[UPDATE, February 10, 2023: Following an emergency meeting between the Ulster Centre of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland and insurance providers on February 9, 2023, MCUI (UC) has canceled the Ulster Grand Prix, Cookstown 100, Tandragee 100, Armoy Race of Legends, and Sunflower trophy at Bishopscourt.
Despite insurance rates tripling since last year, the North West 200 organizers will still pursue every option to keep the event on the 2023 calendar. Public liability insurance covers injuries and property damage at road racing events. With fatal crashes plaguing the 2022 Isle of Man TT and the general instability of the insurance market, providers aren't taking the risks of road racing lightly.
As a result, some race fans are calling for spectators to shoulder their fair share of the burden.
"The general public have had free racing and free viewing for 50 years and some people expect that to continue but it can't," 11-time Isle of Man TT winner Phillip McCallen told BBC. "You don't go to Windsor Park and get in for nothing, so you shouldn't have free spectating at the North West 200, for example.
Now, all the hopes rest on Northern Ireland's most prominent event, the North West 200, to keep road racing on the docket in 2023. However, the situation seems much cloudier for the future.
“The consensus was that the costs proposed were, at this time, unsustainable for most clubs in order to provide the required public liability cover to run our planned events," the MCUI (UC) noted in a released statement. “The MCUI (UC) will, however, continue to pursue all options for the provision of Public Liability insurance, should they arise in the near future.
Original piece follows.
Staging road races has been far from a cakewalk over the past few years. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out most events—including the Isle of Man TT—organizers have contended with rising costs and dwindling funds.
The Ulster Grand Prix failed to pay its winners in 2019 as a result. Though the event returned to the calendar in 2022, insufficient funding ultimately forced organizers to cancel the race yet again.
2023 may yield the same result. But, this time, skyrocketing insurance rates could be road racing’s undoing. Quoted costs for public liability insurance have more than tripled since last year. For the Ulster Centre of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland alone, insurance costs have spiked to £330,000 (~$400,000 USD) for five road races and short circuit/trials events.
That dwarfs the £110,000 (~$135,000 USD) paid by the organization in 2022. When including other elements covered under the policy, the total balloons to £410,000 (~$500,000). In turn, organizing clubs would need to pay £53,280 (~$65,000 USD) in insurance bills. That's a far cry from the £16,850 (~$20,000 USD) charged by insurers in 2022.
The escalating prices threaten the Cookstown 100 (April 21-22, 2023), Tandragee 100 (April 28-29, 2023), North West 200 (May 9-13, 2023) Armoy (July 28-29, 2023) and, of course, the Ulster Grand Prix (August 18-19, 2023). Pegged as one of the most celebrated races in the region, the North West 200 faces a rate hike from £30,800 (~$37,300 USD) to £97,000 (~$117,500 USD) on its own.
The MCUI (UC) isn’t taking the markups lying down, though. The organization has engaged in negotiations with insurance providers for months. On the evening of Thursday, February 9, 2023, the two entities will meet again in an attempt to reach a last-minute deal. If insurers don’t provide some relief, however, we may go yet another year without prominent road racing events.
Sources: BBC (1), (2), News Letter, Belfast Telegraph