A final decision on whether the North West 200 motorcycle races will take place this year is expected ‘within weeks’.
With Northern Ireland currently in its latest hard lockdown due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, former Event Director Mervyn Whyte confirmed to the News Letter that the organising Coleraine Club has applied for alternative dates in August, admitting that the prospect of the country’s biggest road race taking place as provisionally scheduled from May 11-15 was ‘highly unlikely’.
However, Whyte, who stepped down from the top job at the NW200 last October after 20 years in charge, concedes that the odds are not stacked in favour of the famous old race, which was cancelled last year as the coronavirus crisis began to take hold.
“We have held a number of committee meetings over this last couple of months within Coleraine & District Motor Club and we’ve been looking at and reviewing the situation,” said Whyte, who is continuing to offer his guidance and advice to the NW200 organisational team.
“May is looking highly unlikely at the minute and we have applied for the date of August 14 as a back-up date, so that’s where we are at the present time. We plan to review things again at the end of the month and around that time we will need to make a decision on what we are doing.”
Last month, the Manx Government confirmed that the Isle of Man TT had been cancelled for the second successive year and Whyte fears 2021 will prove equally as challenging for Irish road racing.
“It’s not good and I can’t see much happening this year,” he said.
“I think you’re going to find that a lot of events will struggle, there’s no doubt about it.
“The numbers and figures with regards to coronavirus are escalating all the time. This is a problem that isn’t going to go away overnight and there are many things we have to take into consideration, from course set-up to hospitality, grandstands and big screens, which takes months of planning.
“As it stands we will wait as long as we can before the final decision is made, but that will have to be at some stage at the end of this month or early February to give everyone a chance.”
Providing further insight into the obstacles standing in the way of the 2021 North West 200, Whyte revealed that course set-up would have to commence in June in order for the race to go ahead in August, while other vital aspects of the race would need to be finalised ‘up to five months in advance’.
“We would need to start building the course from the end of June because it takes roughly two months to get it all set up,” he said.
“But taking everything else into consideration, there are various contracts that need organised around grandstands, hospitality, big screens and the like, so this would all need to be worked on up to five months beforehand to get all these things into place.
“The problem is that if the virus is still present in the country then what can you do? We have a good relationship with our residents and with other stakeholders around the course, so the last thing we want to do is cause any issues.
“There could also be a situation whereby the government might allow us to run the North West, but only with reduced numbers in the paddock for example, and limits on the number of people who can come to the event.
“In that respect, it wouldn’t be financially feasible, so it’s very difficult to manage.”
Last year, the rescheduled Cookstown 100 in September was the only Irish road race to go ahead as Covid-19 decimated the calendar.