A number of major changes will be implemented at the 2016 North West 200 in an effort to improve the organisation of the international road race following mounting criticism in recent years.
Fans, and to an extent, competitors and teams have become increasingly frustrated by a series of setbacks resulting in race cancellations and unacceptable delays: some admittedly unavoidable due to accidents and on-course emergencies but others arguably self-inflicted due to the time spent – or wasted critics would point out – most pertinently in between the sighting lap and the actual start of a race, when final-second media interviews have taken precedence.
The famous event – yet to confirm its title sponsor for next year after car manufacturer Vauxhall’s third spell as the flagship backer in 2015 concluded – has become cannon fodder for disgruntled spectators who feel they have been short-changed after a succession of disappointing years.
In May, the Thursday night Superstock race was postponed until Saturday and was eventually cancelled altogether, marred by a serious accident involving female spectator Violet McAfee, who was caught up in a three-bike crash involving Dean Harrison, Horst Saiger and Stephen Thompson.
The blue riband NW200 Superbike race was also later cancelled, with the threat posed by increasing winds presented as the reason for the decision.
Following the annual review of the race, Event Director Mervyn Whyte has outlined a number of alterations for 2016, the most noteworthy of which is a ban on media interviews immediately following the sighting lap, when it is proposed riders ‘will take up their race formation and the race will begin immediately – providing there has been no deterioration in weather conditions that would require tyre changes’.
Whyte said: “As Event Director I understand the frustration of the race teams and fans with that situation. We have taken on board the views of everyone involved in the race and have been engaged in intensive consultation with fans, team principals and riders over the past four months.
“Our aim is to improve the race organisation, making its operation both faster and more efficient.”
Other changes will see a reduction in the number of team personnel and media permitted on the grid; smaller grids, with less riders and machines starting in each wave and improved communication with fans around the course, with more updates provided by the BBC Radio Ulster’s live commentary team and via the on-course PA system.
Additional speakers will also be deployed around the 8.9-mile course to this end.
Race chief Whyte added: “Over the next few months the NW200 organisers will be ensuring these changes are effectively conveyed to everyone involved in the race.
“To have the maximum effect they will require the co-operation of everyone- riders, teams and spectators alike and we look forward to working together to achieve our common goal of a safe and spectacular week’s racing in 2016.”
Next year’s North West 200 will take place from May 10-14.