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NW200: Race chiefs unite in call for key changes

20 May 2013

Ulster Grand Prix race chief Noel Johnston has thrown his support behind the North West 200 after the event was cancelled on Saturday due to poor weather.

It was the second time in three years the famous road race in Northern Ireland was halted after heavy rain, a hoax bomb alert and an oil spill conspired against the organisers in 2011.

Event director Mervyn Whyte has called on the NI government to grant more flexible road closing orders in the future to enable racing to take place on different days should bad weather jeopardise the event and Johnston fully supports his counterpart's call.

“We sympathise with the North West organisers, as we know all too well how frustrating it is to put all that work in only to see riders and thousands of fans go home dismayed thanks to the weather,” he said.

“The Ulster Grand Prix only just made it back after the washout in 2008. At the time we tried to negotiate rescheduling the race to the Sunday.

“Despite getting agreement from local residents, having the riders on side and even the provision from the ferry companies for riders to change their bookings, a resolution could not be found with the unyielding legislation for road closures,” he added.

“I didn't think the 'Ulster' would recover but against the odds we were able to regroup and move forward.

“It was only through the efforts of a small dedicated band of volunteers and the support of the general public and sponsors that the event was able to take place the following year.

“However, the Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club, as promoters of the event, are still feeling the effects of the cancellation.”

Nothern Ireland's First Minister, Peter Robinson, has already vowed to grant the North West 200 more powers to switch racing to alternative days to avoid a repeat in the future.

Johnston said it was essential the Government reviewed the current road closing orders to help preserve the future of the international road race meetings.

“The North West 200 has just experienced its second washout in three years. These events cost millions to put on and in turn bring about significant economic benefits,” he said.

“Spectators travel from across the world to attend, people who save up and plan their annual holiday around them.

“They are arguably the biggest sporting events on our calendar, they put Northern Ireland on a global stage. If their future is to be safeguarded, then the government needs to look at the flexibility of road closing orders.

“Of course the safety of riders and spectators is always the priority but we believe that a more flexible road closing order would allow for racing to take place on an alternative day, should the weather forecast be bad,” added Johnston.

“We welcome the supportive comments made in the media by Peter Robinson and Roads Minister Danny Kennedy. We would hope to see this ongoing debate develop over the coming months.

“The one thing we can't control is the weather. A little flexibility in the road closing order may just help avoid future disappointment and loss of income.”


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