Saturday’s North West 200 was a stark reminder of the challenges faced by the organisers of road races. And bad weather is just one of them.
Oil on the circuit, a helicopter clipping power lines, riders crashing (fortunately none seriously) and conditions which could only be described as cold, wet and miserable resulted in constant delays and frustration for all.
Why do they do it?
The reason is simple but not comprehensible to all. That’s how it is. But road racing is not always like that. Indeed, racing in the week leading up to the Saturday climax had been held in perfect conditions on this historic circuit running along one of the most spectacular coastlines in Britain.
Thousands of people - more than 100,000 is the estimate, - and many parking their motorhomes in idyllic settings, poured into the area. The appeal of road racing, whether it be in Ireland, the Isle of Man or
Scarborough, both at home and abroad is growing.
The overseas interest is being sparked by the exposure being given by live TV or online streaming - BBC Northern Ireland again gave huge coverage - allied to the amazement caused when racing fans in Australia or the US see this extreme of extreme sports. They just can’t believe it.
But road racing faces many challenges. It is dangerous. Riders are killed. And there are those, in a world which is becoming more and more risk averse, who think it should be banned. As they do with BASE jumping, which apparently has claimed something like 300 lives in the last 20 years.
Unlike circuit racing, where the greatest risk is being hit by another rider, the ‘furniture‘ consisting of stone walls, telegraph poles and concrete kerbs is a hazard to be taken very seriously.
While Marquez can test the limit of adhesion, and go over it, several times at one meeting, Peter Hickman will not be aiming to do it even once. While circuit racers, brilliant as they are, can be termed performers, road racers are gladiators and their bravery has an increasingly-unique appeal.
But the weather, and its unpredictability, adding to the danger are not the only challenges facing the committed enthusiasts, usually unpaid volunteers, who organise these events.
Road racing is not much loved by the governing bodies. The FIM, for example, don’t like the term gracing their calendar of events or, indeed, granting them international status. They prefer to identify them as ‘Classic’. And some national bodies won’t allow their licence holders to take part, forcing them to register from another country.
And it has to be said there are those in our own ACU who see the TT, which they are paid by the IoM Tourist Board to run, wonder if it is worth all the difficulties it presents, insurance being one of the biggest and most costly.
None more than the people who have to make the decisions as to whether racing should start or not. Whether it be Mervyn Whyte, race directing the North West, or Stuart Higgs for British Superbikes.
Rider safety is paramount but consideration has to be given to spectators, viewers or sponsors without whom the event would never take place. “Between a rock and a hard place” is an understated description of the dilemmas they face in the knowledge they can’t please everybody.
The grid at Saturday’s event was a prime example. As the winds blew and the rain fell so did the complaints of riders and team managers, some of whom couldn’t run a bath, but apparently naively unaware of the difficulties being faced.
n the end, as the weather improved, some good racing was held and the main complainers, one of whom won a race, went home home happy. Sort of.