The 2001 Ulster Grand Prix Race Report

The 2001 Ulster Grand Prix will be remembered for some of the best racing on the famous Dundrod circuit for years, but will forever be overshadowed by the tragic death of a Marshall, who was hit by Ian Lougher's 600 Suzuki on the last lap of the Regal 600 Race.

We would like to offer our condolences to the family of the deceased, and I'm sure I speak for everyone in the Road Racing Community, when I say that our thoughts are with them. It was an unfortunate end to the day for Lougher, who had been the man of the day up to that point, dominating proceedings on his Temple Auto Salvage Suzuki's.

The freak incident overshadowed what was the best day of his long career to date but more of that later. The first race of the day was the Newcomers Race. Billy Nutt had been canny enough to realise that without the Manx Grand Prix and TT, there was an opening for a race to accommodate race hungry riders, who might not normally ride at the Ulster. However, he had decided that the race would be for Newcomers to the event, rather than the course, so Seamus Greene, Martin Finnegan, Gary Jess and others were allowed to take part.

Gary Jess leads Seamus Greene, Martin Finnegan, Bruce Anstey
and eventual winner Richard Quayle

And it was Greene, Finnegan and Jess who had impressed the most, during a frantic qualifying session. However, if you looked at some of the other rider's performances in other classes, you would see that Bruce Anstey and Richard Quayle would feature in the race.

The race started at a frantic pace, and it wasn't long before the red flags were out because of a five-man pile up at Rushy Hill. Nobody was seriously hurt, but Barry Davidson and David Murtagh were taken to hospital with arm injuries. On the re-start, the pace was no slower, and it was Gary Jess who led a five-rider group including Greene, Quayle, Anstey and Finnegan.

The difference in class of rider in this race was alarmingly massive, and quite dangerous. The top five riders ended up featuring well in the main races later in the day, whilst the slower riders in the Newcomers Race were a lot slower, and many people, including some riders, thought the race was highly dangerous. Their pace was so hot, established riders like Keith Townsend were struggling to make the top ten.

The top five were never more than a bike length apart throughout the race, and any one of the riders could have won. On the final lap the red flags went out again because of an incident at the hairpin, so the result stood from the previous lap, making it a three-lap race in the end. So it was a proud Manxman Quayle who took the victory on Mark John's RC45 Honda ahead of the impressive Jess riding the Beacon Security R7 Yamaha (rumoured to have cost £40,000 to put together) and New Zealander Bruce Anstey. Pole sitter Seamus Greene finished fourth ahead of twenty one year old Martin Finnegan on the Team Ireland GSXR Suzuki.

The Newcomers Race promised so much, but in the end it was a bit of an anti climax after being red flagged twice. It is unlikely that there will be another such race at next years event, however it has served a purpose of introducing riders like Quayle and Anstey to Dundrod, and hopefully they will return.

Next up was the first of the Open Races, which turned out to be the race of the day. In qualifying Ian Lougher had surprised a lot of people, not least pre race favourite David Jefferies, with his speed on the Temple Auto Salvage GSXR Suzuki although the giant Yorkshire man, still thought he could win come the race.

David Jefferies leads Ian Lougher in the first Open Race

It was Lougher who got the hole shot down the flying kilo for the first time with Jefferies, Ryan Farquhar, Richard Britton, Ian Duffus and Adrian Archibald, among the riders in the chasing pack.

By lap two; Jefferies had edged ahead of Lougher, with Farquhar still in third, but dropping back from the two leaders. Jefferies continued to lead for the best part of the race, but the experienced Lougher was biding his time, finding out where Jefferies was slower and on the last lap he made his move. It was a fantastically brave manoeuvre, and Jefferies wasn't expecting it. The diminutive Welshman rode round the outside of DJ at the notorious Wheeler's Corner, and powered on to take one of the best victories of his career by the smallest of margins.

Behind the top two, there was a race long battle between the Irish pairing of Ryan Farquhar on Winston McAdoo's Yamaha and Richard Britton on Patsy O'Kane's R1. Farquhar had led Britton for the entire race, but on the last lap, slow starting Adrian Archibald caught his fellow countrymen, before squeezing past on the start of the final lap. Farquhar had to settle for fourth with Britton fifth.

Ryan Farquhar leads Richard Britton as Adrian Archibald gives chase

Former Dundrod lap record holder Welshman, Jason Griffiths on the Morris Holdings Yamaha was sixth, ahead of Ian Duffus riding a production GSXR Suzuki. It was to be an action packed day for Lougher, and after jumping off the mighty 1000cc Suzuki, he was straight out on Mike Kelly's 125 Honda.

