Anyone who’s paid even a small amount of attention to the 2023 Northern Irish Road Racing season knows that it’s been a rollercoaster ride. Now that it’s May 12 and the 2023 North West 200 is officially underway, yet another spanner of controversy just got thrown into the works.
On May 11, 2023, the FHO BMW Racing Team officially announced that it is withdrawing its leading machines and riders Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes from the event, before they’ve even raced a centimeter.
The reason? The team’s official statement doesn’t beat about the bush in explaining. It reads, “The FHO Racing BMW Motorrad team are withdrawing from the 2023 fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 due to no confidence in the application of the Superstock technical regulations.”
It goes on to describe the exact issue at hand in no uncertain terms. “The Superstock class technical regulations mandate the machines must fully comply with conditions regarding the wheels, where Superstock machines must remain with the originally homologated wheels from the manufacturer, which from BMW are carbon. It then goes on to prohibit carbon material, however aftermarket wheels are also not allowed and no mandated alternative specification is prescribed.”
Things only get worse as the statement continues. “The FHO Racing BMW M 1000 RR machines passed scrutineering on Tuesday (9 May) and were allowed to take part in all qualifying sessions before being informed they were not allowed to race moments before the Briggs Equipment Superstock race this evening.”
“Having taken this issue out with the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 organizers, there is no confidence that the FHO Racing riders could take part in a race with the obvious dangers and risks that road racing prevents and then the performance protested or disqualified on a technicality that is not adequately explained,” it says.
Perhaps most damningly of all, it reads, “The FHO Racing team have checked the 2023 technical regulations against those of 2022 and the regulations remain the same, where the team raced the carbon homologated wheels in both Superstock races, as well as the event in 2019.”
The team then goes on to express regret at their inability to compete given the circumstances, and to offer apologies to all fans and sponsors who were clearly expecting to see their favorite team and riders compete in the 2023 North West 200 Superstock race.
“The effort, commitment and logistics required to compete in the North West 200 are significant and this lack of confidence in the organization renders the team’s participation in this year’s event impossible. The FHO Racing team would like to sincerely apologize to all its sponsors and fans, and the team are now looking forward to getting back out on the roads in a few weeks' time at the Isle of Man TT Races,” it concludes.
On May 12, 2023, North West 200 organizers issued a statement of their own regarding the controversy. It begins, “the technical regulations of the Motorcycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre), under which the fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200 is run, state that carbon wheels are not permitted for use at any MCUI (road race event.”
“Those regulations, which are implemented by the MCUI Stewards of the Meeting, were approved by the sport’s governing body in January 2023 and published on the North West 200’s website at that stage,” it continues.
It goes on to say that, “the FHO Racing BMW team were informed by the MCUI’s Stewards after qualifying on Thursday afternoon that their riders, Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes, would be excluded from the Briggs Equipment Superstock race as their machines were fitted with carbon wheels. The NW200 organizers were informed of the Stewards’ decision, which is final and binding upon the event, at 21.30pm on Thursday night during the final Stewards meeting.”
“No such action had been discussed with the NW200 organizers prior to this time despite the machines having been scrutineered on both Tuesday and Thursday morning,” it says, which agrees with the information presented by FHO Racing BMW.
“We deeply regret the FHO Racing BMW team’s decision to withdraw from the event tonight as a result of this action, a sentiment we know will be shared by all NW200 race fans,” the North West 200 organizers’ statement concludes.
That may be the case—but as FHO Racing BMW asked in its own statement on the matter, what could the team possibly have done differently? They’re racing BMW M 1000 RRs, which come stock with carbon wheels. Aftermarket wheels are not allowed according to the rules, and apparently carbon fiber wheels are also not allowed as of 2023.
More than that, though, it seems that bad communication is the root of most of the problems here. The fact that both bikes passed scrutineering on both Tuesday and Thursday morning, only to be disqualified at almost the midnight before race day—that seems like good reason for FHO Racing BMW to lose confidence.