Vauxhall International North West 200Photos and Text: Reinis Babrovskis
“He who is brave is free”, Seneca.
Dark cloud yet again has settled above the world famous Northern Irish Road Racing event following the tragic accident during the Superstock race on Saturday. Simon Andrews succumbed to his injuries from the accident and passed away on Monday May 19th 2014 So sad to lose another hero. My deepest sympathy goes out to the family and friends of Simon.
If Nurburgring is known as the green hell, then the NW should be known as the black hell. NW200 is not for the faint hearted, nor for the scared. It is a place where the bravest riders meet to tackle the 8.9 mile long triangle shaped street circuit that takes the riders through the towns of Portrush, Coleraine and Portstewart. This course is one of the fastest in the world with riders reaching speeds in excess of 200mph on the long straight. The speed record is held by Martin Jessopp from the practice run in 2012 when he reached 208mph. If the speed itself isn’t enough to scare riders away, then touching elbows at 200mph+ and being thrown about the road by the wind and bumpy surfaces might be. Each May hundreds of riders across the globe still return to face the scary adrenaline filled race.
This year was a prime example of why this sport attracts more than 100 000 spectators and is broadcasted in more than 300 countries across the globe. It was a spectacular show of racing, speed and courage with lap records being broken, top riders colliding with each other and two brothers having the closest fight ever. Of course the weather, well the usual story.
The first race of Saturday - The Supersports, were set for 10:30 and with the slightly damp and wet conditions it was certain that it will be a tricky and challenging race. After some serious racing the two top runnners, Alastair Seeley and Lee Johnston crashed out at Metropole corner on the very last lap and the victory was gifted to Bruce Anstey, followed by Conor Cummins and Gary Johnson. Luckily both the riders were fine. Some of the spectators were ready to throw in the towel and leave due to the fading weather; however, going by the action seen in race one, they soon changed their minds. If the riders can race in those conditions then the spectators can get comfortable under an umbrella and heat up with a nice cup of tea in time for Race 2 – the Superbikes.
And what a race this was. With the weather not playing ball at all, everybody had visions of last year's wash out, but luckily that didn’t happen. All the attention of the race was on the two local heroes – Michael and William Dunlop. After a great fight from fourth position Michael managed to catch his brother and was now on his tail in P2. With each lap the cheering of the crowd became louder and louder. Both riders demonstrated amazing fighting spirit and skills, with elbow to elbow racing through multiple corners, leaving the spectators with hearts in their mouths for the entire last lap. In the end it was William that managed to take the victory. In the post race interview there were some stern words from Michael about the rather unsporting defensive move from his brother.
Onto Race 3 - the Supertwins. By now the track most certainly was fully wet and intermediates wouldn't do any more. The riders were by no means put off by that and after a few sighting laps provided another action packed race. Despite the earlier crash with Seeley in Race 1 Lee Johnston came back to take the victory over Michael Dunlop on his Kawasaki 650 twin.
The fourth race started in much better conditions and everybody was looking forward to a good, clean and dry race. Sadly the race was stopped prematurely as the red flags were being waved around the track which meant one thing - somebody has come off. The news came over the loudspeaker that Simon is down. The atmosphere certainly changed and reminded us of the dangers in this sport. Victory was given to Michael Dunlop.
The racing must go on and the remaining riders prepared themselves for the final and main race of the day - The Vauxhall Superbike Race. I can't even imagine how it must feel to go out on the bike knowing that one of your fellow riders, friends has come off in such a bad way. But then again this is why these guys are above others.The first few laps were anybody's game and after a while Michael Dunlop began to run away from the rest. It was soon evident that none of the other riders are going to catch him and with a huge cheer from the crowd he was greeted at the finish line.
This certainly is a sport that's dangerous, wild and full of risks but this is what these heroes live for. Taking it away from them would be like taking air from the rest of us. Please respect the riders and their dreams.
In memory of Simon Andrews and all the other riders that have lost their lives doing what they love…