The JAS Finlay Sunflower Trophy meeting was launched on Friday as the event prepares to mark two special milestones at Bishopscourt in a fortnight’s time.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the organising Hillsborough Club, while Sunflower sponsor Jim Finlay is entering his 40th year as the title sponsor of Ireland’s premier short circuit meeting.
British Superbike star Glenn Irwin will return to the Co. Down venue on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati to defend the crown he won for the first time in 2016, with fellow Carrick man Alastair Seeley amongst the opposition on the IFS Yamaha R1.
Seeley competed in the last two rounds of the Masters Superbike Series on the machine and chalked up a hatful of wins – including a treble at the final round last weekend.
The 38-year-old has used the outings to get to grips with the ex-Robert English Yamaha before the Sunflower showpiece from October 20-21, which brings the curtain down on the 2017 Irish short circuit season.
A number of names are yet to be officially confirmed for the event, including Stockport’s Christian Iddon and Danny Buchan, who filled the rostrum places behind Irwin last year.
Iddon has signed a new deal for 2018 with the Tyco BMW team and is expected to take his place on the grid, while Essex rider Buchan has been a regular since his debut in 2014, winning the trophy twice in successive years only to be denied a treble by Irwin 12 months ago.
To mark the Hillsborough Club’s anniversary, a parade of past winners will take place, with Scotsman Brian Morrison set to make the trip over. Morrison became the first rider to win the Sunflower feature race three times in a row and remains a firm favourite with the fans here.
Glenn Irwin’s father Alan, who won the trophy in 1982 and 1986, will also participate, while Noel Hudson joins the line-up along with Matt Llewellyn. The parade riders will have the chance to ride some very exotic machinery thanks to the support of Classic racing aficionados John Chapman and Dean Simkins, who will provide bikes including a 500 MV Agusta and 350cc Benelli, plus an ex-GP 500 Cagiva.
The famous race, first held at Aghadowey near Coleraine in 1977 when Joey Dunlop was the inaugural winner, is synonymous with ‘Mr Sunflower’ Jim Finlay.
Some of the biggest names in motorcycling have competed at the event, including Ron Haslam on the Pepsi Suzuki GP bike, World Superbike legend Carl Fogarty; Jamie Witham, Rob McElnea, Jeremy McWilliams, Eddie Laycock, Jurgen and Patrick van der Goorbergh; triple World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, John Reynolds, Chris Walker and Michael Laverty to name a few.
Finlay, who previously sponsored legendary riders including Tom Herron and Jackie Hughes, is not a man who seeks the limelight, but his contribution to the Sunflower Trophy races over the past four decades has been immeasurable.
The Hillsborough Club and Irish motorcycling owes him a huge debt of gratitude.