Ulster GP chief Noel Johnston responds to criticism over incident-hit race meeting at Dundrod
Ulster Grand Prix Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston says an accumulation of factors ultimately led to Saturday's depleted race programme at Dundrod.
Racing was abandoned before 5:30pm with the second Supersport and Superbike races remaining, plus the Supertwins event.
The opening Supersport race was run over a full six-lap distance, but the blue riband Superbike race was declared a result after two laps, while the Superstock result was finalised after four laps following red flag stoppages.
Later in the afternoon, the Ultra-Lightweight/Lightweight race was also halted prematurely after only one full lap.
Racing was eventually abandoned around half-an-hour later due to inclement weather.
In the morning, conditions were dry and bright, leading to criticism of Johnston and his team after a 20-minute warm-up session was held before the Superstock race, which was the first event on the schedule.
Racing did not commence until two hours after roads closed at 9:30am, leaving many fans venting their frustration and questioning the delay.
Johnston, though, said that while he fully understands the backlash from some spectators, a lengthy checklist needs to be signed off before any racing can commence.
“It certainly wasn’t the way I wanted Ulster Grand Prix to finish and I have said it so many times – the weather is my biggest challenge,” he said.
“Eleven months of hard work go into planning our event and it is very disheartening for me when we cannot deliver the goods.
“I can totally understand the fans’ frustration whenever a full race programme doesn’t go ahead after they have paid the Â£30 admission fee. Unfortunately, this fee is required in order for the event to continue and I thank them for their continued support.
“I have been asked so many times why it takes so long from roads closing until the bikes go, so I hope this (explanation) clarifies why,” Johnston added.
“Only after roads close can we remove all road signs and complete additional course set-up, which unfortunately can’t be done beforehand. After all this work is completed, the circuit is then ready for the Stewards inspection, which is compulsory.
“In the background to all of this we have to consider the several businesses and residents on the circuit who require customers to be accommodated as well as ensuring vehicles get in and out of their homes: some of these vehicles are driven by carers for elderly residents.
“We have a very good relationship with residents who co-operate fully with us and tolerate the inconvenience the race causes them. We also had a resident’s wedding, which we had the privilege of escorting!
“There were several spectators who needed medical attention around the circuit as well, so the list goes on, but I hope this goes some way in helping spectators understand why it sometimes takes time to get racing underway.”
The Dundrod race chief also moved to address the rationale behind holding a 20-minute warm-up session in the morning before the Superstock race, when conditions were dry and sunny around the course.
“The warm-up session in the morning has been questioned, however, this was scheduled in after I had discussions with the riders over the winter. “They felt this would be very beneficial in acclimatising to the day’s conditions; after all riders can’t have too much track time,” he said.
“A red flag in the opening race (when French rider Fabrice Miguet was critically injured) led to a nearly two-hour delay and with reports coming in that the weather was to change at 4pm, I decided to bring the Superbike race forward.
“When the Superbike race was red-flagged after Davey Todd crashed at Deer’s leap, the weather had started changing,” Johnston added.
“I restarted the race after telling the riders what my intentions would be if it worsened, and on lap three I decided to red-flag it as conditions were deteriorating; riders’ safety is paramount in any decision I make.
“In the end it was the mist drifting in and out that forced my hand. I stand by every decision I made and if I was to run the race tomorrow, I would make exactly the same decisions.”
Johnston paid tribute to Fabrice Miguet, who sadly succumbed to his injuries following his crash in the Superstock race. The 49-year-old French rider was a regular competitor at Dundrod.
“My thoughts are with the family, friends and team of Fabrice Miguet. I’ve known Fabrice for nearly 25 years and was such a real character of the sport.”
Providing an update on the other riders injured at Dundrod, he added: “On a brighter note, when arriving at the Royal Victoria Hospital on Sunday I met Davey Todd at the door on his way home and that was great to see.
“Both Derek McGee and Seamus Elliott are also in reasonably good spirits.
“The show must go on and so planning will commence very soon for 2019 – after all, that’s what we do.”