Ulster Grand Prix 2007

NI rider Ryan Farquhar maintains his winning ways at Dundrod, Sinead McNicholl reports

The fastest show on two wheels descended upon the picturesque village of Dundrod for the 2007 Ulster Grand Prix. The event, considered (along with the Isle of Man TT and Northern Ireland's North West 200) to be one of the greatest racing events, is organised by the Dundrod and District Motor Cycle Club.

The Ulster Grand Prix dates back to 1922, making it Ireland's oldest road race. After eighty-five years it is still going strong, attracting thousands of bike enthusiasts from all over the world to see the top international riders in action, hurtling past at speeds in excess of 130mph.

The noise from the starting grid as the riders rev up their engines sends shivers down your spine. The spectators bristle in a collective rush of adrenaline as the riders take off, bobbing and weaving around bends and corners, leaving many with their hearts in their mouths. It’s easy to see why the crowds return year after year.

Excessive rainfall brought proceedings to a halt during the fourth race, but one local rider was singing in the rain. Showing true riding class, Ryan Farquhar proved once again why he is up there with Northern Ireland’s top sporting stars.

With international talent like Guy Martin and Australia’s Cameron Donald on show, it was the Dungannon ace who stole the headlines. Farquhar, still on cloud nine after his treble at the Mid-Antrim 150 a week earlier, began the day with a comfortable first-place win in the Superstock race.

'Things went really well,' Farquhar confides. 'They had been going quite well in practice on the Superstock bike and it was probably my strongest event. I got away at the start and just kept my head down and didn’t want to break the rhythm. I won by nearly half a minute, so it doesn’t really get much better than that.'

Farquhar followed his impressive win with a further podium finish in the second race of the day. As always, the racing comes thick and fast at Dundrod. After winning the first race, Farquhar went to collect his accolades on the podium before hastily making his way to the starting grid for his next race, there being no time to let the win sink in or to relax before the next race begins.

'I had a third place in the second race. We were down a bit of top speed in our 600 and in the first Superbike race of the day I was fourth coming from the back of the grid, so I’m well pleased with how things have gone today.

'Getting time to relax really depends on how many races you are in,' explains Farquhar. 'Today hasn’t been so bad with the rain delays, but some days it can be so hectic that you hardly have time to wipe the sweat from your brow.'

The decision to stop the racing during the fourth race was disappointing for spectators and riders alike, but was the correct decision according to Farquhar.

'I think the organisers made the right decision to cut the race short because the visibility was just getting too bad. Safety has to be the priority. I would be as game as anyone to continue, but looking at how heavy it’s raining now I’d be quite happy to call it a day. You can't be too careful. If there was an accident and someone ended up getting badly hurt it would do the sport no good at all.'

The crowds’ spirits weren’t dampened, however, as they turned out in force to support their favourite riders. This year, thanks to a sponsorship deal with the Belfast Telegraph, the atmosphere at the Grand Prix is boosted further. For riders like Farquhar, the energy and participation from the crowd is important.

'Whenever you’re going well and you see the crowd waving it’s definitely worth a few extra seconds,' the McAdoo Kawasaki racer admits. 'And it’s nice to win in front of your home crowd whenever they are one hundred percent behind you.'

The excitement of road racing - riding between the hedges, over bumps in the road, with the scenery of the countryside ever present - makes the Ulster Grand Prix a unique event. Unlike track racing, events like the Grand Prix make use of all that the NI countryside has to offer, and is a great day out for all the family. For Farquhar, the promotion of the sport is important if NI is to continue hosting such events and producing world-class riders like the Dunlop brothers. 

'Motor cycling in Ireland is getting more professional every year and I think they just need to keep building on it to keep the whole thing going. I would say that motor cycling here is going from strength to strength.'

With the Ulster Grand Prix over, Farquhar has set his sights on the Manx Grand Prix. For now, the legions of Northern Irish motor sports fans who made this year's Grand Prix such a memorable one will have to hold onto their seats for 2008, and another year of high octane fun at Dundrod.