Plenty of thrills at Tandragee
The 'Around A Pound' Tandragee proved last weekend that road racing is still the shop window for motorcycle racing in Ireland.
North Armagh Club promoted the 58th Tandragee 100, run over the 5.34-mile course that is a tough and technical but loved by most of the riders.
Race day was dry and sunny for most parts, and while the riders showed that they can provide excellent top-class racing, the event had its moments as well.
The first race of the day was the Open Superbike and the massive crowd were entertained to the highest level, and it was also great to see that once more our Southern riders are producing some of the finest road racing that I have ever witnessed, with Derek Sheils, Derek McGee and Micko Sweeney showing that they are capable of winning road races at the highest level.
Derek McGee took the lead at the end of lap one, followed by Derek Sheils and Manx rider Dan Kneen on board the Tyco Suzuki that he will race at the 'Big Three' internationals this season. The same three were together on lap two, but on lap 3 it was Sheils who squeezed in front, with Kneen still third behind McGee and William Dunlop now up to fourth.
McGee was back in front on lap four, but Sheils is the in-form rider on the big Burrows Engineering Suzuki, and he again took the lead on the penultimate lap, with McGee holding off Kneen. William Dunlop was still fourth, with the hard-riding Shaun Anderson fifth and Micko Sweeney sixth.
As the riders approached the final corner, McGee tried to squeeze up the inside of Sheils, but the Dubliner was having nothing of it and closed the door on the 'Mullingar Missile' and McGee was forced to pick up his machine to avoid clipping the back wheel of Sheils, and wit this he ran wide, allowing Kneen to take second - and also a new lap record of 109.609mph that was held by Michael Dunlop since 2011. William Dunlop was fourth, with Shaun Anderson fifth and Micko Sweeney sixth. Andy Farrell was the second 600 home in 14th place, with Alan Connor in 26th.
The Junior Support was next on the card, but this was red-flagged after just one lap when one of the strangest things happened. It appears that a spectator was sitting in their car just up from the start and finish line, and just as the riders were on their second lap the spectator took ill and their car took off, knocking down a fence and ending up on the course.
Davy Graham clipped the fence and crashed, thankfully uninjured, but the unfortunate spectator had to be treated by the medical team and removed to hospital. It could have been so much worse, but thankfully it wasn't and the race was restarted.
This didn't last too long, as another red flag went out when four riders crashed at Castle corner, and the air med was brought in to remove two of the injured riders to hospital. We don't have official confirmation of the injuries to the riders, but I have been reliably informed that there were a number of fractures, but thankfully nothing serious.
The riders were escorted back to the paddock and their race was run at the end of the programme, with Wayne Sheehan beating his brother Barry by the slimmest of margins - 0.840 of a second - with Stephen Morrison third.
Derek McGee took the win in this race last year in the wet, when he really ran away with it, and some of the hardened race fans said that he was mad the way he rode in the wet, but this year in the dry he did it once more and totally obliterated a top-class field. By the end of lap one he led Derek Sheils and William Dunlop by three seconds and the real race was going on behind him, with five riders locked together.
Swapping places were Sheils, William Dunlop, Adam McLean and Micko Sweeney. By lap four McGee's lead was nine seconds, and at the flag he was pegged back to almost seven seconds, with McLean taking second from William Dunlop - who set the fastest lap of the race on the final circuit - with Sweeney fourth, Sheils fifth, and Joe Loughlin just squeezing out Andy Farrell for sixth on the final corner.
Tandragee is the only course that runs the Classic classes altogether, such is the length of the circuit.
Brian Mateer took the 250 honours from Richard Ford and Gary Hutton. Barry Davidson continued his domination of the 350 class when he beat George Stinton and Manx rider Chris McGahan, with Sean Leonard taking seventh place. In the 500 class it was a win for Dean Stimpson, who took the overall win by 5.8 seconds from Mark Parrett, with John Pemberton third.
The Supertwin was another cracking affair, and right from the start it was Derek McGee - riding one of Ryan Farquhar's new Kawasakis - who took the lead from Adam McLean, with Davy Todd and Andy Farrell in close company.
Lap two saw both McGee and McLean stretch the lead, and on lap three McLean broke the 2016 lap record of Ryan Farquhar's to push it to 104.374mph and take the lead.
McGee was having nothing of the charging McLean, and he regained the lead on lap four, with Andy Farrell now third behind McLean.
Farrell was heading for his first podium in a long time in the North, but his bad luck struck again when his Ollie's Place-sponsored Kawasaki engine expired on the approach to Bells Crossroads, leaving Team NW Racing's Darren Cooper in third.
McGee took the win by just 0.921 of a second from McLean, with newcomer Cooper third. Skerries rider Paul O'Rourke was making his debut at Tandragee and he finished in 12th place.
In the other classes that ran with the twins, Chris Meyer took the 250 class and Shaun Anderson won the Supermno and broke a lap record as well.
The Moto 3, Lightweight and Forgotten Era classes were combined, and it was Paul Robinson who took the lead in the Moto 3 after Derek McGee retired, with Joe Loughlin chasing hard on a 125.
Loughlin set the fastest lap of the race on lap four, and he was just 0.241 of a second behind the vastly experienced Robinson when the red flag went out on the final lap after a stray dog got onto the track. Nigel Moore finished third.
In the Forgotten Era it was Gareth Keys who broke the lap record, taking the win by over 50 seconds from Richard Ford and Des Butler, and in the Lightweight Supersport class it was a win for Darryl Tweed, with Stephen Morrison second and Scottish rider Vic Allen third.
Michael Browne totally dominated the Senior Support class, taking the win by almost 28 seconds from Junior Support class winner Wayne Sheehan and William Hara.
The Tandragee 100 Grand Final saw another brilliant race, with the top Superbike riders once more putting on a terrific display of top-class road racing.
Right from the start it was the first Superbike winner Derek Sheils who led from McGee, Sweeney, Kneen, Todd and William Dunlop. It was the same three at the end of lap two, but at Bells Crossroads, Todd and Dunlop went for the same piece of road and both riders crashed out at slow speed, thankfully unhurt.
McGee got his nose in front at the end of lap four from Sheils, Kneen and Sweeney, but on lap 5 it was Kneen who was on the move and the former Irish Superbike champion was now chasing McGee after setting the fastest lap of the race, with Sheils just holding off Sweeney.
It was a frantic last lap and coming into Bells Crossroads, Kneen squeezed past McGee to take the win by just 0.483 of a second from McGee, with Sheils 0.045 of a second in third and Sweeney a second back in fourth. Andy Farrell had another fine race on his 600, finishing 10th, and the second 600 home. Alan Connor was back in 21st place.
A great day's racing was had by all, but there was one thing that I felt was unfair, and that was in the prize-money.
The winner of the Open Superbike race only got £350, whereas the winner of the Junior and Senior Support took home £400, with the winner of the 600 taking home £500.
Superbikes and Superstocks are expensive machines to buy and run, and I have never seen the so-called smaller classes taking home more money than the 'Big Bikes'. A strange decision by the club.
Keep 'er lit!