“I’m not returning…it’s too dangerous” and with those words the 2017 Macau Grand Prix Winner, Glen Irwin opted out of this year’s Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix event.

A pity really, but not unexpected given the tragic end to last year’s race which was red flagged after the crash and tragic death of Daniel Hegarty. Glen’s not a road racer, and the steely resolve required to compete in Macau just 12 months after his death just wasn’t in him…besides he had nothing to prove.

It must be said that it’s been a bad year on the roads but Macau really isn’t a road race, a dangerous street circuit, yes but not a true road circuit. A track that needs to be respected at every twist and turn…yes, absolutely. If you’ve never been to the Guia Circuit, there are no run off areas, no gravel traps and no escape…just Armco and a bit of foam padding, take your chances at your own peril. It’s best handled by the Road Racers but as Glen showed, given the right bike a ‘Short Tracker’ can win in Macau.

“I think we’re allowed to feel emotional and even angry in a sense – it doesn’t mean you want road racing banned or that you don’t love the sport, but it leaves you questioning a lot of things.”

Glen was emotionally distraught at the end of the race last year. Perhaps he underestimated the dangers with racing in Macau. Conversely the seasoned Road Racers that make up most of the grid reflected on a fallen hero. Saddened by the loss but fully understanding the risks… they rallied. Firstly, to support Glen but quietly and professionally going about the business of picking up the pieces so that the tragedy of the day didn’t overshadow the big picture…Road Racing and the Macau Grand Prix carry big risks and a high price to pay should you get it wrong.

A distraught Glen Irwin returns to Pit-lane after the crash of Daniel Hegarty

Daniel’s crash certainly heralded a bad 12 months for Road Racers in general.

Every year we see heroes of the sport ‘fall’, either losing their lives or suffering horrific injuries that are either career ending or that require long stints of rehabilitation. Even before the bikes were fired in anger for the first practice session of the 2017 Macau Grand Prix, two big names were already missing from the rider line up.

Ian Hutchison and John McGuiness were both missing in action having been laid up due to incidents at the Isle of Man TT and NorthWest 200 respectably. In Ian’s case, it resulted in another broken leg and although not as serious as his other accidents not something that any of us wanted to see happen to the ‘Bingly Bullet’ who has suffered horrific leg injuries throughout his career. If you’re not aware, Ian actually shifts gears with his right foot, so badly damaged is his fused left ankle that it’s impossible to shift with it on the bike.

In the case of John, it was ‘a stuck throttle’ that saw him part ways with the bike at the 2017 NorthWest. John sustained career threatening injuries that day that would keep him out of racing until the 2018 Isle of Man TT Classic in August. Many suggested that he should retire and was lucky to be alive but John returns to Macau this year, a rejuvenated racer, after his successful return

“I just want to be out there with the rest of the guys again, going as fast as we can and putting on a good show for the fans” he commented before his return.

Unfortunately, despite the injuries that these two men suffered, all have not been as ‘lucky’.

John McGuinness and family, 2017 IOMTT

12 months ago, Daniel Hegarty lost his life on this very track. Heading down from the Hairpin and entering Fishermen’s Bend, Daniel was pushing too hard, mis-judged the breaking zone and tragically ended up in the Armco. On that day two other riders, Sheils and Cooper who had become spectator’s due to bike failures witnessed firsthand the dangers involved with racing at Macau as they ducked for cover with the bike hurtling toward them.

Almost immediately an eerie silence fell over Pit Lane as everyone knew the incident was most likely a fatal one. Initially only a few images flashed up on the TV screens, leaving everyone a little confused on the identity of the rider that had crashed. A few names were bandied around but it soon become apparent who the downed rider was.

There is nothing to be said when hardened racers return to Pit Lane in silence, some of them in tears and distraught at the scenes they witnessed that day…some criticised the decision of Race Committee to file the riders past the scene under red flag conditions. Inside is not too sure how else they could get riders back to their boxes in Macau, but perhaps they didn’t need to.

