History of the Ulster Grand Prix
The Ulster Grand Prix is held on Dundrod Circuit and is situated in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. It was first used for the RAC Tourist Trophy for sports cars between 1950 and 1955 with future World Formula One Champion Mike Hawthorn setting a lap record of 94.67mph in the 1955 race.
However, from 1953 it became home of the Ulster Grand Prix, replacing the old Clady Circuit which had hosted the event from 1922 onwards, and it has remained here ever since. The Clady Circuit started life as a 20.5-mile circuit but was abandoned for motor-cycle racing and the Irish round of the FIM World Motorcycle Grand Prix Championship moved to the much shorter Dundrod course.
The circuit comprises public roads closed for racing including a section of the secondary B38 Hannahstown Road between Glenavy and Hannahstown, County Antrim, the secondary B101 Leathemstown Road from Leathemstown Corner to Dundrod village and the B153 Quarterland/Tornagrough Road from Cochranstown to the road junction of the B38 Upper Springsfield Road/Hannahstown Road at the Hairpin.
The original 7.416 mile circuit
The circuit was originally 7.416 miles (11.934 km) in length and later amended for the 1965 racing season to 7.401 miles (11.910 km) with the addition of the Hairpin, now known as the Lindsay Hairpin after the late Darran Lindsay.
Dundrod was part of the FIM World Championships from 1953 until 1971 and saw legendary names including Geoff Duke, John Surtees, Bob McIntyre, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read, Jim Redman, Bill Ivy and Giacomo Agostini all take multiple wins.
However, the civil unrest in Northern Ireland resulted in the country losing its World Championship round and for the next few years, whilst still an International meeting, it became home to British and Irish road racing specialists.
Introduction of the World Formula One, Two and Three Championships
In 1978, the newly-introduced World Formula One, Two and Three Championships included a round at Dundrod and did so until 1990. This period coincided with the rise of local hero Joey Dunlop who remains the most successful rider ever at the Ulster GP with 24 wins to his name. Ron Haslam, Graeme Crosby, Jon Ekerold, Roger Marshall, Steve Hislop and Carl Fogarty were just some of the other names to enjoy success at the Ulster during the 1970s and 80s.
The last F1 round was held in 1990 and since then, the Ulster GP has, like the North West 200 and Isle of Man TT, been a stand-alone event, continuing to be held in its traditional early August slot. Dunlop was equally successful during the 1990s along with brother Robert and fellow countryman Phillip McCallen.
A host of successful riders
Welshman Ian Lougher is the second most successful rider at Dundrod with 18 wins to his name followed by McCallen (14) and Guy Martin and Bruce Anstey (both 11). McCallen won five races in a day in 1996 which Hickman matched in 2019 but he also took two wins on the Thursday to set a new best mark of seven wins in a single meeting.
The lap record for the Dundrod Circuit currently stands at 3 minutes and 15.316 seconds at an average speed of 136.415mph set by Hickman, riding a 1000cc BMW during the 2019 Ulster Grand Prix.
33 riders have now lapped the course at more than 130mph.
Ulster GP Gallery
Ulster GP Milestones
1953 – The Ulster Grand Prix moved to its current venue at the 7.732-mile Dundrod circuit after being held on the old Clady circuit from 1922. The event held world championship status from 1949 until 1971.
1953 – Werner Haas, from Germany, won the first Ulster Grand Prix motorcycle race at Dundrod, taking victory in the 10-lap 125cc event held on Saturday, August 13, 1953. Ken Mudford won the 350cc race on a Norton, with Reg Armstrong winning the 250cc race and Ken Kavanagh victorious in the 500cc event.
1954 – The Ulster Grand Prix was held in June under pressure from the top teams and riders, taking place straight after the Isle of Man TT and reducing the finances required for travelling costs, with only one journey from Europe required instead of two.
1959 – Mike Hailwood won his first race at Dundrod, taking the honours in the 125cc race and setting a new lap record at 84.75mph on a Ducati to win from Gary Hocking. It was the first of 19-year-old Hailwood’s 76 World Grand’s Prix triumphs.
