North West 200 in jeopardy without extra funding, warns race chief

The 2023 North West 200 is at risk from being cancelled if it isn't able to secure extra funding and investment, according to race chief Mervyn Whyte

Glenn Irwin - Honda Racing CBR1000RR [credit: North West 200 Pacemaker]

The North West 200 road race won’t go next year ahead without funding and support to secure its future, according to race chief Mervyn Whyte.

Regarded as one of the world’s foremost road races and warm-up for the Isle of Man TT that traditionally kicks off a fortnight later, the North West 200 - Northern Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event - is facing a funding shortfall to fill key roles, improve facilities and ensure maintenance.

Appealing to the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council, Whyte says the event is ‘at a crossroads’ and is at risk of not going ahead at all in 2023 unless it can secure additional funding to complete necessary tasks.

“What we are proposing is an expansion to the current partnership with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council,” said Whyte.

“Without it, and it’s not a threat by any means, but the North West 200 is at a crossroads and we may not run the event in 2023.

“Staff who were vital to the succession plan for the new management leadership have gone, an ageing Motor Club membership has caught up with us and we need new people to carry the event forward.

“We have lost our course build manager who, after many, many years, has resigned basically because of health reasons, along with some of our other key club members.

“A small allocation of office space is needed as well and we need to support and recruit an event manager to take over the development of the event, and plan for the next five to 10 years.”

Pointing to examples of other high-profile annual events - such as the TT, the Glastonbury music festival and the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin - Whyte has urged the council to take this opportunity to invest in the future of the North West 200 by considering its success over the years.

“I’m really talking about securing the success of the past, for the future,” he said.

“The North West 200 is like any entity — it needs cultivating and it needs managing. This borough is the jewel in the crown of Northern Ireland and the North West 200 is the jewel in the crown of annual events in NI.

“When we look at other world-class event near us — when you look at Glastonbury, the Isle of Man TT, the St Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin — all have changed and transitioned over the years, and been developed and invested (in) both commercially and publicly over the last 10 years.

“That’s really what has set them apart and made them must-see events for the future. The NW200 can be on the same trajectory if we develop our partnership.

“That is not possible with the existing team — it has outgrown Coleraine and District Motor Club.

“I appreciate all the in-kind support over the years but we’re looking for Council to come on board and help us build the course, and we need financial support and an event manager.”

Despite the bleak warning, the North West 200’s appeal has gained prominent support from political quarters, including North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley, who says losing the event will cost the local economy £12 million.

“This can’t be lost. It cannot be allowed to go,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Permanent secretaries from the relevant [government] departments are well across the details.

“If they don’t [do something], another great opportunity [for] Northern Ireland will wither on the vine.”

The North West 200, which returned from a two-year hiatus prompted by COVID in May, was dominated by local hero Glenn Irwin in the Superbike races.