Ian Lougher: Veteran racer and team owner on UGP survival, future stars and 'scary' TT speeds

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI
Ian Lougher leads the chasing pack during the first Supertwins race at the 2019 Ulster Grand Prix
Ian Lougher leads the chasing pack during the first Supertwins race at the 2019 Ulster Grand Prix

With almost 40 years' experience as a competitor and team owner, there isn't much that Ian Lougher hasn't witnessed in motorcycle racing.

So with the future of racing on public roads coming under scrutiny, who better to ask for his thoughts on some of the challenges being faced by the sport and the new generation of up and coming riders?

Having 18 Ulster Grand Prix wins to his name, the uncertainty surrounding the famous international race held over the Dundrod circuit is a matter of particular concern for the 57-year-old Welsh native, now resident near Dromora, County Down.

The organising Dundrod Club revealed in April that they had been issued with a winding up order, having accrued debts in the region of £300,000.

Such were his achievements over the County Antrim course that the Budore section was re-named 'Lougher's' in honour of one of the finest and longest standing exponents of road racing over recent decades.

UGP problems 'a crying shame'

"Dundrod is my favourite circuit, as it is for many other riders, so it is a crying shame to see the Ulster Grand Prix meeting having the difficulties it is having at the moment," said Lougher, who began racing in 1982.

"Hopefully someone can come in to take up the organisational side, and they get can get sufficient financial backing to help it survive and get back on track again.

"Road racing as a whole has problems to overcome although I can see the TT continuing to thrive. It is the Isle of Man's big event of the year and after it missed a year because of Foot and Mouth in 2001 it came back as good, if not better, in 2002.

"When the coronavirus pandemic broke out and all the events were being cancelled I wondered if there was a future for the sport but now it's hard to know. I certainly see it being a difficult time as some businesses will struggle and there won't be the same amount of money around for sponsorship."

Stefano Bonetti
Stefano Bonetti rode his Paton to victory in the Thursday night Supertwin race at the 2019 NW200

Team owner, mentor and still racing

Under the banner of his long-established Team ILR Racing team, Lougher's plans for 2020 included nurturing the raw talent of Lincolnshire rider James Hind and also provide machinery for Castleblayney rider Joseph Loughlin, Italian North West 200 winner Stefano Bonetti and Banbridge's Ryan Gibson.

And with a racing career which already spans four decades, the team boss intends to make that five by competing at events over the Scarborough circuit in late August and mid-September.

In addition to his Ulster GP successes, his glittering CV also includes 10 Isle of Man TT victories, eight North West 200 triumphs and four Southern 100 Solo Championships.

"Obviously it was disappointing to see the likes of the North West 200, TT and Southern 100 go by the wayside as we had high hopes for the ILR/Mark Coverdale Paton bikes in the Supertwins class but James and myself will be racing at Scarborough so at least we have some racing to look forward to.

"I had cut back on the British championship this year, having been part of that with my team since 2008. While I enjoyed it there was a lot of work involved behind the scenes to secure the necessary sponsorship.

"I retired from racing in 2013 but have continued to do selected races and running the team has helped me to continue my involvement with the sport and help pass on some of my experience to younger riders. I don't know how to do much else really."

Joe Loughlin clinched two second places at this year's Ulster GP
Joe Loughlin clinched two second places at this year's Ulster GP

Hind 'has old head on young shoulders'

Loughlin, 27, showed his ability by finishing runner-up in two thrilling Lightweight races by under one hundredth of a second to Paul Jordan and Christian Elkin respectively at the 2019 Ulster Grand Prix, lapping the 7.4-mile course at over 119 miles per hour.

Hind meanwhile flagged up his potential as a future star of the sport by following up his second place in the 2018 Manx Grand Prix Newcomers race by winning both MGP Lightweight races last year and coming in third behind Bruce Anstey and Davey Todd in the Lightweight Classic TT.

At just 20 years of age, Hind looks well placed to become the next in the production line of Lincolnshire riders to make a major impact on the international road racing scene, following in the wheeltracks of the likes of Steve Plater, Guy Martin, Ivan Lintin, Gary Johnson and Peter Hickman.

"James is definitely one for the future - he has an old head on young shoulders and I'd like to try to be involved with him more in years to come," explained Lougher.

"Competitive machines are more readily available now so young riders can be on fast bikes that are not all that different from the leading frontrunners, unlike 20 or 30 years ago when you needed to have factory backing.

"The likes of Davey Todd and Adam McLean are young riders with great ability too - they just need to keep building their experience and not try to go too fast, too soon. Jamie Coward has served his apprenticeship and has been making steady progress too.

"For a lot of the younger riders these days it is all about fitness and while that is important, working hard and having that driven determination is more important. If they have that, to add to their natural ability, they should reap the rewards.

"When I was young I had to learn to drive to get to the circuits and that made you more determined. Some of the young lads today, their dads have to do all the work and when things go wrong they throw their toys out of the pram."

Ian Lougher
Ian Lougher raced at the Isle of Man TT for the final time in 2019

Fastest TT lap speeds 'scary'

Lougher called time on racing at the TT after last year's Lightweight event and despite his many achievements, the veteran Welshman confesses to being in awe of the speeds being recorded by the likes of Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison.

"It's scary. My fastest lap was 128.5mph in 2010 but the average speeds they are doing - around 135mph - is a long way faster than that.

"At my best I was probably riding at 95% of my limit on the roads compared to short circuits, leaving a bit to spare, but there seems less margin for error now. These guys appear to be riding 99.9% of the level they would in BSB.

"The fact they are racing the same bikes regularly in the BSB series helps them ride so hard. Riders like myself did British Championship in the past and it certainly helped you get good on the brakes.

"As regards other top TT riders, Michael Dunlop still has a long time in front of him if he wants to carry on. He has it in him to beat the all-time wins record.

"John McGuinness will be 49 by the time next year's TT comes round and I can't see him being able to equal 135mph laps any more. I think top six or top eight is probably the best he will manage now."

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