Derek McGee uses trials riding to maintain his skills when there’s no road racing.

Walderstown added to list of cancelled races in 2021

A move that had looked likely is now official and this year’s Race of the South at Walderstown has been cancelled.

Michael Halpin, chairman of Fore Motorcycle Club (promoters of the event in Walderstown, near Athlone), confirmed the news to the Westmeath Examiner last week.

He said: “Unfortunately we’re not able to run at the moment, because the Sports Council is not going to let Motorcycle Ireland issue us with a permit, the way the coronavirus is at the moment, in a level 5 lockdown.

“We’d have to start spending money now, and by July we still might not get a permit, so the safest option is to cancel.”

Sean Bisset from Motorcycle Ireland, speaking in February, said that a number of road races had already been cancelled by then. “It looks like they’ll all be cancelled,” he said.

“It’s a joint thing – the insurance is so high and it’s divided between five clubs, and if one drops out it gets higher [for the others], if two drop out, it gets higher again, and it soon gets prohibitive.”

“The Isle of Man is cancelled, that’s a major event, most of the BSB (British superbike championship) is put back to later in the year, the North West 200, which is one of the biggest events, is cancelled, Tandragee too.

“We haven’t taken out insurance for 2021, because last year we lost in the region of €70,000 on insurance, and as most of the clubs aren’t running, it gets dearer for the rest.”

So there will be no road racing in the republic in 2021, and asked what a club like Fore does to keep volunteers engaged in that scenario, Michael Halpin admitted it is hard: “Last year we planned to run motocross in the off season [early in the year], and then with Covid that didn’t happen, so we were going to run it for the summer, and it didn’t happen, and then we were looking at October.

“We had people built up, so it’s going to be very hard to get people motivated next time around, unless we do run something, even a small motocross event in the summer, when can get to run it, naturally when it’s safe and the country’s back up and running.

“If we don’t do something, it’s going to be very hard to build momentum for next year.”

As in the wider world outside of road racing, much remains uncertain and Michael said getting over the pandemic was the important thing. Derek McGee agreed with that sentiment when asked what a racer does when there’s no racing.

“We say that we’re hoping to get back to racing, but first of all we have to get over Covid and hope that everyone’s safe, and then start thinking about racing again,” he said.

Keeping himself race fit, considering he saw no action last year and doesn’t know what he will see this year, is also a consideration. Derek began 2020 with a three-day test in Spain and was getting geared up for the season when the pandemic struck.

“Very little went ahead – Cookstown did in September, but we chose not to do it. We said for the sake of one race, it wasn’t worth it. We had all our bikes ready and I had good fitness as well, but we said we’d stay out and get ready for this year, but unfortunately everything looks like it’s cancelled again.”

There is a possibility that the Armoy (Antrim) and Cookstown (Tyrone) races could run at the end of the year, and Derek would do those, as well as Scarborough in the UK. “I’ve never done that one, and it’s on the bucket list to do it, but it normally clashes with something, so this year might be the chance to do it.”

What does he do to maintain fitness? “I still do a lot of cycling, trials riding, and a bit of enduro riding and motocross. I’m out most weekends on the bikes, so I’d say I’m quite sharp at the minute, still ready to go. I do a lot of pit bike riding as well, or I did up until the Covid restrictions, and that would be the closest you’d have till you can get on the track bikes again. I’d go to the track in Athboy, about once a week, till the restrictions came in.

“It’s pretty similar, it will keep you sharp, it’s basically the same as what we’re doing in the racing – it’s slick tyres and you’re on tarmac, so it keeps you in touch. Pit bikes are getting big here, it’s good for bringing on young lads, you can start at a young age and it’s relatively safe.”

“Obviously, there’s nothing like being on the race bike, and that’s different fitness as well, but you can only train with what you have, and just be prepared for when the races come up.”

There is a certain level of crossover between the disciplines. “Trials is all technique, it’s good for your balance and throttle control, and it’s a pretty safe way of training as well – there’s no real speed involved, so that’s one plus to it. Enduro is just for building your stamina. You’re on the bike for a couple of hours, so it’s really for fitness.”

Derek still gets out on the pushbike, but doesn’t do the really big miles when there’s no racing to prepare for: “When I’m training for the season, by around this time I’d be putting up over 200k, maybe 250k, a week, but I’ve let it slip a little bit, being honest. I’m still doing a bit, but when there’s no racing coming up, I can let it wait for later, so we’ll wait till it warms up a bit!

“When you know it’s coming, you want to get prepared, but even so, I’m always doing something physical, whether it’s riding trials or enduro, or on the bicycle, I keep active. I have a gym at home so I do a bit of that as well. It’s about mixing it up and keeping it interesting.”

Derek’s race bikes are prepared and ready to go, and he has spoken to other teams about certain classes. “We can’t say much because we don’t know what’s happening. I have a couple of options, but we’ll just have to see what’s going ahead and then make a decision.

“In Moto3, I’d hope to ride Francesco [Faraldo]’s 250 again, but he won’t be doing anything this year, he wouldn’t come over just for two races. He’s based in the Isle of Man, and he has a small set-up, so I wouldn’t expect him to come over. Hopefully for 2022, we’ll do a full season with him again.

“But even 2022 is going to be tough. A lot of my sponsors are small businesses and a lot of them are struggling now and you can’t really go and approach people for a bit of sponsorship and them struggling themselves. I think it’s really only going to hit in 2022 when you’re looking to do a full season.”

Thomas Maxwell.

Thomas Maxwell

Thomas Maxwell is another rider who’s considering the Scarborough races in England “if we can, and if nothing goes ahead in Ireland”.

He has also thought about doing rounds of the Thundersport series in the UK (a step below superbikes), but Covid uncertainty combined with possible Brexit complications mean he’s not sure.

He would definitely do Armoy and Cookstown if they go ahead, but either way he’s going to the Portimão circuit in the Algarve for a three-day test in April, along with his mechanic Eoghan Tolan.

“It’s to keep sharp, because otherwise you’re looking at nearly two years without any track time. I want to get as much track time as I can this summer, so there’s that, hopefully Scarborough, and a few of the Thundersport rounds and, please God, we get to do Armoy and Cookstown.”

While he waits to see what will happen, Thomas also does off road riding for fitness and keeping bike sharp, but racing is on hold for now.