The Dundrod 150 National races have been axed from next year’s MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix amidst sweeping changes for 2018.
Instead, an extended running order for the world’s fastest road race will be introduced, with the first of three Supersport and Superbike races taking place on Thursday, August 9 following morning practice, along with the opening Ultra-Lightweight/Lightweight and Supertwin races as part of a four-race schedule.
On Saturday, August 11, seven races will be run, including two further Supersport and Superbike races, the Superstock event, and the second Ultra-Lightweight/Lightweight and Supertwins races.
All Superbike, Superstock and Supersport races will be open to international licence holders only. The Ultra Lightweight/Lightweight and Supertwins races will include both national and international licence holders.
Practice for all classes will be held as normal on Wednesday, August 8.
The Superpole session, which was introduced in 2016 as a qualifier for the top 10 Superbike competitors, will be replaced with a 15-minute warm-up session on Saturday morning for all Supersport, Superstock and Superbike machines.
Announcing the changes, Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston stressed that the revamped schedule was not a knee-jerk reaction to the serious incidents that occurred in the Dundrod 150 races this year.
Two riders, Jamie Hodson from Wigan and West Yorkshire’s Gavin Lupton, tragically died following crashes in the National and Challenge races respectively. Another rider, Steven Lynd from Glengormley, was badly hurt in a spill during practice.
However, Johnston said he has been considering implementing the changes for several years.
“I’ve reviewed how the event runs and taken on board many different views over the past couple of years before making any changes.
“Ultimately these decisions have been made with both safety and practicality in mind and we must keep pushing the bar on both fronts as Bike Week continues to grow.
“I know there will be riders who are disappointed that two of the national races are going but we see this as the best way to keep progressing the event, and please be assured that the decision wasn’t taken lightly,” he added.
“The untimed practice sessions on Wednesday and the 15 minute warm-up session on the Saturday morning instead of Superpole have been included to enhance safety precautions, allowing everyone time to get used to the track, and the conditions on that particular day.”
Johnston will also apply more stringent policies in relation to accepting rider entries, both for newcomers and Dundrod regulars.
“Unfortunately there are still too many unnecessary rider error incidents for my liking and because of that I’ll be looking closely at each entry before accepting them,” he explained.
“Every year I hold a briefing session for all competitors and one of the key messages for everyone, but particularly relevant for newcomers, is that Dundrod is an incredibly fast and technical circuit which must be treated with respect, and that means doing a serious amount of homework before you ever head out on a closed road.
“To that end, the overall number of newcomers will be restricted, it will be mandatory for newcomers to attend an induction day with us and they must be prepared to put in some serious groundwork in advance of taking to the grid for the first time,” he added.
“I’d like to thank in advance all of our stakeholders including the race fans and of course the competitors for continuing to work with us to achieve a common goal; which is a safe, enjoyable and successful Bike Week for everyone.”
The alterations to the practice and race schedule have been given the thumbs-up from this year’s man of the meeting Peter Hickman, who said fans would benefit from a ‘better show’.
“These changes are being made for the good of everyone, not just the riders but also the spectators and I think the fans are going to get an even better show from now on.
“The Ulster will now be a much bigger event and that’s the whole point, to make the event the biggest, the best and the safest it can be,” Hickman said.
“The introduction of a warm-up session on the Saturday morning instead of Superpole is really good. It just means that you go out fresh off the bat, get a good run round without any pressure, make sure everything is alright and get yourself into the groove for racing. It’s definitely the right way forward.
“The Dundrod circuit is the fastest in the world and the changes are all about making sure everyone gives it the respect it deserves.”