Kyle White: Tandragee damp squib and North West 200 dilemma for John Burrows

You’ve got to feel for the organisers after last Saturday’s Tandragee 100 was thwarted by persistent rain in County Armagh.

By Kyle White
Wednesday, 4th May 2022, 4:32 pm

The event was marking its 60th anniversary but the milestone celebrations turned into the proverbial damp squib as the event returned to the Irish road racing calendar for the first time since 2019.

Championed by many riders as the best national road race in the country, Friday’s superb dry and sunny weather for practice at least offered the opportunity for some quality time around the spectacular 5.3-mile course.

The organising team, led by Clerk of the Course Anne Forsythe, worked their way slickly through the qualifying sessions with no major disruptions, undoubtedly aided by the favourable conditions.

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Dominic Herbertson won the Supersport race at the rain-hit Tandragee 100 for the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team after filling in for the injured Mike Browne. Team boss John Burrows is set to confirm his line-up for the North West 200 in the coming days.

With Saturday’s gloomy weather forecast in mind, an opportunity presented itself to run one of the Superbike races on Friday evening with qualifying wrapped up in good time, although ironically it was the low-lying sun that ultimately prevented any racing from going ahead on safety grounds.

It seemed inevitable from early in the morning on race day that the meeting wouldn’t go the full distance.

Derek Sheils, making his first road racing appearance of the season after skipping the Cookstown 100, packed up and headed home. Sheils had qualified second fastest on the Roadhouse Macau BMW S1000RR behind fellow Republic of Ireland rider Michael Sweeney.

With the Isle of Man TT on the horizon, Sheils will have bigger fish to fry. The multiple Irish road racing champion isn’t competing at next week’s North West 200 and the TT will be his primary objective this year.

Sweeney was willing to venture out on the MJR BMW but said he wasn’t prepared to stick his neck on the line if another rider wanted it more.

As it was, the Superbike race was stopped when Forest Dunn and Matthew Rees crashed out, fortunately without serious injury.

Sweeney – the hat-trick hero at the Cookstown 100 a week previously – claimed a runner-up finish in the Supersport race, which was red-flagged on the last lap when Tom Robinson slipped off.

Hexham’s Dominic Herbertson was declared the winner by 0.6s after three laps as he made a winning debut for the Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team.

It proved to be the final action of the day, with an announcement coming soon afterwards that the meeting had been abandoned.

Two other races were run earlier, with Barry Davidson sealing his 94th road racing win as he got the verdict on the final lap of the Junior Classic race from Nigel Moore.

Limavady’s Jack Oliver caught the eye yet again as the 20-year-old took another win in the Junior Support race as he made his maiden appearance at Tandragee.

Oliver – second on his roads bow at Armoy in the Senior Support race last year – took the Senior Support spoils at the Cookstown 100 last month for his first national victory and has marked himself out as one to keep an eye on for the future.

And what of ‘Dom the Bomb’ Herbertson? The 31-year-old got the nod to fill in for injury victim Mike Browne in John Burrows’ Dungannon-based team at Tandragee and made the chance count.

It was Herbertson’s first Supersport victory on the Irish roads and he deserves full credit for a winning performance in treacherous conditions on Saturday.

Former racer Burrows will now mull over his options for the North West 200 next week, with Cork prospect Browne ruled out until at least the Isle of Man TT.

The high-profile road race offers a big opportunity to showcase sponsors to a worldwide audience, and Burrows has a number of potential riders in mind to fulfil that purpose.

Herbertson has certainly thrown his hat into the ring, while one or two riders with plenty of experience on their side are also in the mix to fill the void left by Browne. A team announcement is due before the end of the week.

As it stands, Burrows hopes that Browne will be fit enough to race at the TT, where practice gets under way on Sunday, May 29.

The easy-going dairy farmer has made big strides since he joined the team for the 2020 season, winning the first Superbike race at the Cookstown 100 last September after making his big-bike debut only six weeks beforehand at Armoy.

Burrows remains committed to Browne for the rest of this season and beyond, with the 32-year-old showing plenty of untapped potential.

He was poised to make his debut at the North West 200 this year, but that moment has now been put on ice until 2023.

Perhaps, though, this year’s TT is still within reach.