By Kyle White Belfast Newsletter.
North West 200 race chief Mervyn Whyte says there is a “huge question mark” over whether the event will go ahead in 2023.
Whyte told a meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council that the north coast road race is at a “crossroads” and warned it may not go ahead next May unless additional financial support is forthcoming.
Northern Ireland’s biggest motorcycle race returned this year for the first time since 2019 after successive cancellations due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, Limavady man Whyte says the future of the famous road race is in jeopardy and highlighted three key issues that require urgent attention to prevent the cancellation of the race for the third time in four years.
Whyte, who will be 73 next May, also gave a deadline of late September for a final decision on his proposals.
He is seeking extra financial backing and a full-time NW200 event manager, and has asked Council to oversee course set-up and removal around the 8.9-miles of public roads of the ‘Triangle’ venue after long-serving course manager John Adams stepped down this year.
Whyte, though, stopped short of providing an estimate of how much more financial support was required from Council, saying he “didn’t have a figure” and had been initially consulting primarily on the need for securing a commitment for assistance with course set-up.
“Coleraine and District Motor Club are really at a transition point in the history of the North West and really we need to consider the changes that are now necessary,” Whyte told councillors.
“The value to the area of the North West 200 is huge. We are at a crossroads and we need to make a transition and secure the future of the North West 200 for the borough, and for the people who live and work here, and who benefit from what the event gives back.
“The pandemic has impacted every aspect of life and while ultimately it means a loss of personnel to the event due to a loss of revenue, those impacts have now placed the North West 200 at a crossroads.
“Staff who were vital to the succession plan for the new management leadership have gone, an ageing Motor Club membership has caught up with us and we need new people to carry the event forward,” he added.
“We have lost our course build manager [John Adams] who, after many, many years, has resigned basically because of health reasons, along with some of our other key club members; age has caught up with some of them and they’re not alone, because I certainly feel it on a number of occasions.
“A small allocation of office space is needed as well. We have found it very difficult to secure offices in Coleraine and locally, and we have asked Council for office space.
“And finally we need to support and recruit and event manager to take over the development of the event and plan for the next five to 10 years.
“Unless we can move forward on these things then there’s a huge question mark for 2023.”
Alderman Norman Hillis of the UUP – who he understood that the NW200 received £100,000 funding from Council and an additional £100,000 of “in-kind” support – asked Whyte for a “ballpark figure” of the financial support required.
Whyte responded: “I don’t have a figure, I’ve been talking with Council about course build mainly.”
He added: “I have shown the growth and the current level the North West 200 has risen to and we want this to continue, but that is not possible with the existing team.
“What we are proposing is an expansion to the current partnership with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council.
“Without it, and it’s a not a threat by any means, but the North West 200 is at a crossroads and without that, we may not run the event in 2023.”
The matter will be now be discussed at the next Leisure and Development committee meeting in September.
Earlier this year, a funding package of £800,000 earmarked for the Ulster Grand Prix and North West 200 was not given final approval by Tourism NI. The money was sought by the Revival Racing Motorcycle Club, which includes Phillip McCallen as a director.