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End of the road for Tandragee 100?

Thursday, 26 January 2017

End of the road for Tandragee 100? thumbnailClerk of the Course RJ Woolsey on the finish line of the Tandragee 100, as fears grow for its future.

FEARS have been expressed for the future of the Tandragee 100 amid concerns the sport may be nearing the end of the road.

A number of leading race officials across Northern Ireland have warned rising insurance premiums - coupled with an increase in claims - could see time being called on the iconic sport in less than three years.

And, in an alarming twist of events, Motorcycling Ireland has also been forced to cancel all planned road racing events throughout January after failing to secure the necessary insurance cover.

Former road racing champion RJ Woolsey has revealed north of the border, a dramatic hike has also been witnessed, with insurance excess for the Tandragee 100, now costing 2,500 per claim.

RJ - who is due to step down from his role as Clerk of the Course in the coming months - told the Ulster Gazette, spiralling insurance costs are having a knock-on effect on the popular sporting event.

The five times Irish champion, who has been involved in road racing since he was 21-years-old, believes everyone attending this year's race on Saturday, April 21, will have to "dig deep" in order to make the event sustainable.

"The Tandragee 100 is in a strong position, but if people don't put their hands in their pockets this year, whenever road racing ends, they are the ones who can hang their heads in shame," the 38-year-old Ahorey man told the Ulster Gazette.

"For many, instead of paying a fiver, they would rather climb over a fence. If 15,000 people put 3 into a bucket, we could run two events per year.

"As long as we are financially in a plus, we will always have a go, as long as the Motorcycle Union of Ireland can get insurance.

"We are in a situation where we can run this year and we will have a bumper entry if these races don't run in the south.

"The guys need to do so many races before they qualify for the TT and Manx Grand Prix. Killalane didn't run last year and the cut off date is June, so we expect we will have a large entry.

"We had a similar problem with insurance around three years ago as well and Ken Turner worked hard to get cover provided for what is such a dangerous sport.

"It's the public liability insurance that is the problem. We have had a case of a rider suing another rider in the past which resulted in the man having to sell his home, but the biggest problem is the public.

"If people are in it for their own personal gain, they would be safer staying away. It will be the case where there will eventually only be designated spectator areas and these will probably be at road ends where bikes are travelling slower.

"There is just not the same buzz any more because of the red tape. Nowadays, we are fighting for insurance brokers as nobody wants to take it on, as there are so many injuries.

"At one stage, the superbikes were going to be dropped from the calendar in order to get insurance, but we eventually got a broker at a reasonable cost of running the event.

"Within the next few weeks, road inspectors will be coming round to check the circuit. Over the past five years, the concentration has always been on keeping the machines away from the public.

"The insurance for the Tandragee 100 isn't an individual insurance. We pay our insurance into a centre and there is usually four races, including the North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix. The North West 200 and Ulster Grand Prix would pay five to 10 per cent more because of the size.

"We have an excess to pay of 2,500 per claim which has increased, so everybody will have to dig deep this year as the club has to afford it too. If there are a lot of claims from another road race, it will still affect the Tandragee 100."

RJ recalled how the Tandragee 100 has been a popular fixture in the County Armagh sporting calendar since 1957.

"In excess of 15,000 to 20,000 people attend the Tandragee 100 each year and even the most noticeable short circuit in Ireland would only have 3,000.

"We are very privileged here and I know diehard fans hate waiting over the long winter until the season starts again. We are very lucky to be the first race on the calendar as everybody will be biting their lips to get to it.

"It is always nice when the Dunlops come down as they bring the top half of the North with them.

"The Tandragee 100 relies entirely on its dedicated volunteers, many of whom take a week off their work and we even have a guy from England who comes over for the week and all he gets for it is a t-shirt and a pint.

"We would get 2,500 programmes per year and that brings in 25,000, but it costs over 80,000 to run and there is the insurance up again.

"We receive money from the council, but it is only a small percentage, up to a maximum of 10 per cent of what we get from sponsorship.

"When I was paying my first Tandragee 100 in 2000, my entry fee was 25 and it is now 90. If you were to take three bikes out, there is 270 and that is before you turn a tyre, so it is getting more and more expensive to compete as well.

"Ryan Farquahar said the days of making a living from road racing are almost impossible. He won five races at Bush and the event cost him money - it was down to the sponsor as to how he survived.

"If there wasn't so much love for the sport, it would have been long gone years ago, but it has survived because of the public interest.

"Because Jal Richardson is the new Clerk of the Course, I am going to renew my licence and participate in this year's event.

"If the speculation is three years, I may as well make the most of it and enjoy the heritage while it's still available!"

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