NW200 “Massive Shock, makes prep for TT difficult…” - Gary Johnson

Gary Johnson thinks the NW200 cancellation is a massive blow, for riders both at the top and bottom of the road racing grid

CBR1000RR-R SP Gary Johnson Oulton Park

THE news that the NW200 has been cancelled for 2023 has made headlines today, as the shock story landed in the early hours of this morning.

Statements from Motorcycle Ireland and the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre) both cited insurance cost increases as the main reason for the cancellation. A full article explaining in detail what is going on can be found here, but that is just the view from above. To get a rider’s eye view of the situation, we caught up with two-time Isle of Man TT winner Gary Johnson.

“I’ve just got back from a trip snowboarding actually and was fully energised to get this season’s racing well underway. Suomy is sorting a new helmet to use this year, I’m just sorting out what bikes to use and where… yeah, I was excited.”

Was the news this morning a big shock, then?

“Yeah, massive. I’ve heard some rumours, you know, as you do, through the grapevine so to speak, but you kind of brush them off. Then I read it this morning, officially - wow. It is a big blow. I had a similar feeling about Macau the year that got cancelled. If anything, from my side, it [the rumours] pushed me to take part in more of the International Road Race Championship (IRRC) events I’ve been doing.”

Do you think this could be something more long-running than just a one-year cancellation?

“The trouble is, when a race has a little unplanned break like we had at the TT over the Covid years, it allows those people who are maybe against the races taking place to gain a little foothold and gather a bit of a following. Regardless of the amount of money road racing brings in [for local communities], there is always someone that is against it happening, no matter how historic the event is.”

Do you see this as a risk to the TT, or is that event big enough to ride this sort of thing out?

“In the short term, no; in the long term, who knows? The TT is massive, and known globally as the biggest motorcycle road race, quite possibly motorsport event, on the planet. Because of that, it’s a huge revenue generator for the Isle of Man and financially helps out everyone on the island. It’s also part of the fabric of the place, I think that should give it some protection.”

And in terms of the racers who use NW200 as prep for the TT, how is this going to affect them?

“There are a few sides to this… For one thing, you don’t now have the outlay for the NW200, bike prep, travel, fuel, entry fees and so on. So you have a bit more budget there. But for the riders further down the grid who need that event to gain some sponsorship money… with only one really major road race on the calendar this year, it makes it harder to go to a sponsor and ask for ‘X’-amount of cash for what looks like less coverage. And then the guys at the top who get wins and podiums, they’ll be without the prize money… although in hindsight most of them can probably afford to lose out on a couple of quid here or there!

“But you have to be prepared for the Isle of Man. You, your bike, your team. The only way you can do that is with seat time.”

Will riders now be looking elsewhere for that seat time?

“The NW200 is a great place to get your eye in, you know, you’re doing 200 f***in mile an hour, between the ditches; that is not real-world stuff! You’re getting into the upper stratosphere at those speeds, but that’s what you’re going to have to get used to[, to be] ready for the TT. The NW200 is the best preparation for the Isle of Man, no doubt about it.”

You’ve been dipping into the IRRC stuff recently, could those races start to get busy with TT riders looking for an event?

“Well, let’s not forget, this is just NW200 cancelling, not all road racing in Ireland, although there are question marks… I think people would be foolish not to consider at least some [IRRC] rounds. Yeah, it’s logistics and money – everyone knows what it’ll cost to get to the NW200, or the TT, we’ve done it a million times before. But if you strip this IRRC stuff back a bit, it’s not massively expensive. So yes, I definitely see the likes of the IRRC benefiting from this happening. It’s just another angle, to get their eye in and to get some sponsorship money.”

What next for you?

“Not a lot, mate, still chipping away at stuff. My bike shop, North Lincolnshire Motorcycles, is as busy as ever so I need to get back in there asap. Then I’m just sorting out what racing I’m doing and where to do it… But you know what, after my holiday, I’m not sure if I might become a pro snowboarder, I’m getting pretty good at that!”.

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