Saturday 24 February 2018

Prix boasts all the right ingredients

William Dunlop leads an out of shape Ian Hutchinson and an incredible seven bikes during the epic 600 race at the Ulster Grand Prix in 2016, and William will be hoping for more success this year. Photo: Jack Corry
William Dunlop leads an out of shape Ian Hutchinson and an incredible seven bikes during the epic 600 race at the Ulster Grand Prix in 2016, and William will be hoping for more success this year. Photo: Jack Corry

Corry Corner - Jack Corry

It's fast and furious, it has 200mph straights and 190mph sweeps, it has a first-gear hairpin and it's a man's course, with over seven miles of Co. Antrim countryside. It's the race that the riders love just as much as the fans - it's the Ulster Grand Prix.

The MCE Ulster Grand Prix takes place next Saturday, with qualifying on Wednesday and Thursday, and there are also a number of national races called the Dundrod 150 that take place on Thursday night - but it will be Saturday's races that tell the tale.

The 'Prix' hasn't had the best of luck over the past few years with weather and accidents, but when the TT is over the real talk is for the last of the 'Big Three', with teams and riders lining up for the final International Road Race of the season.

Last year's event was probably the best I have ever witnessed, and it would be great if we could get more of the same on Saturday.

With the exception of Ian Hutchinson, who was injured at the TT, and of course the Honda team who have pulled out of the event and have not raced since the disastrous North West and TT, the roads around Dundrod will see the best road racers in the world compete in the mass start races.

Michael Dunlop has been the man on form this year, and since moving to Suzuki and giving the Japanese manufacturer its first Senior TT win for decades, he will have a point to prove after taking the last big International road race, the Senior TT.

He has had multiple wins at the Southern 100, and was only beaten there once on the 'Big Girl', as the Maverick describes his Superbike, and with his wins last week at Armoy the crowd favourite will be out to make up for his disappointment of last year.

His main opposition at the Southern came from Dan Kneen and Dean Harrison, and with Kneen drafted into the Tyco BMW race team to replace the injured Hutchinson, the Manx rider will be out to add to his Superstock win a few years ago on the John Burrows Suzuki. Harrison is another rider of real quality, and he beat Michael Dunlop at the Southern and would love nothing more to claim the scalp of Dunlop on his home turf.

Harrison is great mates with Lee Johnston, as both live in the Hull area of England, but Fermanagh native Johnston is keen to show that he is fully recovered from his TT crash, and would want to repeat his Dundrod success of 2015.

William Dunlop was unbeaten for over two seasons on the IC/Caffrey International 600 Yamaha up to the start of this season, but the talented Dunlop has had a terrible season by his standards.

His 600 was missing from the start line at Armoy last week as it was away in Germany getting fine-tuned for the big finale, and William was clearly disappointed with the performance of his Superbike when I spoke to him on the podium at Armoy, where he finished second to his younger brother Michael.

'I have worked extremely hard to get the big bike right, and I thought I was there until today, but I can't seem to get it right to beat this lad,' he said, pointing to his brother.

'I know the Prix will be different in many ways, but the way the power comes into the Yamaha, I need to have it where we want it, and that is first over the line.'

It is interesting to note that William Dunlop has seven wins over Dundrod, while Michael has only six.

Bruce Anstey will be competing in numerous classes and the popular Kiwi has the most wins of any of the competitors this week, with 12. William is next on seven.

There will be other classy riders looking for success at Dundrod, including Peter Hickman and Michael Rutter, both of whom had excellent TTs, with Rutter taking a win and Hickman never off the podium in any race that he competed in.

Derek Sheils wasn't allowed to take part in the Armoy races as he couldn't practice owing to being best man at his best friend's wedding on the Friday, and while this caused terrible controversy on social media in the run-up to the event Sheils and his team boss John Burrows held their heads and were very diplomatic about the whole affair.

Sheils has been on top form this season on the Cookstown Engineering-sponsored bikes and was unbeaten in the Superbike championship class, but he lost out to Derek McGee in the non-championship race at Walderstown.

Sheils briefly led the Superstock race at Dundrod last year and would dearly love to prove a point over Armoy.

His decision to attend his friend's wedding instead of Armoy has probably cost him the Irish Superbike Championship that he won in 2016, but an International win would heal that wound. Sheils took his first International podium at Dundrod last year in the Supertwin race.

Joe Loughlin has won 18 races this season and was only beaten in the non-championship senior support race at Armoy for the first time in 2017, and it was at Dundrod last year that the Castleblayney man shocked the established riders by leading the Supertwin race.

Joe has competed in two open twin races at Walderstown and Faugheen, winning both and setting lap records as well.

Unfortunately he came to grief, crashing out on the warm-up lap of the twin race at Armoy, but hopefully he will be able to light up Dundrod like he has done so much at the nationals this year.

Derek McGee has also been in flying form, and a change of sponsorship last week before Armoy saw the 'Mullingar Missile' slot in so well with the Brian Hull-sponsored Kawasaki.

He went on to take a win in the 600 class, and also the Man of the Meeting. I think his best chance will come in the 600 or the Supertwin race.

Micko Sweeney took a chance last year heading off to the UK at the end of practice to take delivery of his BMW, and while he was allowed to do a few laps on the bike he has been in great form this year and would dearly love to get a podium at Dundrod, where I think his best chance will come in the twin race.

There are a number of other local riders taking part in the national races over the few days, with the O'Rourke brothers Darren and Paul, and I once more have to give credit to Darren who has now achieved his target weight loss of an amazing seven stone since he started earlier this year - some achievement.

David Howard has also been in top form in the Support class, taking a great win at the Southern 100 and also at Faugheen, and he has been rarely off the podium this season on the DJL Yamaha.

Admission is £25 for the three days, with the programme only £5. Roads close on Wednesday for practice and qualifying at 10am, opening no later than 9.30pm. On Thursday they again close as per Wednesday, with a change for race day on Saturday - from 9.30, opening no later than 8.30pm.

For more information, check out the website

Keep 'er lit!

Fingal Independent

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