1960 – John Surtees marked his final appearance at the Ulster Grand Prix with victory in the 350cc race. Surtees also finished as the runner-up in the 500cc race to John Hartle.
1961 – Popular Scotsman Bob McIntyre won his only Ulster Grand Prix race as he defeated Mike Hailwood to win the 250cc race by 15 seconds. McIntyre was tragically killed the following year after crashing in poor weather at Oulton Park shortly before the Ulster Grand Prix.
1963 – Mike Hailwood set the first 100mph lap of Dundrod on his MV Agusta at 101.128mph on his way to the chequered flag in the 500cc race.
1965 – Bushmills man Dick Creith wrote his name into the history books as he mastered the wet at Dundrod to win the 500cc Grand Prix race from Paddy Driver and Chris Conn. Creith had finished as the runner-up in the 1964 500cc race on Joe Ryan’s Norton to Phil Read in the rain.
1968 – Italian legend Giacomo Agostini won the 350cc and 500cc races on the works MV Agusta, winning the 350cc race by almost five minutes. Bill Ivy won the 125cc and 250cc races. Agostini repeated the feat a year later with another brace and won the 500cc race in 1970 in his final appearance at Dundrod.
1971 – The Ulster Grand Prix hosted a round of the World Championship Grand Prix for the final time. In atrocious conditions, Peter Williams won the 350cc race after long-time Jarno Saarinen retired with a broken clutch lever following a crash at the hairpin. Ray McCullough won the 250cc race from Saarinen and Dieter Braun. Jack Findlay won the 500cc race with Tommy Robb finishing on the rostrum in third.
1972 – The Ulster Grand Prix was cancelled as a result of the Troubles. The previous October, Grand Prix House was badly damaged after a bomb was planted in the building by terrorists.
1973 – the Ulster GP returned and John Williams created history as he won the 250cc, 350cc and 500cc races to become the first rider to win three races in a day.
1975 – Mervyn Robinson rode a brilliant race to clinch victory in the 500cc event in the wet, beating Tony Rutter to claim a famous triumph.
1976 – Ray McCullough notched a double in the 250cc and 350cc races from Tony Rutter and Ian Richards respectively. He set new lap records for both classes at 110.56mph and 107.18mph, the former the first ever 110mph lap.
1978 – Tom Herron became the inaugural winner of the TT Formula One race at the Ulster Grand Prix, although the event was overshadowed by the deaths of John Williams and Jeremy Swann. Williams died after a crash in the 1000cc race, which was also won by Herron, who managed a treble on the day with a win also coming in the 250cc class. Williams, whose accident happened at Wheelers, had won the 500cc earlier in the day from Herron.
1979 – Joey Dunlop claimed the first of his record 24 Ulster Grand Prix successes with a triumph in the 500cc race from John Newbold, who was making his Dundrod debut. Dunlop also added the 1000cc honours after a thrilling battle with Roger Marshall, with Newbold third.
1980 – Now a factory Suzuki rider, Joey Dunlop famously slackened off to allow team-mate Graeme Crosby through to take victory in the TT Formula 1 race, handing the Kiwi the world title as key rival Mick Grant could only finish third for Honda. His job done, Dunlop racked up a double in the 250cc and 1000cc races.
1982 – Joey Dunlop wrapped up his first TT Formula 1 World Championship after finishing as runner-up behind Ron Haslam. Joey secured the title by six points from English rider Haslam. Paul Cranston won the 500cc race from Sam McClements and Con Law after Norman Brown was forced to retire.
1983 – Joey Dunlop won his second TT Formula 1 World Championship following victory at Dundrod from Mick Grant and Rob McElnea in the wet.