He was again fastest in practice, but was under no illusions that come the race; he was in for an out and out scrap with Robert Dunlop on the Crossan Honda. That is exactly what happened with the pair of them disappearing from the chasing pack after only half a lap, to start a titanic battle which was to last the entire race.

They continually swapped positions on every lap and Robert had to work harder than at any other time this year to maintain his unbeaten run of victories in the 125cc class in Ireland.

Robert Dunlop was never more than a bike length ahead of Ian Lougher

Coming out of the chicane for the final time both riders were neck and neck, but as Lougher missed a gear on the Lloyds TSB backed bike, Dunlop gained the advantage, and crossed the line, half a bike's length ahead of his long time rival. Behind them there was a great battle between James Crumpton, Davy Lemon, Ashley Law and Marc Curtain.

All four riders took their turn at leading the bunch, before Crumpton and Lemon edged ahead to battle for the final rostrum position. At the line it was Crumpton just ahead of Lemon, with Marc Curtain from Dublin in fifth ahead of the impressive Ashley Law.

Davy Lemon leads James Crumpton in the 125 encounter

The Production Race was next, which had the smallest entry of the day, however that was more than made up for by the quality. In practice it had become clear, that if you weren't on a Suzuki, you didn't have much chance of winning against the super quick and super light GSXR's.

When the lights went green, it was again the man from Rhoose in Wales, who led the field away. It was to prove Lougher's easiest race of the day, as he controlled proceedings from the front, edging away to put enough distance between himself and the chasing pack taking an easy win on Hector's Suzuki.

Ian Duffus leads Adrian Archibald on the approach to Wheeler's

Ian Duffus had his highest placed finish of the day coming home second ahead of Adrian McFarland having his best ride for some time in third, giving Chris Dowd something to smile about. Adrian Archibald was the first non-Suzuki home on his Honda Fireblade in fourth place, who was giving away a fair few miles per hour on his 900cc machine.

Bruce Anstey continued his excellent debut in fifth with Seamus Greene in only his second ever International meeting coming home sixth. Following on from the Production Race was the Supersport 600 Race, involving most of the same riders, plus a few more including David Jefferies. It was to end in tragic circumstances, as we have already mentioned, but the race itself up to that point was one of the very best I have witnessed for some time on any circuit.

The quality entry headed of like a swarm of bees down towards Leathemstown on the first lap and by the time they had got half way round the first circuit, three riders had made a break from the main pack. They were unsurprisingly David Jefferies, Adrian Archibald, and Ian Lougher.

For the rest of the race, the three of them raced as close as any three riders have raced at Dundrod before, showing supreme faith in each others abilities, and a level of bravery that is not shown in any other sport. All three took their turns at leading, and again, any of the three riders was in with a chance of winning.

Then disaster struck. Going into the chicane for the final time Adrian Archibald was leading ahead of Lougher and Jefferies. Lougher went in hard, trying to make a pass on the Ballamoney man, but clipped the temporary kerbstone on the way in. He was spat off the 600 Suzuki unhurt, but his machine gathered momentum, before hitting the ditch on the outside of the bend, flipping up high into the air and into the trees, hitting a marshal on the way to it's final resting place in the garden of the house which is hidden behind the trees.

As we now know the marshal was killed supporting the sport he would have loved like the rest of us. I'm sure that investigations will be made into the accident by the authorities, and some people will be looking to blame someone. The rider could not be blamed. It was a racing accident that unfortunately happens in this sport. The marshal himself was in a position, which has been manned for years without any problem - it was a freak accident.

The only thing, which might come up, is the reason behind the chicanes inclusion to the Dundrod circuit. It was put in place after Owen McNally lost his life at the corner in 1999, when his machine seized. However, if a bike was to seize almost anywhere on the super fast circuit, the outcome could be quite awful. So do you put a chicane in at every corner? Due to the speed he was travelling at the time, and the speed at which he hit the bank, the injuries McNally sustained were fatal. The chicane does slow the riders down, but it is extremely tight, and was the cause of another accident during practice.

The fact is that had it not have been there the marshal would still be here today. It is a hard one to call, but one thing is for sure. The majority of the riders would like to see it removed next year.

Back to the race. Archibald held on for his first win of the day on what was really his only competitive bike under the circumstances ahead of Jefferies. Richard Britton proved again that he is still one of Irelands best 600cc riders coming home in third ahead of Dungannon's Ryan Farquhar. Fifth place went to Jason Griffiths, having a lonely ride on the Road and Track Motorcycles Yamaha with Gary Jess sixth, completing a memorable day for the talented young rider.

