MCE Insurance Ulster Grand Prix Clerk of the Course Noel Johnston has announced significant changes to the practice and racing schedule for the 2018 event, which will be held between 5th – 11th August.
The Dundrod 150 national road races, which traditionally ran on the Thursday of Bike Week, will be replaced with an extended running order for the international MCE Ulster Grand Prix.
Thursday 9th August will now see four road races, comprising Supersport, Ultralightweight/Lightweight, Supertwins and the first of three Superbike races. The Dundrod 150 Challenge and National races will not take place.
Seven races will run on Saturday 11th August in the following order; Superstock, Supersport, Ultralightweight/Lightweight, Superbike, Supersport, Supertwins and Superbike.
All Superbike, Superstock and Supersport races will be open to international licence holders only. The Ultralightweight/Lightweight and Supertwins races will all be open to both national and international licence holders.
The Superpole session, which was introduced in 2016 as a qualifier for the top 10 superbike competitors, will be replaced with a 15 minute warm up session on Saturday morning for all Supersport, Superstock and Superbike machines.
Practice sessions for all classes will be held as normal on Wednesday 8th August and the morning of Thursday 9th August. The first 15 minutes of all practice sessions on Wednesday will be untimed.
Noel Johnston said: “I’ve reviewed how the event runs and taken on board many different views over the past couple of years before making any changes.
“Ultimately these decisions have been made with both safety and practicality in mind and we must keep pushing the bar on both fronts as Bike Week continues to grow.
“I know there will be riders who are disappointed that two of the national races are going but we see this as the best way to keep progressing the event, and please be assured that the decision wasn’t taken lightly.
“The untimed practice sessions on Wednesday and the 15 minute warm up session on the Saturday morning instead of Superpole have been included to enhance safety precautions, allowing everyone time to get used to the track, and the conditions on that particular day,” he said.
Johnston will also introduce new policies for rider entries, both for newcomers and regular riders.
“Unfortunately there are still too many unnecessary rider error incidents for my liking and because of that I’ll be looking closely at each entry before accepting them.
“Every year I hold a briefing session for all competitors and one of the key messages for everyone, but particularly relevant for newcomers, is that Dundrod is an incredibly fast and technical circuit which must be treated with respect, and that means doing a serious amount of homework before you ever head out on a closed road.
“To that end, the overall number of newcomers will be restricted, it will be mandatory for newcomers to attend an induction day with us and they must be prepared to put in some serious groundwork in advance of taking to the grid for the first time.
“I’d like to thank in advance all of our stakeholders including the race fans and of course the competitors for continuing to work with us to achieve a common goal; which is a safe, enjoyable and successful Bike Week for everyone,” he added.
2017 MCE UGP Man of the Meeting Peter Hickman commented: “These changes are being made for the good of everyone, not just the riders but also the spectators and I think the fans are going to get an even better show from now on.
“The Ulster will now be a much bigger event and that’s the whole point, to make the event the biggest, the best and the safest it can be.
“The introduction of a warm up session on the Saturday morning instead of Superpole is really good. It just means that you go out fresh off the bat, get a good run round without any pressure, make sure everything is alright and get yourself into the groove for racing. It’s definitely the right way forward.
“The Dundrod circuit is the fastest in the world and the changes are all about making sure everyone gives it the respect it deserves,” he added.
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