Ryan Farquhar fears it may be too late to safeguard the future of Irish national road racing, with escalating insurance costs adding to the financial strain faced by promoting clubs.
The News Letter exclusively revealed on Thursday that the cost of insurance cover for Irish road races has risen by £4,000 in 2017, while clubs are also facing an excess payment of £2,500 for each potential claim – up from £1,000 last year.
Armoy Clerk of the Course Bill Kennedy said he fears the demise of the sport at domestic level within as little as three years unless race organisers can generate more money and has called for a change of mindset among the race-going public, claiming too many expect a free day out.
It’s a standpoint backed by Farquhar, Ireland’s most successful national road racer with 197 victories, who said spectators unwilling to support the sport by ‘paying their way’ should stay away.
“If people aren’t willing to pay their way then they shouldn’t really be there: they’re more of a hindrance,” said the straight-talking Dungannon man.
“The way I see it, if someone goes to a road race and they’re the kind of person who won’t buy a programme or pay any money, the chances are these are the first people who will try and make a claim against the clubs if they become caught up in an accident.
“I said many years ago that insurance claims could be a problem and whenever riders were falling off 1000cc machines especially, the bikes were hitting spectators and they were then making personal injury claims.
“I was shot down because people argued that most fatal accidents happened on the smaller bikes - 125 and 250 machines - but it wasn’t those bikes that were causing the injuries to spectators, it was the bigger machines because obviously they go much faster and they travel much further in a crash.
“I felt the only way around it was to drop the 1000cc classes at national road races, or else really enforce the rules on where people could spectate from: put in grandstands instead and make the other areas prohibited, so that people only have the choice of paying into the grandstands,” he added.
“Personally, I believe it has gone too far now and the harm has already been done. I think national road racing is on a slippery slope. Not only is the price of insurance going up, but expenses for competitors have risen and there is less sponsorship out there.”
Only three national road races are scheduled in Northern Ireland this season at Tandragee, Cookstown and Armoy, while the sport’s governing body in the south – Motorcycling Ireland – has been forced to cancel events planned in January after failing to secure insurance cover.
After making a comeback last year, the Mid Antrim 150 won’t go ahead this season due to a funding shortfall and Farquhar feels the best days of Irish national road racing are long gone.
“Everybody is struggling and that’s the long and short of it. There used to be races every weekend and now, we only have three Ulster road races. The best days are gone.”
Ultimately, the 41-year-old believes insurance costs will drive the final nail into the coffin of Irish road racing.
“The public has had it far too good and too easy for too long. They feel as if they shouldn’t have to pay and to me, they’re not true fans of road racing,” said Farquhar.
“Yes, you get a lot of good, decent people who love the sport and will pay their way, but there are too many out there who don’t.
“The ones who are freeloading are the most likely to run to a solicitor and make a claim if they get a chance and it’s going to kill the sport off.”