It’s not the IOMTT, but the riders are certainly held at that event and until now able, under direction, to ride backwards on the course…following the tragic accident at the Isle of Man this year, involving a course car that was heading to the scene of an accident involving Dan Kneen, this will no longer be an option. Inside understands that new measures will be put into place for the Macau event which involve the use of holding areas for the bikes and screens to shield any crash scene from riders and prying eyes.

Haven directly spoken with riders who were with Steve Mercer when he was struck by the course car that day, they “will never ride backwards on a circuit ever again” not only did they directly witness the carnage that unfolded but were still instructed to keep riding backwards to return to the pit…something they declined to do. Not much has been published about Steve, his recovery and the accident of late, but Inside understands legal action on behalf of Steve has been lodged.

Everyone who met Dan Kneen liked him. The affable Manx Man and Onchan local was a crowd favourite and was in career best form in recent times. Dan had posted his fastest ever lap around the Isle of Mann TT course early during the week, however in the end even local knowledge wasn’t enough to provide him with safe passage around the 60.73km TT Circuit. Unfortunately, during a qualifying practice session at this year’s event, Dan lost control of his Tyco BMW at the Churchtown section of the circuit and suffered fatal injuries. He was declared dead at the scene. As a result, Kneen became the 147th competitor to be killed at the Mountain Course during an Isle of Man TT meeting.

Dan had been joined by Michael Dunlop in the Tyco team for the 2018 TT, in the end was this his ultimate undoing? Riders are a competitive bunch and Michael is one of the best going around. Perhaps Dan was simply pushing too hard when he lost control of his BMW. Wh­­atever the cause of his untimely passing, followed by the unfortunate safety car incident involving Steve Mercer, it left a scar on the paddock which is still raw. Inside has heard graphic accounts of the events of that day, but we simply choose to remember a fallen hero and wish the best for all those involved on that fateful day.

Racing Fans across the world were in a ‘state of disbelief’ when it was reported that much loved Road Racer William Dunlop had died after a crash during practice for the Skerries 100 in County Dublin. William was the older brother of TT Legend Michael Dunlop. The 32-year-old, was another big name that paid the ultimate price this year when he suffered fatal injuries during a crash at the event…tragedy returning to haunt the Dunlop family.

Williams father Robert was killed in an accident during practice for the North West 200 in 2008, whilst his uncle, 26-Time TT winner Joey Dunlop died in 2000 when he crashed in wet conditions during a race in Estonia.

Dunlop’s death shocked the close-knit racing community and came a little more than a month after he missed this year’s Isle of Man TT to be with his partner, Janine, while she suffered from complications with her pregnancy, and was considering full retirement from the sport in the days leading up to the Skerries event. They were expecting their second child in September leading Glen Irwin to write the following on Twitter

“Extremely saddened to hear of William’s passing today.  A true gent and true talent. So humble that I’m sure he didn’t even realise how good he was. Was an honour to race with you.”

By all accounts James Cowton, the 26 year old from Yorkshire was hugely respected by his fellow competitors, James was unassuming, easy-going and had a unique talent for Road Racing, he was an up and coming star and one to watch.

Cowton won his maiden international road race at the 2018 NorthWest 200, winning for Northern Irish outfit McAdoo Racing in the second Supertwin race. He had also won three races at the Southern 100 in the previous years, cumulating with a victory at the 2018 Supersport Race at the Cookstown 100, but yet again during a dark period in Road Racing, tragedy struck and during a four-rider incident heading into Stadium Bend at the 2018 Southern 100 and just 6 days after Williams tragic death, James lost his life.

“Sometimes you ask, is it worth it and at the moment.  I’m just trying to take everything in.”

Ivan Lintin, another Macau regular and popular Isle of Man competitor was also caught up in the incident and was left fighting for his life after the crash. Thankfully Ivan is recovering but will be another high-profile competitor missing from this year’s Macau event.

All in all, it’s been a bad year on the roads but perhaps the speeds, due to technology, have now outgrown at least the Irish tracks. Safety now needs to be considered. Let’s hope that this Year’s Macau Motorcycle GP is safe and incident free.

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