BY MARTIN WALSH
IT’S a long way from the Circuito Estoril in Portugal to Ballinhassig. In fact, the journey, by road and sea, is some 2,500 kilometres.
But that journey is not until the end of the 2021 FIM World Supersport 300 Championship where Team #109 will have completed their second crack at the series, which is recognised as a feeder series to the World Superbikes.
On Monday last, at the Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya, the team took part in the first pre-season test with a new recruit, Belfast’s James McManus, on board the distinctive Team #109 Kawasaki Ninja 400.
Team #109 was set up in honour of Ballinhassig’s Sean Hurley, who died following a tragic road accident in November 2011. Just two nights before the tragedy, Sean (who had won the Mondello Park Supersport championship) and his mum Mairead, a native of Rosscarbery, compiled his bucket list. Motorcycle racing was the central theme including having a racing team. The list wasn’t just targets.
Sadly, in very inclement weather conditions, Sean’s life was cut short, leaving his parents Dave and Mairead and his sisters, Catriona and Jacqui, a community and a large circle of friends grieving his loss. Sean’s family, along with a tight knit circle of friends, set about ticking off items on his bucket list.
Initially, a ‘Young Rider Development Fund’ was established and out of that came the #109 Award, which acknowledged young, U23 Irish talent.
‘We had it made from an engine that Sean had. We had spent a fortune on the same engine but it blew on Sean within ten minutes. Another racer and friend of Sean’s, Declan Swanton, manufactured the trophy from the engine,’ Dave Hurley explained.
Team #109 was up and running and in October 2018 they became the first-ever Republic of Ireland motorcycle team to win a British Championship title. That was achieved in Brands Hatch with Northern Ireland’s Eunan McGlinchey on the saddle. Last year McGlinchey rode for Team #109 as they made their debut on the FIM Supersport 300 series. It was a difficult year and McGlinchey, having qualified for the race at Magny-Cours, missed the race and the rest of the season when he was injured after he parted company from his bike during the final practice session.
This season, Team #109 had planned to have two riders in the Supersport 300 series. Unfortunately, they were forced to make changes.
‘We were hoping that Eunan would stay with us and we would have two riders this year – that was our plan. We had put a lot of work into Eunan and we were hoping he would stay,’ Dave Hurley explained.
Recently, the team truck departed Ballinhassig for Spain where newly-signed rider James McManus (17) from Randalstown, just outside Belfast, took part in pre-season testing in Catalunya (Barcelona) onboard the Kawasaki Ninja 400 on Monday and Tuesday last. Team #109 has a two-year plan for the teenager. Team manager Paul Tobin from Carrigaline spoke about their new prodigy.
‘We had our eye on him at British level with a while and we could see how much he has come on as a rider and matured since joining the Affinity Racing Academy,’ Tobin said.
Speaking from Barcelona on Monday evening last, following the day’s test, Paul Tobin commented: ‘It went really well. It was James’ first time at the Catalunya circuit. He was on the bike Eunan had last season so we had to adjust the settings to suit him. That was what the morning session was all about really. In the afternoon we put new tyres on and managed to give him a race run.
‘James got six or seven laps towards the end in a really fast group. He managed to hang on to them for a few laps and improved his time massively from this morning from two minutes 01.678s to one minute 58.975s, so he is not far off what Eunan did last year. We are very happy and so was James, the bike is more or less set-up for him now.’
Next week the team are off to MotorLand Aragon for another supported test on Tuesday and Wednesday. The opening round on May 21st-23rd also takes place in Aragon.
Outside of a change of rider, many other facets stay the same this season, particularly the support from Kawasaki.
The season’s FIM World Supersport 300 Championship will feature eight rounds in some 24 weeks in five countries. With the benefit of last year’s series under their belts, the other logistics such as moving the team around, flights and hotels is not as difficult as that of their inaugural season and Mairead Hurley oversees all that planning.
According to Tobin, the most difficult aspect will be getting spare parts in and out in between rounds. He put the preparation aspect into perspective.
‘One might think that going from British level to World level would be a step but in reality it’s more like four times that. It can take from an hour to 90 minutes to strip the bike down, get it prepped again and everything is cleaned spotless and checked in between each session,’ he said.
‘It’s not quite Superbike level but everything is prepped to a similar level. We are allowed use three engines during the year so we’ll change them out at different times during the year as the mileage increases.’
Unfortunately, there is no British round in World SSP300 this season. Due to Brexit, extra costs are involved so it was decided to drop it from their calendar. Both Tobin and Hurley are hugely appreciative of the sponsorship, particularly from local sources.
‘Our thanks to Liftrite.ie, MMD Construction, Kinsale Hotel and Spa, Kieran McCarthy Lawnturf, Keohane Readymix and Cork Motorcycle Racing & Vintage Club.’