It is interesting to note that in seventh place in this race, was Martin Finnegan. At twenty-one years of age, Martin has to be the hottest property Pure Road Racing has seen since James Courtney first came onto the scene. He beat experienced 600cc campaigners like Milky Quayle, John Donnan, Adrian McFarland and Colin Rodgers on his Team Ireland Suzuki. He plans to debut at the TT next year and it will be interesting to see how he gets on after his impressive performances at last years Manx. Let's hope the TT organisers realise his potential as well, and offer him the appropriate support. A TT winner of the future? I wouldn't bet against it.

The youngest rider at the meeting Martin Finnegan rode well all day

The atmosphere at Dundrod understandably started to become more subdued at this stage, and it wasn't helped by the long delay to clear up after the accident and the arrival of the Dundrod standard weather - rain. When the 350/250 Classic Race got underway, the roads were wet, and as the race went on, the weather got worse.

Colin Rodgers won the race in emphatic style leading from the off to finish over twenty seconds ahead of his nearest rival. That rival, was Phil Sharp having an excellent ride to second ahead of Tony Myers. Luke Norton was next ahead of Bill Swallow, with the first of the 250's in the shape of Bud Jackson rounding off the top six. A rider worthy of a mention here is Geoff McMullan, who everyone remembers for the wrong reasons at last years TT. He was going very well on his 250cc Suzuki and was battling it out for fourth place overall, before breaking down.

The organisers were keen to get the next race underway quickly, with time against them and the weather worsening. The riders were soon on the warm up lap for the feature race, 'The Stannifer / Snoddons Ulster Grand Prix' but to be fair we had already seen the best of the day's action. Several riders decided to give the race a miss including Ian Lougher, who had wisely decided that he shouldn't go out after the accident, and Gary Jess amongst others.

By the time the race was started the rain was falling heavily, and everyone was thinking that without Lougher on the grid, it would take a good man to beat DJ, taking his 2000 Production TT win into consideration. It was Jefferies who led the field away, pulling out a good lead halfway round the first lap. Richard Britton was hot on his heels, before he broke down, letting Ryan Farquhar and Adrian Archibald through, the latter man having another poor start. Along with Britton, other first lap retirements, included Ian Duffus and Seamus Greene.

At the end of the lap, Jefferies was still in the lead, but Archibald was past Farquhar and flying. By The Windmills he had caught the six times TT winner taking advantage of the treacherous conditions, which were making his somewhat sluggish Blade a little bit more competitive.

The crowd look on as Archibald heads for victory in the difficult conditions

It wasn't long before he was past Jefferies, and after another lap, he had left him with some awesomely smooth but fast riding in the wet. Archibald was arguably the best rider on show at the 2001 Ulster Grand Prix, but riding a Honda Fireblade, which was much slower than his Suzuki and Yamaha rivals, he had to ride the wheels of it to stay in touch. He took a deserved win, and salvaged a good day for himself, after having to carry the weight of the local's expectations on the run up to the event.

Jefferies settled for a safe second place on a day when he had to go away without a victory. Not something that happens very often to this man. With no support from Yamaha expected for the V&M Team again in 2002, it will be interesting to see if they stick with the R1 again next year, or switch to the now Road Race proven 1000cc GSXR Suzuki.

Ryan Farquhar continued with his rise to the very top of the tree in Road Racing terms with a fine third place on Winston McAdoo's R1. Fourth, although someway back, was Jason Griffiths who was another rider having a lonely ride in the well spaced out pack ahead of Adrian McFarland with another good finish. In sixth place was Ashley Law having one of the rides of the day on his 250cc Honda. His corner speed was amazing on a two stroke in the slippery conditions.

This race proved to be the last one. With the road closing order running out, the organisers had no alternative but to cancel the Senior Classic race, and in fact the Classic Parade. During the day, we had seen the very highest and the very lowest ends of this addictive sport, and the mood around Dundrod at the end of the day was a sombre one.

But let us not forget the great racing we had during the day with Ian Lougher proving just how good a rider he is, Adrian Archibald showing he has the ability to go with the position he is in as Honda's number one Road Racer, new stars such as Richard Quayle, Martin Finnegan, Seamus Greene, Gary Jess and Bruce Anstey (who is new to racing four strokes remember) mixing it with the stars, plus the many other great memories from the 2001 Ulster Grand Prix.

At the same time our thoughts should also turn to the family of the marshal killed during the 600cc Race.

Let's hope that his memory will be marked by efforts to continue to improve safety levels at Road Races rather than the sports enemies using it as another way of hammering the nails into Road Racings coffin.

Words - Paul Phillips
Pictures - Will Price

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