrites 2020 - so as no promoter is putting their neck on the line in the hope that the weather doesn't decimate the event - could also come to fruition.

Belfast Telegraph

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