Isle of Man TT: Northern Ireland riders philosophical about second cancellation

By Richard PetrieBBC Sport NI
Lee Johnston
Lee Johnston negotiates the iconic Ballaugh Bridge section of The Mountain Course during practice for the 2019 TT

Some of Northern Ireland's finest road racing exponents have been left to digest the news that the biggest event in the sport's calendar - the Isle of Man TT - has fallen victim to the Covid-19 pandemic for the second year in a row.

The announcement that the annual two-week festival would not take place again in 2021 comes as a major blow to the sport, but riders have in general been philosophical about the situation, understanding of the reasons behind the Manx government's decision.

BBC Sport NI spoke to several racers, plus team owner and three-time TT winner Ryan Farquhar, TT commentator Steve Plater, winner of two TT races, and 11-time victor Phillip McCallen to get their reactions to the cancellation.

Among those giving their views are British Superbike rider Glenn Irwin, who has tasted success on four occasions at the North West 200 and was scheduled to make his bow on the Isle of Man Mountain Course in 2020.

Glenn Irwin (Carrickfergus, Honda Racing)

"It is what it is. The Manx residents and protecting them from Covid-19 comes first and the last thing we want is to be part of an event which spreads coronavirus on the Isle of Man. We must respect the lives of everyone who lives there.

"I really feel for those riders whose season is centred around the TT and rely on road racing to make their living. Their careers have effectively been put on hold.

"My road racing is a separate deal but it's not my bread and butter.

"As a rider I'm really disappointed. I was really looking forward to riding there, making my debut, but a year and a half will soon roll round and it gives me more time to make my preparations.

"If the Classic TT runs in August I will probably venture over and do a few laps and some more homework but to race in that event does not appeal to me.

"I want to go there in 2022 and be a TT newcomer like the other top TT riders of recent years, as part of my long-term plan. When I go road racing I want to ride the bike I ride week in, week out rather than on a classic bike I have no experience of.

"I really want the North West 200 to happen next year but not at the expense of jeopardising the health of people in Northern Ireland. The right decision will be made in due course."

John McGuinness and Glenn Irwin
Glenn Irwin (right) pictured with John McGuinness on the TT start-line at the 2019 Classic TT

Lee Johnston (Fermanagh, Ashcourt Racing)

"It's out of our hands so there is no point getting stressed about something over which you have no control.

"I am young enough that I should get another few good go at it for a few years.

"In the meantime I will ride in the British Supersport Championship again next year with the aim of having a crack at winning it. We picked up a lot of information this year that will stand good to us."

Paul Jordan (Magherafelt, Lee Hardy Racing)

"I am devastated. It is something I look forward to all year and everyone was focused and motivated for 2021.

"The set-up Lee Hardy has put together for me is first class and now I will have to put my thinking cap on as to where I will race to keep my hand in.

"If there are four or five Irish road races that run I will be there but the British Superbike paddock appeals to me too. I have to think of my long-term future."

Adam McLean and Paul Jordan
Adam McLean and Paul Jordan are two of NI's finest road racers

Adam McLean (Tobermore, McAdoo Racing)

"It's not ideal. All the riders are disappointed that there will be no TT for two years in a row but what can you do? It's one of those things.

"I've signed with McAdoo racing for the roads for next season so hopefully four or five races, maybe Cookstown, Tandragee, Armoy and the North West 200, will go and we will get some racing."

Ryan Farquhar (KMR Racing team owner)

"Personally I'm glad they made an early decision as I didn't want to be preparing bikes and spending money on them and then they would not be used.

"It's another blow to road racing but everyone across the board is affected. At the end of the day it is a sport and there are people in much worse situations. Businesses people have built up over many years are hanging by a thread.

"For me everything I've done over the last number of years has been done with the TT as a priority, followed by the North West 200.

"Now that the TT has gone it's a waste of time looking for sponsors as very few want to commit financially with all the uncertainty.

"The question I am asking myself now is if there are only going to be a handful of races I am in a position to put bikes on the grid?

Phillip McCallen (11-times TT winner)

"It's very sad that it is not able to go ahead as it is a highlight of the year for so many but it is understandable taking into account the safety of everyone on the island.

"We don't know what long-term damage it may inflict on road racing.

"Hopefully the North west 200 and Ulster Grand Prix can get going to mitigate some of the disappointment."

Steve Plater and Phillip McCallen
Former TT winners Steve Plater and Phillip McCallen pictured at the North West 200

Steve Plater (IOM TT commentator and two-time winner)

"I didn't expect it at all in fairness but the Isle of Man has done a great job of controlling the pandemic and you have to respect their decision.

"It's a big blow for the island, particularly the hospitality sector, but you can't really complain. They have done the right thing in my mind.

"You have to prepare so early for a massive international event like that and there are so many people involved you have to let them know early what's going on.

"Some people believe a second year without the TT puts the event's future in doubt but I don't think that way. Road racing is going through a tough time but it will always be the blue riband event and offers a massive boost to the Manx economy.

"Hopefully the Classic TT will go ahead in August and the riders can get some valuable track time and laps in over the Mountain Course."

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