By Kyle White Belfast News Letter
The Ulster Grand Prix should have been celebrating its centenary this week, but instead the wait for racing to return to the Dundrod course goes on.
Last held in 2019, the fastest road race in the world was cancelled in 2020 due to financial trouble, with the event falling into debts in the region of £300,000 under the stewardship of Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club.
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in most major road races being called off again in 2021, but although the sport returned with a full calendar this year, the ‘Grand Prix’ – due to have taken place from August 16-20 – again fell by the wayside after an £800,000 funding package collapsed at the final hurdle.
The vital cash injection – the largest ever for motorcycling in Northern Ireland – had been sought by multiple Isle of Man TT, North West 200 and Ulster GP winner Phillip McCallen and his fellow directors in the Revival Racing Motorcycle Club.
They hoped to use the money to take over the running of the debt-hit Ulster Grand Prix and for all intents and purposes, it seemed as though their efforts had been successful.
The proposal received the green light from the Department of Finance and Department for the Economy, but the funding was turned down by Tourism NI and plans to run the Ulster Grand Prix in August had to be scrapped.
McCallen, though, has vowed not to give up on securing the necessary financial backing to run the historic road race in 2023.
“Obviously, having the funding turned down was a massive blow, but we couldn’t just turn our backs on it,” McCallen said.
Phillip McCallen with Peter Hickman at the Ulster Grand Prix in 2019, who equalled the Ulster road racer’s record of five wins in a day.
“We have made an application to the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre) for a permit to run the Ulster Grand Prix with the Revival Club.
“The core ground members of the Dundrod Club are now members of the Revival Club, so we have a good, strong ground force in place to run the event, with the likes of myself and Robin Titterington overseeing the commercial end of the race.
“We are talking to Tourism NI about our plans for next year and TNI do want to see the event succeed again. We’ve already had two meetings with TNI and we’re due to meet again within the next few weeks,” he added.
“It’s time for everyone to wake up and smell the coffee. The world has changed and the only way that motorcycle racing is going to receive proper backing is by making a professional presentation to the relevant government departments.”
Looking ahead to next year, McCallen said he was optimistic over the prospects of the Ulster Grand Prix taking place next August.
“I think things are looking very good at present,” he said.
“Tourism NI do want to see this event going ahead and they will work with us as much as the possibly can in order to achieve that.
“There will be a greater level of interaction and communication between the Revival Club, TNI and all relevant government bodies as we move ahead.”
McCallen is also committed to incorporating classic racing at the Ulster Grand Prix, with the idea that riders and teams competing at the Revival Club’s Classic Bike Festival Ireland would then move on to Dundrod the following week.
“We would love to make this a 10-day motorcycling festival in Northern Ireland, with all the riders and teams at our classic festival then going to race at Dundrod,” said the Portadown man, whose popular classic festival made a successful return to Bishopscourt in Co Down just over a week ago.
“There’s an abundance of classic bikes throughout Ireland, plus so many riders and teams from the UK, Europe and further afield who want the chance to ride at the Ulster Grand Prix.
“We can make this a showcase of the best motorcycle racing in the world with classic and modern machinery in one place.
“We are already in discussion with potential sponsors so as it stands things are looking positive and we’re fully committed to bringing back racing at Dundrod in 2023.”
A celebratory event marking the 100th anniversary of the UGP will be held on Saturday (11am-5pm) in the paddock area, featuring classic and modern racing machinery, plus special guests including Bruce Anstey, Ray McCullough, Dick Creith and Glenn Irwin.