April date for Mid Antrim 150 ‘not meant to offend’ rival organisers

Seamus Elliott and Jamie Hamilton in action at the Mid Antrim 150 in 2013
Seamus Elliott and Jamie Hamilton in action at the Mid Antrim 150 in 2013

Mid Antrim 150 Club Chairman Jack Agnew says he hopes the return of the Irish National road race in a proposed new April date slot in 2016 won’t cause any friction with his fellow race organisers.

Traditionally, the Cookstown 100 meeting has enjoyed the honour of being the first event on the road racing calendar, but that is set to change next year with the Mid Antrim provisionally pencilled in for the first Saturday in April.

Agnew revealed that the club has applied for Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 as its dates next year as the Mid Antrim makes a return after financial limitations forced the cancellation of the event in 2014 and 2015.

A new title sponsor – JFM Haulage – has been obtained for the first time since 1982 and Agnew hopes to have each of the individual race sponsors finalised by the end of November.

In years gone past, the Mid Antrim 150 was staged in August, although a new June date was tried in 2012 before the event reverted back to its usual August position the following season.

The April date switch – which still has to be ratified by the sport’s governing body, the MCUI Ulster Centre – has angered some officials within the Cookstown Club, but Agnew says the decision was taken primarily to minimise disruption to the pupils and staff at Clough Primary School, which is located on the 3.6-mile course.

“The dates we have applied for are April 1-2. If we receive confirmation from the MCUI, we will be the first Irish National road race next year,” Agnew said.

“One of the reasons for the change is because the July and August dates are full of road races with events like Armoy and the Ulster Grand Prix.

“But we also have a school on our course and we had initially aimed for the last Saturday in June as a possible date, which would tie in with the start of the school holidays,” he added.

“But to do that we would’ve needed the school closed down for a day and it wasn’t really suitable, so we went for the Easter date instead and if it works for us next year, we’ll be going for it every year: the Saturday after Easter, because the schools are closed for a fortnight up to that date and that gives us the opportunity to push on with course set-up and get everything set-up around the school without any problems.

“I don’t see any problems in getting the dates and I’ve sought the views on this from the [MCUI] Ulster Centre and the Southern Centre and no other events clash with us, so I don’t foresee a problem,” Agnew said.

“I don’t want to be offending anybody by running the Mid Antrim as the first road race of the year but it’s just the circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Agnew, though, admits that the earlier date would help to boost grid numbers at the Mid Antrim 150 and says he expects ‘anyone who’s a name in road racing’ to be on the entry list.

“If you look at the Cookstown and Tandragee races, they usually have 40 or 50 newcomers each year and we would certainly be expecting full grids in all classes,” he said.

“We would also be expecting anyone who is a name in road racing to be at the event.

“Everything is going very well for us and we have a title sponsor for the first time since 1982 and we hope to have all the individual sponsors on board by the end of November.”

The event will be held on the 3.6-mile Clough course, which has been in use since 1989.