A beautiful day, great racing and a huge crowd, the North West 200 at its best.
It should have been enough to persuade the fans, the teams and the sponsors that one of the greatest sporting events in Ireland had survived the insurance crisis and its future was secure.
But it was not helped by three questionable decisions, which can only be described as ‘cock ups’, resulting in the disqualification of the FHO BMW team and two star riders, Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes, before racing had even started.
Question 1: Why did the FHO team not spot in the regulations issued to them that the carbon wheels on their M1000RRs were ineligible under the latest regulations issued by the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre)?
Question 2: Why was this error not spotted by the scrutineering experts earlier in the week?
Question 3: Accepting that mistakes had been made why could the MCUI not impose penalties which would have allowed a top team and their top riders to race. Did they not realise it was not only the team and riders being made to suffer but thousands of fans who had made the journey at considerable cost?
A statement from the North West 200 organisers said the technical regulations of the MCUI(Ulster Centre) state that carbon wheels are not permitted for use at any MCUI road race event, a ruling that was published on the NW200’s website in January.
It went on: “The technical regulations of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland(Ulster Centre), under which the fonsCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 is run state that carbon wheels are not permitted for use at any MCUI road race event,” the NW 200 statement said.
“Those regulations, which are implemented by the MCUI Stewards of the Meeting, were approved by the sport’s governing body in January 2023 and published on the North West 200s website at that stage."
The FHO Racing BMW team were informed by the MCUI’s Stewards after qualifying on Thursday afternoon that their riders, Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes, would be excluded from the Briggs Equipment Superstock race as their machines were fitted with carbon wheels.
“The NW200 organisers were informed of the Steward’s decision, which is final and binding upon the event, at 21.30pm on Thursday night during the final Steward’s Meeting. No such action had been discussed with the NW200 organisers prior this time.”
Peter Hickman, granted permission by team owner Faye Ho to run his own Supersport Triumph and Yamaha Supertwin and hiding his disappointment after finishing second in Superbike qualifying, made a common sense suggestion.
”We should be following the TT. It’s three or four weeks before the TT and we were all told the rules are the same as the TT and now they’re saying they’re not. It’s something so easy and simple to understand if you’re looking for it properly but politics end up running everything and this is why they just need to follow what the TT does.”
A source from the NW 200 organisers told BSN they would not have been in favour of the disqualification and a team manager, questioning whether he wanted to come again, suggested the other teams should have been consulted and he was confident the FHO team would have been allowed to compete.
The final day which delivered sunshine and great racing on the Portrush Atlantic coast was not finished in delivering one or two additional controversies created by red flag judgements.
The final Superbike race of the day saw Glenn Irwin get his eighth NW victory and his second of the day but only after a lengthy discussion in race control and a noisy argument in the pits as to who was leading when the race stopped. Irwin got it much to his delight and a roar from the crowd.
Equally delighted and relieved were event boss Mervyn Whyte, his team, generous benefactors, sponsors and Ivor Wallace, Mayor of Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council after months of raising money for an event which brings in £12m to the locality.
So for many it was a happy ending!