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We take you round the impressive Ulster Grand Prix circuit with commentary from the riders that know it so well…
With a lap record of almost 134mph, there’s little time to breathe around the Dundrod course near Belfast and it certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. Attacked almost like a short circuit, recent years have seen some quite phenomenal racing with millimetres between a pack of sometime seven riders. Here’s how to tackle the 7.4-mile circuit – as described by some of the finest road racers on the planet.
I love the entire course but this section is probably my favourite. I’m up into 6th along the start and finish just as I go through the slight kink where the painted lines can be a bit tricky in the damp. It looks like a long straight but it’s 190mph+ so you’re soon tipping into the first left hander of Rock Bends. I go back a gear for the bend using the straw bale on the outside of the course as my tip-in point.
I try to keep left as much as I can, even though the bike wants to drift wide, before dropping back down to 4th, around 150mph, for the right hander that follows. The hedge on the left disappears, opening the corner up, and I drop it into the right, leaning into the banking on the right hand side. If you get the line right, and have a strong exit, you can make up a lot of time and make a pass on the rider in front going into Leathemstown.
I love this corner, especially on the Supertwin and, on that bike, if you get the approach right, you can take it flat out in sixth, around 140mph. Even on the big bike, when you’re back to fifth, it’s a 160mph corner! Coming up the hill, you just nick top gear on the right hand kink but you then hug the left hand side of the road and I use a small marker board for my peel in point. You can’t see the apex of the corner so you’re tipping in blind and then the road drops away, pushing you all the way over to the white line on the exit. It can catch you out though and I was behind Phillip McCallen here in 1997 when he lost the front of the 250 Honda so it’s not a place where you want to make a mistake!
After the exit, it’s one big rollercoaster where the bike wheelies over each rise and if you haven’t got the handling right, the bike can go really light and become a bit of handful. There can sometimes be a bad side wind too so you have to be really careful down here. It’s a difficult section but, at the same time, it can be a good place to slipstream the rider in front of you before dropping into Cochranstown.
You’re fighting the bike the whole way down from Deer’s Leap but once you’ve crested the last brow, you drop down into Cochranstown, which can be quite treacherous in the wet due to all the overhanging trees. Even in the dry, it’s quite dark and you can’t see all the road but it’s down from 6th to 4th and you’re trying to maximise your corner speed as the exit is crucial. I’ve never seen anyone pass going into Cochranstown but if you get the exit right, you can draft someone up the hill to Quarterlands. You’re using all the road on the exit and way over the white lines – an exhilarating corner.
This is more of a tricky corner than a difficult one especially if it’s wet as it never dries out due to all the trees. There’s a right kink just before the corner and I’m back to 2nd gear on the Superbike, about 80-90mph, braking all the way in, not too hard though as it’s a late apex and can be quite awkward. You need to be fully committed into it and it is possible to squeeze up the inside of someone here.
After coming out of Quarterland’s, I’m back up a gear along the short straight but then back down to 2nd for Ireland’s, again 80-90mph. The exit is tree-lined so there’s little margin for error so I just feather the front brake a little to scrub some of the speed off and take a late apex. It’s a really important corner as it determines your speed all the way up to Lougher’s – you’d never try to overtake here as it’s all about carrying your corner speed and getting the exit right.
It’s arguably the hardest corner to get spot on. You approach it in 5th gear, almost heading for the gateway on the left before peeling in and the bike’s actually aiming at a telegraph pole! You can’t see round the corner either but when you get it right it’s a tremendous feeling and you can make up so much time on someone who isn’t smooth. If you shut off slightly, you’ll lose out all the way up to the Windmill so you have to keep it pinned all the way through the corner although you also have to be careful of the slight bump in the road on the exit. You let the bike use the entire road on the way out and are just 6 inches off the white line.
Coming out of Lougher’s, you’re flying and you get a real good run all the way to the Windmill where you hug the left hand side of the road before shutting off slightly and dropping into the right hander. I use the big tree as my marker, almost using it as my apex, and go back to 4th gear. There’s not a lot of room on the exit and you can run out of road fast but you don’t want to compromise yourself too much. Hang back a bit and you lose all your drive on the exit so most of the time you’ll be pushing as hard as you can and running out to the white line on the exit.
Coming out of the Windmill, I’m in 3rd gear and you have to get the exit right if you’re to get through Jordan’s Cross flat out. I’m tucked in as much as possible and straight line the circuit as much as I can but it’s not easy to concentrate solely on your line when you’ve got 5 bikes all around you! I stay to the left of the course and am in 6th gear, around 170mph before sweeping through the corner. It’s a blind corner but I’m totally committed so there’s no shutting off – an unbelievable corner.
I approach it in 6th gear, about 170mph, pulling all the way up the hill and use the telegraph pole on the left hand side as my braking point. I’m back down to 3rd gear, around 110mph, but you don’t need to brake hard or be aggressive as it’s all about carrying your momentum through the corner. The camber’s in your favour and if you can make a pass going into Wheeler’s but it has to be perfect. If you balls it up, you’ll lose all your drive and speed on the exit and easily get overtaken on the way down to Tournagrough.
I exit Wheeler’s in 3rd or 4th (depending on the gearbox of the bike) and am up to 5th along the short straight before dropping back to 3rd for Tournagrough, approximately 110mph. It’s slightly uphill so you can push hard on the front but the corner comes back on you and there’s a nasty bump right in the middle so it can easily catch you out. You carry a lot of corner speed and lean angle through here whilst it’s also a good opportunity to close in on the rider in front and make some time up. There’s a fair bit of run-off but it’s not the smoothest of fields to go into!
It’s always bumpy through here due to the amount of road traffic whilst if can also be very slippery if it’s wet. It’s a downhill approach and you get dragged into the corner so it’s very easy to make a mistake. It’s also off camber. I’m in first and then accelerate out all the way up to 5th before dropping back to 4th for the Flowbog. It’s a very difficult section but I’m on consistent throttle peeling in early from the edge of the left hand side. You have to pick the bike up for the immediate left and the bike wants to wander to the edge of the circuit so it’s very physical and I try to keep the bike as upright as I can so as to get on the gas early on the exit. Some people try to make too much of a corner out of it and it can be easy to lose the back end.
I come into Quarries in 5th gear, around 150mph and then it’s back down to 4th for the right hander going in. I’m then down to 2nd for the immediate left, about 100mph, and although it has a tight exit, you can carry a lot of lean angle. If it’s dry, and if you’ve got a good feeling with the front end, you can carry a lot of speed through here. If you haven’t though, it’s easy to get sucked in and the bike can run away from you.
Once out of the left hander, I pick the bike up as quickly as I can and then click 3rd for Dawson’s. There’s a dip right in the middle and there’s no real camber so it’s not the easiest of corners but it’s important as it determines your speed all the way along the Flying Kilo. Just before I tip in, I short shift up to 4th and get the bike picked up early and start moving through the gears to 6th immediately although you have to be patient. The bike spins up a fair bit but that can actually help you turn and get out of the corner quicker whilst it’s also balance between how quick you go in and how soon you get on the power.
So you’ve heard from the riders themselves about the incredible Ulster GP circuit, but what race meet is the best? Cast your votes now…
Words by Phil Wain.