1984 – Another year and more success for Joey Dunlop, who roared to a brilliant treble with wins in the TT Formula 1, 250cc and 500cc races, recording the first ever 120mph lap in the latter. Dunlop’s final-lap pass on Roger Marshall at the Windmill infuriate his English rival and Honda team-mate, who unsuccessfully attempted to force team manager Barry Symmons to lodge a protest arguing that Dunlop’s move had been dangerous.
1986 – Neil Robinson caused a sensation with a commanding victory in the TT Formula 1 race, toppling the mighty Joey Dunlop to win by over one minute. Dunlop retained his world crown nonetheless and later made amends with a record-breaking win in the Classic race.
1987 – Formula 1 contender Virginio Ferrari completed a handful of laps at Dundrod before flying home to Italy, declaring the seven-mile circuit too dangerous for racing. After a delay, the Formula 1 race was started in horrendous conditions but was soon brought to a halt after German rider Klaus Klein was killed in a crash at the end of the opening lap.
1989 – Carl Fogarty won the Formula 1 world title even though he had to give second best to Steve Hislop in the big race at Dundrod. Joey Dunlop crossed the line in 20th place as he battled back to fitness following his crash earlier in the year at Brands Hatch when he was struck by Stephane Mertens.
1990 – The exhilarating duel between Honda’s Joey Dunlop and his brother Robert on the JPS Norton was the stuff of legend. With race favourite Steve Hislop out on the opening the lap, the Ballymoney brothers were soon locked in battle. Robert was forced to pit for fuel, while Joey was able to complete the race on one tank, making a decisive break to seize a popular victory on the big bike following his Brands Hatch crash.
1992 – A new chicane was introduced at Dundrod at the start/finish in the first significant alteration to the circuit for over 25 years. The meeting was marred by the death of English rider Steve Johnson in the 250cc race at Ireland’s Corner following a collision with Phillip McCallen. Robert Dunlop claimed a dominant Superbike double on the Norton, with Brian Reid claiming two wins in the 400cc and 250cc races.
1993 – Phillip McCallen bagged a hat-trick in the 600cc, 250cc and Superbike races. The Portadown man took the Superbike win from Joey Dunlop and Nick Jefferies.
1994 – Another day for the history books at Dundrod as Phillip McCallen won four races from five rides. Joey Dunlop edged the first Superbike race from his younger rival after a ferocious battle, but McCallen went on to claim victory in both 250cc races, plus the 600cc event and the final Superbike race, which he won from Jason Griffiths. Welshman Griffiths set a new outright lap record at 126.10mph in the race.
1995 – Joey Dunlop rattled off another hat-trick in the Superbike and both 250cc races. Dunlop defeated Robert Holden on his RC45 Honda and completed his treble with wins over Mick Lofthouse and James Courtney on his little Honda.
1996 – The year belonged to Phillip McCallen, who made Ulster Grand Prix history with five wins from five starts. Ian Lougher could have spoiled the party in the first 250cc race, but crashed out at the hairpin. McCallen won the second 250cc race with ease with Lougher a non-starter and added the 600cc and both Superbike wins to cap a memorable day.
1999 – On a day of highs and lows at Dundrod, Joey Dunlop pulled out all the stops with one of his best ever rides to defeat V&M Yamaha hot-shot David Jefferies on his ageing RC45 Honda to win the second Superbike race. Jefferies, making his Ulster GP debut, won the opener and also set a new lap record at 126.85mph as he tried unsuccessfully to reel in Joey in the second race. Sadly, popular Colerain man Owen McNally was killed after a crash in the final race of the day while leading the 250cc event at Dawsons Bend.
2002 – Darran Lindsay and Ian Lougher each claimed a treble. Lindsay won the 600cc Production, 125cc and 250cc races on his home circuit. Lougher earned a Superbike double plus victory in the 600cc Supersport race. Rising star Gary Jess was tragically killed after a crash in the first Superbike race at Cochranstown.
2003 – Bruce Anstey took his maiden Ulster GP triumph after a mammoth battle with Adrian Archibald in the 1000cc Production race. Archibald raised the lap record to 128.2012mph on the TAS Suzuki on his way to victory in the first Superbike race.
