The 63rd Ulster Grand Prix, the final international road race of the season, always attracts a huge crowd of dedicated and knowledgeable fans to the superfast 7.4 mile Dundrod Circuit located just outside Belfast, NI.
Practice sessions get underway on Wednesday 10th August followed by the Dundrod 150 National races (six feature races) on the Thursday evening with the main event – the International Ulster Grand Prix - a full seven race programme on Saturday 13th August. There’s also a full week of entertainment and activities to check out.
This year, the Ulster GP has attracted a record entry of 173 riders from 16 different countries, fifty-four of whom are newcomers to the hugely popular roads circuit. It’s a new record number of “first timers” to the world’s fastest road race.
The Dundrod Circuit is a firm favourite with riders and the quality of field is, of course, world class. Given their recent form at the TT, Michael Dunlop (Hawk Racing BMW) and Ian Hutchinson (Tyco BMW) have to be regarded as the ‘hot’ favourites – but the field is packed with talent. Three times 2015 Ulster GP champ Lee Johnston (East Coast Racing) was going all out to land more wins but has now been ruled out having sustained a broken collarbone. Then there's Dean Harrison, Bruce Anstey and Peter Hickman all likely to be right in the mix and William Dunlop, Conor Cummins, Gary Johnston, Derek Sheils, Dan Kneen…….the list goes on! At least five of these men have all completed 133 plus mph laps at Dundrod!
Along with the other two internationals, the Isle of Man TT and the North West 200 – the Ulster GP is a fantastic spectacle and one not to be missed. If you’ve never been, here’s Red Torpedo’s short guide to why you should be packing your napsack and firing up the Mobylette to head there - pronto!
Still the fastest – just!
Dundrod’s still the fastest real road racing circuit in the world – by a gnat’s whisker. New Zealand’s finest, Bruce Anstey, set the lap record in 2010 with a blistering final lap in the second Superbike race of 133.997 mph riding a TAS Racing Suzuki GSX-R1000. Michael Dunlop’s 2016 Isle of Man TT lap record was only 0.037 seconds slower at 133.962 mph. Dundrod’s a rider’s circuit – very fast with open, flowing corners. It always seems to produce incredibly close fought races with many going right down to the final corner. It’s also a fabulous circuit for fans with great viewing points at Deer’s Leap, The Flying Kilo, Ireland’s, Loughers, Wheelers - and Quarries & Dawson’s bends. On a couple of the longer straights there are also great opportunities to watch some of the major slipstreaming activity.
Race – mass start
The Isle of Man TT will always be the ‘Holy Grail’ of real road racing. It’s simply unique – and nothing can compare with its sheer scale and difficulty: it takes years to learn….and then several more to attempt to master! Being around 30 miles shorter (and about 250 corners fewer!) the Dundrod Circuit, in relative terms, is nowhere near as daunting to get to grips with. Nevertheless, it has to be treated with no less respect! If you’re a fan following a specific rider this can have its advantages. It doesn’t take around 17.5 mins for them to circulate again on their next lap – (or if you’re Michael Dunlop sub 17 minutes!) It’s more like 3.25 minutes at the Ulster – (unless your Bruce Anstey!)
The other big difference is that the Ulster GP is a mass start race – like the North West 200 – as opposed to a time trial like the TT where riders set off at 10 second intervals. So, the sight of dozens of Superbikes at full chat, five or six abreast, hairing along Dundrod’s Flying Kilo close to 200 mph has to be one of the most mind blowing sights in motorcycle racing!
See all Seven Ulster GP races in one day!
Well – assuming the weather behaves! If you’re a bit pushed for time, going over to see the Ulster GP doesn’t necessitate using two weeks holiday entitlement from work. The TT is a fabulous event but it can be a fair old schlep: race week runs from a Saturday through to the following Friday with alternate days of no racing activity. It’s a grueling event and riders couldn’t possibly be expected to race on consecutive days. As a result, it’s quite a “time hit” to take in the whole TT festival. Then there’s a full practice week to add to the mix prior to the start of the racing.
You can basically see the whole Ulster GP in a day – main race day is on the Saturday. If you want to add the Dundrod 150 races you’ll only need a couple of nights accommodation: head there on the Thursday for the evening’s racing. Job done.
If you’re planning to go for longer, the organisers of the Ulster always do a fantastic job of ensuring that there's loads of other things to see and do during Race Week. This year there are are exhibitions and cavalcades of vintage and classic cars; a rideout by the legendary Dromara Destroyers; book launches; Miss MCE UGP final; chat shows; a“meet the riders” event; F13K CANCER Charity auction; live bands in the marquee; a “Night of Nostalgia” exhibition; a Festival of Speed display of cars…..and loads more. Of course, if you just want to take things in at a more leisurely pace, the “craic” and hospitality is always great in Ireland and the fans are super passionate about their road racing. So, what are you waiting for – get the Mobylette fired up and ‘Dundrod’ keyed into the sat nav!
Photo of Ian Hutchinson at 2016 TT: Peter Faragher