By Jack Corry Fingal Independent
Last October I wrote about the state of road racing and the winter of discontent that we were facing. Well it’s just got progressively worse. The Isle of Man Government has already cancelled the TT, and while the Southern 100 earmarked for July seems to be in the planning stage for their popular event, the same can’t be said for racing here this year.
On Christmas Eve an email appeared in some club members’ inboxes from Motorcycling Ireland stating: ‘We have had a meeting with the insurers today and a phone call with the convenor of road racing and it appears there will be no road racing in 2021.’
This email was not signed or addressed to anyone in particular, so the mind boggles as to who it was directed to as it also appeared in mailboxes of some off-road clubs as well.
I found it very strange that meetings of this importance would be taking place on Christmas Eve, so I decided to investigate. While I left this until after Christmas I contacted the clubs that have applied for dates in 2021, and I got some very unusual views.
The first date on the Southern calendar was to be Kells, and club chairman Johnny Farrelly was straight up with his answer. ‘No Jack, we will not be running our road race in 2021, as we have a number of elderly residents on our course, and it would not be fair to them to bring people to their front doors while this pandemic is still on our radar, and even with the vaccines being administered around the country, we will be leaving our plans until 2022.’
The Cookstown template that saw the only road race run in 2020 looks very much on the cards again for that club as they have applied for their normal date in April, but have also requested a provisional date for September like last year. As the pandemic in the North has been worse than ours, they are planning ahead with their online ticket sales.
I was wondering if some clubs in the South would be inclined to use this approach, and I got this reply from the Fore club who run Walderstown.
‘To be honest, Jack, we want to run, but we would not run like the Cookstown did with a restricted attendance, as for us it’s a full attendance or nothing. We would need the country to be open for business with no restrictions, as we don’t want to start selling tickets online, and also the cost of policing this would not be feasible. Simply all or nothing, but I had hoped that the decision on the future of road racing could be kept open until at least March, as we could still organise a race to be run in July, albeit at a push.’Graham Sheehan is one of the Loughshinny delegates to the road race committee and he said: ‘We have been requesting a road race committee meeting for months, and all we are told is that there will be none, despite the facilities that are available through Zoom. We as a club have sent an email to MCI and as we speak no reply has been forthcoming from the office.
‘This year will be the 75th Anniversary of the Skerries 100, and we would love to be able to run, even with a restricted attendance like Cookstown did last year.
‘We would also like MCI to ask our insurers if they could get a quote for a smaller amount of road races, as it seems that there are a few clubs still interested in running, should the country go back to normality by the start of the summer, and of course be able to pay the insurance costs.’
‘The club want to run in 2021 as it is the 75th anniversary of the famous races, and I wanted to know about the restrictions in phase 1 and 2, but I know that we couldn’t run if phase three was there.
‘We have sent out letters to the residents at Christmas explaining the club’s position and we have received positive responses. We would like guidance from MCI on how we can run under limited restrictions, like Cookstown did last year.’
The last road race in Faugheen in 2019 produced two of the best Superbike races that I have witnessed on Irish roads in a long time, with Sheils, Sweeney and McGee wheel to wheel around the narrow, picturesque roads at the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains, and former road racer John Walsh is the man at the helm of the club.
He said: ‘We are in a situation at the moment, Jack, as we are supposed to be having our agm next week, but that’s not possible.
‘We were contacted to see if we were going to run this year, but we will have to leave the decision to MCI and the relevant authorities.
‘It is not easy at the moment to try and get people motivated as the pandemic is frightening people off, and to be honest we couldn’t run a road race until the country is moving and we can sit around a table and organise a road race.
‘We also see a problem with getting in ads and sponsors at the minute, as there has been so many pubs, small business and shops closed, and it will take time for them to get back to some form of income, and either advertising or sponsorship.
‘There is a lot of unfortunate slagging of our president Sean Bissett on social media, which is wrong. This pandemic is not his fault and he can only take advice from the relevant authorities.’
I spoke to MCI President Sean Bissett and asked him about the email that was sent out on Christmas Eve and asked why it wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular.
Sean replied: ‘That was a statement from MCI, so there was no need for it to be addressed to anyone in particular.’
I then asked Sean why it appeared some clubs hadn’t been contacted by the convenor to ask if they are running races in 2021, in particular the Cork and Loughshinny clubs. He said: ‘That’s untrue as I spoke to Brendan Desmond as late as yesterday, and he is the link man in Cork, and they will not be running in 2021.’
At this stage I spoke about the members of clubs also being members of MCI and put it to Sean that they deserve to know what is going on.
He replied: ‘We put up a posting on Facebook yesterday to let people know what is going on, and we sent it out to all the clubs, and they are the ones who should be contacting their members.’
I asked were there going to be any short circuits in Mondello and off-road events, and what way will the insurance be for them?
‘We took out insurance as we had to renew our policy. We had a huge policy that was going to cost us some €48,000 and we had to turn it down. We had a conference call the other day where we got a deal for three months for €15,000, and that doesn’t cover road racing,’ Sean revealed.
I put it to him that MCI is paying €15,000 for cover during a period in which there will be no events held and asked if the levy is being paid to keep the policy alive?
‘We paid some €70,000 last year and it could have been worse as they were looking €98,000, so we have to keep the policy open.
‘There will be nothing run for the first three months in competition, but we can run training pods as there were some run over the Christmas with just 15 present, including officials. There are plans to run Moto X and Mondello when the time comes.
‘There will be no permits issued while we are in Covid lockdown anyway, and we will review the situation as it comes to us. We are supporting road racing, but there can be none at the present time, once the pandemic is still rampant in the country,’ Sean added.
There was a lot of confusion when I spoke to other club contacts, and then I was contacted by the road race convenor Thomas Bertram, who cleared up a lot of the problems.
He said: ‘I did speak to Brendan Desmond from the Cork club, who advised me that after a committee meeting that they wouldn’t be running as the major landowner didn’t want the event to be run as the insurance would be a problem, as would having so many around his property. He also supplies the club with the paddock and car park. Kells have said that they will definitely not be running. Fore and Faugheen said that they would love to run, but with the time it takes to organise a road race it would be very hard with the insurance situation as it is.
‘I also spoke to Thomas Garry from the Loughshinny club and he did explain their position, and that the club committee will make the decision one way or the other.’
So will we have any road racing this year in the south? Well, this remains to be seen. Cookstown are already selling packages for their event in April, but I think that this will have to move back until September, the same as last year.
The popular Armoy meeting is in the planning stages after the club announced that on social media last week, and we are waiting to see if the North West will be run as they said that they will be making an announcement in a few weeks.
It will be extremely hard for the Coleraine club to run in their usual May date, as they have such a populated area with the towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, but it looks like they will take up the vacant date that would be the same time as the old Ulster Grand Prix in August, if they get the go-ahead.
As clear as mud!