2004 – Kiwi Bruce Anstey cemented a treble, winning the first superbike race from John McGuinness and twice beating Ryan Farquhar in the 600cc Production and Supersport races. Anstey smashed the outright lap record with a speed of 129.03mph.
2005 – Ian Lougher completed another hat-trick, with wins in both Superbike races, beating Bruce Anstey and Guy Martin. He also had the upper-hand over Anstey in the Production race. John McGuinness sealed a 250cc and Supersport brace.
2006 – Guy Martin made a name for himself with a stunning four-timer, winning both Superbike and Supersport races on the AIM Yamahas. Ian Hutchinson established a new outright lap record at 130.828mph in the feature Superbike race although Martin had the honour of setting the first ever 130mph lap.
2007 – Poor weather hampered the race schedule with the second Superbike and Supersport races cancelled. Ian Hutchinson won the only Superbike race on the HM Plant Honda, which was shortened to three laps. Ryan Farquhar was victorious in the Superstock race with Guy Martin (Supersport) and William Dunlop (250cc) also on the top step.
2008 – Torrential downpours forced the organisers to cancel the event without a single race held.
2010 – Ian Hutchinson followed up his Isle of Man TT five-timer with three wins at the Ulster Grand Prix in the Superbike, Supersport and Superstock classes, while Bruce Anstey set the fastest ever lap at Dundrod on his final ride for the TAS Suzuki team at 133.977mph on the final lap of the second Superbike race as the Kiwi clinched victory.
2011 – Michael Dunlop claimed a treble, twice passing brother William at the hairpin in the Supersport races on his Yamaha to take the wins. Dunlop also fended off Guy Martin’s challenge to win the Superstock race. Bruce Anstey and Martin had a win apiece in the Superbike races.
2012 – Guy Martin won the main Ulster GP Superbike race after Michael Dunlop slid off at the hairpin on the penultimate lap. Dunlop hit back to win the second Superbike race following his earlier win over Ian Lougher in the Superstock event. Bruce Anstey and William Dunlop shared the Supersport victories.
2013 – Guy Martin took a hat-trick of wins on the Tyco Suzuki’s, claiming victory in both Superbike races as well as the opening Supersport affair. William and Michael Dunlop took a win apiece whilst Ian Lougher took the 125cc race win for his 18th UGP victory.
2014 – Dan Kneen took his first International road race win with victory in the Superstock race but it was Bruce Anstey who again claimed the honours in the feature Superbike race as well as the solitary Supersport encounter. Rain brought the meeting to an early end.
2015 – Bruce Anstey took victory in the feature Superbike race from Ian Hutchinson whilst rising star Peter Hickman claimed his maiden victory on the roads with a win in the second Superbike race later in the day. But it was Lee Johnston who was Man of the Meeting with victories in both Supersport races as well as the Superstock.
2016 – Ian Hutchinson wins four races in a day and also sets the first ever 134mph lap, with a new outright lap record of 134.089mph.
2017 – Peter Hickman takes a hat-trick of wins whilst Bruce Anstey wins the feature Superbike race for the third time in four years. The outright lap record is smashed as five riders better Hutchinson’s year old mark, Dean Harrison eventually claiming the record with a lap of 134.614mph.
2018 – Peter Hickman won the Man of the Meeting trophy for the second successive year with two wins, a second and a fifth. Patricia Fernandez maintained her position as the fastest ever female around Dundrod with a lap of 121.130mph, the first 120mph+ lap by a female competitor. Rain again brought the meeting to an early end.
2019 – Peter Hickman created history as he won seven races, finally breaking Phillip McCallen’s record of five wins which had stood for 23 years. Hickman also shattered the outright lap record with his speed of 136.415mph reinstating the Ulster GP as the fastest road race in the world. Paul Jordan took his first International road race victory after winning the Supertwins race.
Check out our exclusive course guide of the Ulster Grand Prix…
Words by Phil Wain.