Last weekend’s Ulster Grand Prix once again saw a few ups and downs due to the temperamental Irish weather but, thankfully, this year saw more of the former and less of the latter. By and large it was a highly successful meeting – and the racing certainly had the ‘wow’ factor.
Saturday’s feature race day saw the margins of victory just a few tenths of a second in most of the races and the Ulster again confirmed itself as the fastest road race in the world when, despite not perfect conditions, Ian Hutchinson tore round the 7.4-mile circuit in a new outright lap record speed of 134.089mph.
He was the only rider to break the 134mph barrier but no less than four other riders lapped in excess of 133.8mph – Michael Dunlop, Bruce Anstey, Peter Hickman and Conor Cummins – with the Superbike races seeing, at times, less than a second cover a group of six riders.
Hutchinson on fire:
Hutchinson’s superb season on the roads continued as he took four victories, three on the Tyco BMW (two in Superbike, one in Superstock) and one more for Keith Flint’s CAME/BPT Yamaha team. In his fifth race of the day, he came second so it’s little wonder he was declared Man of the Meeting.
The meeting was billed as the return match between Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop after their battles both on and off the track at the Isle of Man TT. The two certainly went head to head in the four 1000cc races that were held over the course of the week but it was Hutchinson who undoubtedly came out on top and, arguably, his biggest challenge came from Bruce Anstey.
Dunlop was certainly close in each race but Hutchinson wasn’t to be denied and with tremendous race craft, which included some superb riding particularly on the final run from the hairpin back to the Grandstand, he deservedly took his four wins.
Anstey on form:
Anstey, who was quickest in the first ever Superpole session seen in road racing, was in fine form as he took a brace of seconds in the Superbike class on the further developed Honda RCV-213S MotoGP replica machine. He’d earlier taken second on the bike in Thursday’s Dundrod 150 Superbike race, which was shortened to two laps due to fading light, and then won again in Saturday’s opening Supersport race.
With a UGP total now reading 12 wins and 28 podiums, he summed it up best afterwards when asked to rate his week – ‘not bad for an old man was it?’
Superpole – pass or fail?
As mentioned above, it was Anstey who was quickest in the first ever Superpole session held at a road race meeting. The fastest ten riders set off in reverse order, having an out lap and then a flying lap and although the riders were set off at regular intervals for their out lap, the first rider to go, Dan Kneen, was already at the hairpin and on his rapid return to the start and finish before the last man had set off for his out lap!
It led to an increase in heart rate for all concerned but the organisers just about managed to clear the Superpole startline before Kneen flashed by the Grandstand at more than 180mph! Watching from the pits, it certainly grabbed the attention of all of those at the start and finish whilst it also saw a fluctuation in fortunes for the ten participants. Overall, it was probably a pass rather than a fail so it’s more than likely it’ll be on the agenda again in 2017.
Close but not quite for Dunlop:
Dunlop will no doubt have been disappointed to have ended the Ulster GP without a win on the main race day but he was never more than a second behind the race leaders and backmarkers certainly came into play in the feature Superbike race, denying both the Ulsterman and Anstey a shot at overhauling Hutchinson on the final lap.
He also set the second fastest lap ever witnessed at the circuit and a second and two thirds on the day isn’t a bad return. One area that did suffer though was his efforts in the Supersport class and it seems the big bikes have taken priority on his 2016 agenda.
The supporting cast:
Whilst Hutchinson, Dunlop and Anstey grabbed all the headlines, fine performances also came from Cummins, Dan Kneen, Dean Harrison and Hickman. The quartet were battling for the lead in each of the 1000cc races and both Hickman and Cummins were close to bettering the lap record whilst Harrison and Kneen lapped comfortably in excess of 133mph.
Also worthy of a mention is Dan Cooper who claimed the Supertwins race for his maiden International road race victory.
Superb job by organisers:
The meeting was certainly challenging at times for Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston and his team but they did a superb job in getting through the schedule on each of the three days. The delays were inevitable and no fault of theirs but the right decisions were made at the right times and the final International road race of the season certainly ended on a high.
Did you enjoy the Ulster GP? Who stood out for you this year? Why not share your thoughts below…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.