The Ulster Grand Prix has been cancelled for 2024, with the organising club behind Ireland's most historic motorcycle road race citing ongoing insurance problems as the reason why the event will not run for a fifth-straight year.
The race last took place in 2019 before first the COVID-19 pandemic forced two editions to be cancelled and then issues that have beset all of Northern Ireland’s road racing prevented its return.
Race organiser the Dundrod and District Motorcycle Club announced the decision, saying in a brief statement that the race planned for the first weekend in August this year would not be staged.
“Despite recent positive negotiations with stakeholders of the event, the club has been left with no choice but to take this course of action given motorcycle sport's ongoing insurance issues and a lack of sufficient time to find a solution to these challenges,” it said.
First held in 1922, the race was one of the original rounds of the Grand Prix World Championship when it was founded in 1949, with legends of the sport such as Mike Hailwood, Giacomo Agostini and John Surtees all multiple winners.
The Ulster GP, staged on the outskirts of Belfast, lost its Grand Prix status in 1972 amid increasing sectarian violence in Northern Ireland and became an event for road-racing specialists thereafter, with local hero Joey Dunlop a 24-time race winner around the Dundrod circuit.
This cancellation, coupled with the decision late last year to call off the Tandragee 100 for a second year in a row as part of its course still needs resurfacing, means the only road races set to take place in Northern Ireland in 2024 will be the Cookstown 100 (April 26-27), the North West 200 (May 8-11), and the Armoy Race of Legends (July 26-27).
That nonetheless marks an improvement on the initial plans for 2023, when insurance issues threatened to cancel the entire Irish racing season only for a cash injection to save some Northern Irish races at the eleventh hour.
However, with racing on the island of Ireland still split between two governing bodies and with last year’s emergency funding only supporting racing in Northern Ireland, it means that for a second season in a row there will be no road racing at all in the Republic of Ireland, with historic events such as the Skerries 100 and Kells Road Races unable to go ahead.
The Irish racing scene has faced a substantial increase in insurance premiums in recent years thanks to a number of high-profile incidents, while the pandemic and the collapse of local government in Northern Ireland have added additional strain to local clubs already under pressure.
Already struggling financially even before the hike in insurance prices, it now looks increasingly like there is a difficult future ahead for domestic-level road racing, at least without substantial structural reforms.
Racing is currently run by a loose coalition of largely semi-professional or amateur clubs with little in the way of oversight or coordination.