Farrell offers chink of light in tragic year
As we roll towards the start of a new year, I always look forward to what it will bring for us, and hope that it will be better than the previous one.
For those of us close to the road racing world, we definitely want to forget the season just gone, as it has brought so much sadness to so many, and while I have touched on this earlier in the year, some are still saying that they will not go back to racing after what happened in 2018.
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We seem to forget the riders who have passed in years gone by, but they are also a statistic that we shouldn't forget. This was brought home to me in the past few days when I learned that a young man, whose father was tragically killed racing in 1996, couldn't take life any more and tragically ended his, leaving his family with more heartache to cope with. His pain was gone, but his mother and siblings are left with further pain and grief.
I am not going to trawl through what I have already written, but let's look at the season that we have had.
Starting the season at Cookstown was a hard one for the club, with weather causing half of the programme to be cancelled, and yet the following week at Tandragee we had great racing. Following on from a brilliant North West, the weather was looking great for the TT, and it was a brilliant place to be with the great weather. Well, that was until the Wednesday of practice week.
Dan Kneen had raced there for John Burrows a few years ago and took the Irish Superbike road race championship, and quickly became a hero to a lot of race fans. He took a great win in the Grand Final at Tandragee after a battle with Derek McGee and Derek Sheils, with just 0.5 of a second separating the trio. Kneen was riding as a teammate of Michael Dunlop in the Tyco Team, and his crash during the first lap of Superbike practice on the Wednesday night left the paddock reeling as well as his team, and of course his family.
There was almost another tragedy that evening when a bunch of riders were 'instructed to go back against the TT course', which happens from time to time, but as the riders approached Rhencullen, they were met by a course car going at high speed the other way. It was in a collision with Steve Mercer, who received the brunt of the high-speed crash, and he received serious injuries. Thankfully he is making slow progress.
This incident is being investigated by the authorities in the Isle of Man.
The brilliant weather was still shining brightly during race week, but there was another tragedy, with newcomer Adam Lyon losing his life in the 600 Supersport race. That week we were to see the brilliant Peter Hickman smash the outright lap record in the Senior TT to make the TT Mountain course the fastest road race in the world, taking that title from the Ulster Grand Prix. Michael Dunlop was also in top form, taking three more TT wins.
Enniskillen was next on the road race calendar, and as it was its first time in 60 years that racing took place in Co Fermanagh, the MCUI (UC) could not grant it Irish Championship status. Derek McGee didn't worry about that, and he took five wins that day.
Skerries was next on the cards, and with the inclusion of the Martin Finnegan Memorial race, that had the largest ever prize fund for a national road race, the entry was top-class.
It was another beautiful summer's day as practice got under way, but tragedy was once more lurking for the iconic Dunlop family, as William Dunlop crashed during the Superbike practice and tragically died at the scene. William's brother Michael was also entered, and was in the same practice session. Naturally, Michael went home, but yet he gave the club his blessing to go through with the meeting.
Little did we know that only a few days later at the Southern 100, another top rider - James Cowton - was to lose his life in the final 600 race of the meeting.
Both Walderstown and Faugheen went off without a problem, but the weather was to play a big part when the 10th anniversary of the Armoy meeting had to be abandoned owing to torrential rain. Tragedy was once more around the corner when French rider Fabrice Miguet lost his life in a crash in the Superstock race. Thankfully East Coast finished off the season with some decent racing.
On the race result side, there was no doubt that local rider Andy Farrell stole the show at the Manx Grand Prix, taking two Lightweight races and also entering the 'Tommy Club'. We also had great results from Thomas Maxwell, James Chawke and Darryl Tweed as well as David Lumsden.
Derek McGee was without doubt the top road racer on the home scene, winning six championships and finishing runner-up in two more. Derek also made a name for himself at the TT, finishing second to Michael Dunlop in a record-breaking Supertwin race. McGee also topped the Duke Road Race Rankings for the season, becoming the first Southern rider to do so. Liam Chawke topped a great year for the Limerick family, taking the best Newcomer award in the Duke Rankings.
Micko Sweeney had another great season, with a number of wins, and a brilliant seventh place in the Supertwin TT race, on a bike he only got prior to the TT.
On the BSB scene, we had brilliant riding from Jack Kennedy in the 600 class, taking the championship. We also had Eunan McGlinchey take the 300 BSB championship for the Cork-based Team 109, while both Aaron Clifford and Kevin Keys scored some excellent results in the 600 Stock class.
Let's not forget the brilliant Jonathan Rea, who took his fourth World Superbike Championship in fine style, setting many records along the way, and next year we will still have Jonathan and Eugene Laverty - who will have to get used to the new Ducati - in World Superbike.
The local off-road scene was once more very entertaining, and we also saw the emergence of a new club, the Fingal Off-Road Club, who staged an event late in the season. The stubble championship saw some excellent racing, with record entries at some of the events.
We also saw the Under-21 Moto X team take the prestigious Coupe de L'Avenir for the first time ever, and we also saw, as part of that team, three young riders who cut their teeth in the local grass track scene - namely Jake Farrelly, Markuss Kalnins' and Gabriel Golturenko - represent Ireland in the 65cc class at the same event in Belgium.
Now we have Gabriel as the October winner in the Sport Star of the Year, and we wish him all the best.