IN October 2018, a Cork-based motorcycle team became the first from the Republic of Ireland to win a British Championship title.
Behind the success is a story of heartbreak, and the dedication of a family and friends to the memory of a talented racer, a national champion, who had dreams of success on a global scale.
Team #109 was set-up in honour of Ballinhassig’s Sean Hurley, who was killed in an accident (linked to appalling weather conditions) close to his home.
Ironically, just two nights before the accident, on November 30, Sean (aged 25) had written his bucket list. Top of it was a Superbike World Championship. He had pedigree, having won the Mondello Park Supersport Championship in 2011, at 23 years of age.
Sean’s family, his parents, David and Mairead, sisters, Catriona, and RTÉ sports presenter, Jacqui, along with his friends, set about fulfilling Sean’s bucket list.
As if to mirror his talent on the bike, a Young Rider Development Fund was established within months and the 109 Award acknowledged young and talented Irish riders.
David Hurley picks up the story.
“We had money in the kitty that we had gathered and, we reckoned, if we did the 109 Award (a type of academy to acknowledge young, under-23, Irish talent) it would be in Sean’s memory.
“We had a nice trophy made from an engine (that we had spent a fortune on), but one that Sean blew up within 10 minutes,” David said.
Another racer, Declan Swanton, manufactured the trophy from the engine.
“We did that (presented the award) for three years, but we felt it wasn’t enough: we wanted to do more,” David said.
More came in the guise of the KTM Championship in England.
Team manager, Paul Tobin, said: “We looked at a few riders. We went over for one round, we rented a bike to give us an idea of the whole scenario, and costings and all the rest of it. Kevin Keyes, from Offaly, was on the bike. In the first race, he lost out by 6/1000 of a second and he won the next race by a country mile.”
The die was cast.
“We bought the bike from KTM and I think the cost, the first year, was probably around £10,000,” Paul said.
It only seemed natural that Team #109 would grow, as Sean’s ambition had, whilst also continuing to promote young Irish talent. In 2018, the team had three riders.
“It wasn’t easy, but it proved fruitful in the end. Kevin, who had a special bond with Sean, finished in the top five in the Stock Championship, and Eunan won the Junior Supersport Championship at the first attempt,” Paul said.
By then, Team #109 was being noticed and with results also came respect, just as it had for Sean Hurley, who had his first bike at 21 and was a champion within two years. McGlinchey, a mechanic with the VW dealership Edwin May, in Coleraine, was the perfect fit and as the team learned the nuances of the track and pit lane, their starlet McGlinchey was pivotal on the road to success.
From Aughadowey, in County Derry, McGlinchey is regarded as a talent capable of making it to the very top.
Last year, stepping up to 600’s, he was fourth in the British Superstock 600cc Championship. Team #109, who had full support from Kawasaki, also ran Curtis Trimble, from Belfast, and James McManus, from Randalstown (Antrim), on 400’s.
Now, another horizon (also on Sean’s bucket list) awaits. Whenever the sporting season resumes, after the coronavirus outbreak, Team #109 will take its place in the World Superbike paddock for the Supersport 300 FIM World Championship, the feeder series for the Superbike World Championship.
McGlinchey will be aboard the No 66 Kawasaki Ninja 400.
While Team #109 pondered dovetailing their racing exploits in the Supersport 300 with a continued presence in the British Championship, the logistics were too complicated and they will concentrate on the World series. However, the prospect of competing in the last few rounds of the British series remains a possibility, and depends on funding. The cost of running the team in the Supersport 300 is within the €80,000 to €100,00 bracket.
Team manager Tobin said, “Kawasaki have come onboard and that is a big help, but we are still seeking new sponsors.
“While it is probably less expensive to run two riders, Team #109 will just concentrate on Eunan on this first foray.”
Unfortunately, there was no funding available from Sport Ireland, as they deal directly with the MCUI (Motor Cycle Union of Ireland) and that’s a limited budget.
Colin Draper, from Grange, a friend of Sean’s, is the mechanic and has been with Team #109 since the very start. He has worked with Declan Swanton, Waterford’s Brian McCormack, and Dubliner Derek Shiels.
The team’s technical support (crew chief) is the vastly experienced Scott Thompson. With ten rounds in Europe — three in Spain, two in Italy, and one each in Germany Holland, France, England, and Portugal — it is a logistical challenge.
That is overseen by Mairead (Hurley), who will ensure that the Irish flag is part of the kit that wings its way around the European circuits.
Team #109 is still actively seeking support to add to the likes of MMD Construction, LiftRite.ie, Kinsale Hotel & Spa, and EMS Copiers. Cork Motorcycle and Vintage Club also help out.
“We will put the best bike possible under Eunan and we hope that will be good enough to win. We are not going there to make up numbers, but, at the same time, we are under no illusions: it’s World Championship racing,” said Paul Tobin.
After all, winning was on Sean’s bucket list.