FOR the 12th consecutive year, one of the most eagerly awaited and often spectacular sporting events in the Midlands' calendar takes place at Walderstown, Athlone ,this weekend.
'The Race of the South', hosted by Fore Motor Cycle Racing Club, continually attracts the highest profile names on the Irish and British motorcycle scene, and it will be no different this time around, with the likes of the Dunlop brothers (Michael and William), Ryan Farquhar, Derek Sheils, Derek McGee, Alan Kenny, Noel Brennan (Kilbeggan), Marie Costello MBE, John Burrows, and Damian Horan (Athlone) set to participate. However, William Dunlop's entry is in doubt after he picked up a shoulder injury in Skerries last weekend.
The races are expected to attract between 5,000 to 8,000 spectators over the weekend, but particularly on Sunday, when the main races take place.
With such vast numbers visiting the area, the event also represents something of a boost to the local economy, with race organiser Austin Dobson saying that people will be staying in accommodation in Athlone, Ballykeeran, Glasson, Longford, Moate, Mullingar, and many other local destinations over the weekend.
"We always have a quality entry at Walderstown, and over the years all the top riders have raced here," said Austin.
While pre-race preparations are fully on track, Austin said there is one aspect of the race that lies out of their control - the weather.
"We've spent around €30,000 on the races so far, and that figure will reach between €90,000 and €100,000 by the end of the week. The reality is that one really bad year of weather could finish the event off for good. Hopefully, the man above will stay good to us and we can all enjoy yet another fantastic two days' racing," added Austin.
There will be a total of eleven races on Sunday, with practice taking place on Saturday.
The main event is the Grand Final on Sunday, which has prize-money for the winner of €3,000, and was won last year by Michael Dunlop (with his brother taking second place).
Obviously, there will be major road closures in the area on both days, with local roads closing at 12.30pm on Saturday for road testing and practise. On Sunday, roads shut at 11am and the first race is pencilled in provisionally for an 11.15am start. Beginning at the Start & Finish Line in Walderstown, the race quickly heads towards Corr Cross/Athlone, before turning towards the Mount Temple direction. The race then heads in the direction of Mullingar, before turning to complete the race in Walderstown.
Along with the Irish participants, motorcyclists from Scotland, England, the Isle of Man and Wales are planning to take part in the Race of the South. The annual event is promoted by the North Westmeath-based Fore Motor Cycle Racing Club.