By Roy Harris Belfast Telegraph
Road racing legend Phillip McCallen believes the under-threat Ulster Grand Prix at Dundrod can be saved with this year’s Covid-19 cancellation proving a rare blessing in disguise of the current pandemic.
The historic but debt-ridden event, £300,000 in the red and with the organising Dundrod club facing liquidation, would not have run this August regardless of the sporting lockdown.
But Lisburn bike dealer McCallen believes the coronavirus crisis has provided unexpected breathing space and a possible reprieve for the world’s fastest road race.
McCallen, a 14-time Ulster Grand Prix winner – including the only man to win five UGP races in one day in 1996 – holds the event close to his heart and said: “Covid-19 may have cost us our event, but it might just have saved the UGP, given a year’s grace to get sorted.
“There are talks going on in the background, but it will take a big group of people to make a success of it.
“There are a lot of bridges to cross and it will be a massive job to get it up and running again. I think that clubs and officials from the Ulster Centre need to get around a table and thrash out what is required to get the Ulster, steeped in tradition, back on the road again.
“This is our heritage we are talking about here and we cannot let it disappear without a fight.
“I believe people and fans have now accepted that racing and events, in particular road racing, will not take place here this year. I have great admiration for the Cookstown Club and their determination to try and run an event in September, but being realistic I cannot see it happening.
“As a businessman I see the regulations every day involved in social distancing with only so many people in certain areas at one time and I cannot see how it could be operated in a race paddock.
“Good luck to them if they pull it off, but I just cannot see how it would be financially viable with the serious restrictions that will be forced upon them, like all other businesses.”
And to underline his point, McCallen’s own Classic Bike Festival Ireland, scheduled to run over the weekend of August 1-2, has become another casualty.
The brainchild of McCallen and Robin Titterington, the Festival was a huge success on its first running last year at Bishopscourt and many were looking forward to the second edition scheduled for seven weeks’ time.
However, due to the Covid-19 situation, the Festival has been cancelled.
McCallen said: “It is so disappointing as we had great plans with people and machines from around the world coming. We were to have classic Superbike and 250/350cc TZ Yamaha racing for the first time.
“We had held off with a decision, probably too long, but we are now at the time when our big plans needed big money invested with the possibility of the rug being pulled from under our feet at the last minute, so we decided to cut our losses and start preparing for 2021.”