A specially commissioned ‘Man of the Meeting’ award honouring Ulster road racing legend Robert Dunlop will be presented for the first time at this year’s Vauxhall International North West 200.
The trophy has been specially-made with the permission of the Dunlop family and will be up for grabs to the most successful overall rider throughout the two days of racing on the north coast, with the winner also pocketing a cheque for £2,500.
The announcement was made at Monday’s official launch at Titanic Belfast, attending by a plethora of star names including Stuart Easton, Josh Brookes, Ian Hutchinson, Michael and William Dunlop, John McGuinness, Alastair Seeley, Ryan Farquhar, Keith Amor and Jeremy McWilliams.
International music star Keith Flint, of dance group the Prodigy, also flew in for the launch with Steve Mercer, who will ride for Flint’s Team Traction Control outfit at the North West, while high profile newcomer and British Superbike regular Peter Hickman also joined the special guests.
New BMW signing Michael Dunlop said the introduction of the new man of the meeting accolade was a fitting tribute to his father, who was tragically killed following a crash during practice at the North West in 2008.
“The award is great and I think the last time my dad won competitively around the North West was in 1994: obviously he won in 2006, but he managed 15 wins in a few years and I’d love to have seen how many he’d have got if it hadn’t been for his accident [at the TT in 1994].
“It’s a great tribute to him and it’s like the Joey Dunlop trophy at the TT; he’d be honoured to have it.”
Event Director, Mervyn Whyte, revealed the award would be unveiled a few weeks prior to the race in May.
“It’s really good to have a special man of the meeting award in memory of Robert, who has had massive success around the North West 200 with 15 wins and also five TT wins, nine wins at the Ulster Grand Prix, a victory at Macau and 111 national road race wins, so he’s had massive success over the years,” said Whyte.
“We’ve worked really closely with the Dunlop family to introduce this award and we’re really pleased to have it; the award will be unveiled a few weeks prior to the race and in addition to that, the winner will also receive £2,500.”
Whyte also lauded the stellar line-up for the first big international showdown of 2014, which represents the best cast list of any road race in the world this year.
“We’re delighted to have the very best road racers on the grid at our race this year,” he said. “Not only will we have all the top stars who race in all the other international races, but the North West has also attracted entries from superb riders like Alastair Seeley, Stuart Easton and Jeremy McWilliams who won’t be competing at any other road races this year.”
One of the most significant changes to the race programme next month is the addition of an extra lap for both Superbike races on Saturday, May 171, which will now be run over seven laps.
A new BSB system has also been brought in to ensure a fairer grid allocation in the event of wet and dry practice sessions.
Other developments include two miles of resurfacing work, extra car parking at the start/finish area and free WiFi throughout the paddock.
Meanwhile, BBC Sport Northern Ireland has agreed a new five-year deal to broadcast the event on radio, TV and online, which commences in 2015 and runs until 2019.