After a year when the motorcycling calendar, and road racing in particular, was heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Sunday Life Sport's JAMES ROBINSON looks at what 2021 has in store for bike fans.
Only one Irish national road race went ahead last year, with the rescheduled Cookstown 100 successfully taking place in September under tight Covid-19 protocols, including a limit of 1,500 spectators on race day.
The same event is set to kickstart the 2021 season in April (23-24), when hopefully cases of the virus will have fallen and more fans will have the opportunity to attend.
With the Isle of Man TT cancelled for the second successive year because of Covid-19 and the future of the Ulster Grand Prix in jeopardy due to the financial problems facing the event, the Irish national road racing scene takes on added significance for race-starved riders, teams, organisers and fans.
There still remains hope that the North West 200 will run this year, albeit later in the summer. Should the Coleraine Club, no longer with long-serving race chief Mervyn Whyte at the helm, manage to stage Ireland’s biggest road race in 2021, it will be a huge shot in the arm.
Northern Ireland motorcycling fans make no secret of their love for road racing, but over the past six years Jonathan Rea has won over an ever-growing following as he blazes a trail in the World Superbike Championship.
Now a six-time champion, the 33-year-old Ulsterman has sealed his place in history as he continues to tear up the record books on the world stage.
Rea can lay claim to being the greatest motorcycle rider ever to hail from these shores and he has put Northern Ireland firmly on the global motorcycling map again with his unprecedented success.
Standing on the cusp of 100 career wins and primed to challenge for a staggering seventh title in 2021, Rea is a once-in-a-lifetime rider. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to watch him during a very special era for Irish motorcycling.
The Isle of Man TT is the Holy Grail of road racing and the news that the event had been cancelled for the second year running came as a huge blow to riders and fans.
For many, the annual pilgrimage across the Irish Sea to watch the sport’s biggest names take on the unique challenge of the 37.73-mile Mountain Course is the highlight of the season, but sadly the wait for the TT to return will continue until 2022.
However, there is a glimmer of hope that the Classic TT and Manx Grand Prix will get the green light to go ahead later this year, with a final decision due by the end of March.
Granted, the event doesn’t hold the same appeal as the TT, but there is something special about watching motorbikes on the Isle of Man and should there be positive news in a few months’ time, it will put a huge smile on the faces of racers and spectators looking for their fix of Manx magic in 2021.
Carrickfergus brothers Glenn and Andrew Irwin served up some memorable battles in the British Superbike Championship last year and although they will no longer be team-mates in 2021, we can expect more of the same.
Andrew decided to leave Honda Racing after two seasons to take on a new challenge, with the 26-year-old joining Northern Ireland’s TAS Racing team to ride the SYNETIQ BMW.
Glenn looks set to remain with Honda for his second season on the new Fireblade, when he will be confident of staking his claim for the title once more after leading the Championship race until the penultimate round last season.
Both have become established frontrunners in BSB and although they are the best of friends off the track, their nail-biting battles in 2020 proved that no quarter will be given when they lock horns again.
Perhaps this will be the year when the BSB title finds a new home in Northern Ireland.