Motorbikes? Check. Public roads? Check. Sunshine? Occasional check…
Irish road racing, there’s nothing quite like it. Every year hundreds of riders turn up to compete on closed public roads north and south of the border, literally ‘between the hedges’. The Isle of Man TT may get most of the attention but there are plenty of reasons to attend an Irish national road race – at the likes of Tandragee, Cookstown, Armoy – in 2017. Here are just five:
1) Close racing
With mass starts, and two or three groups, there are plenty of riders providing plenty of action throughout the grid. Races can be incredibly close – for example William and Michael Dunlop were separated by just 0.007s in one race at Armoy last year. Due to the different groups leaving the grid at different times, a rider from the second or third group can win the race on corrected time adding an extra level of excitement and intrigue. It’s not often you get to see bikes go wheel to wheel on narrow roads with fields on either side.
2) Full schedules
While the International races feature just the Superbike, Supersport, Superstock and Supertwin classes, National races include classics and support. This means on a race day there will be a good mixture of classes and more riders get a chance to compete. You certainly get plenty of bang for your buck – although a lot of races are free to watch. Which brings me to my next point…
3) Support local clubs
It has been well documented recently that insurance prices are significantly rising year on year meaning many clubs are struggling. A number of races have sadly been struck from the calendar because they are not financially viable to continue running. While many road races are free to attend, fans can still support clubs by buying a programme or paying to sit on the grandstands. The programmes are full of information about riders, interviews, previous results and give full itineraries of the event races and riders taking part. Supporting the clubs will help to insure more races aren’t lost in the future.
4) Top talent
All the attention may be focused on the return of a certain truck mechanic from Grimsby, but the Irish road racing scene is frequented by a number of other talented riders throughout the year. Of course the Dunlop name is synonymous with road racing in Ireland and Michael, William, Gary and Sam are regulars at the nationals. You’ll also get to see the likes of Derek Sheils, Derek McGee, Davy Morgan, Dean Harrison, and Dan Kneen to name a few. Michal Dokoupil is a frequent visitor to the Irish nationals along with Veronika Hankocyova. Paul Jordan, Michael Sweeney, Adam McLean, James Cowton and Gareth Keys are just a few more of the riders you can see in action.
5) Get closer to the action
While health and safety may have kicked into gear, meaning some areas that were once available for viewing have become prohibited, you can still get closer to the action than you would at a circuit. Nothing prepares you for the sheer exhilaration of seeing a bike flash past you when you’re standing just at the other side of the hedge or the fence. As the races are held on closed public roads quite often the paddocks are in muddy fields or a farmyard. People help each other out and it is a real community – where else would you see a competitor help work on a fellow competitor’s bike? Irish road racing is really something else.
Road racing is currently the topic of a three part documentary by DoubleBand films on BBC Northern Ireland and it shows just what it means to those who are part of the sport – from the riders to the fans and everyone in between. There’s no sport quite like it and once you go once, you’ll be hooked. Sitting in a muddy field, getting rained on or battered by the wind is not generally my idea of fun, but throw in a few bikes and some good company and you’re in a for a good day!