Three of Northern Ireland’s top motorcycle racers have paid tribute to popular Gearlink Kawasaki team owner Norma de Bidaph, who has sadly passed away following a battle with cancer.
One of the most recognisable faces in the British championship paddock, Mrs de Bidaph ran the Wiltshire-based team with her husband Michael.
Carrickfergus trio Glenn Irwin, his brother Andrew and Alastair Seeley all rode in the renowned green and orange Gearlink colours in the past and on New Year's Eve they spoke of their heartbreak at the sad news.
British Superbike rider Glenn won his maiden Supersport race after joining the team in 2014, finishing fourth in the final championship standings.
The 27-year-old also finished fourth in 2015 before making the step up to BSB on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati.
Irwin told the News Letter: “It’s very sad and Norma was like the Queen of the paddock. The cameras loved her and it was almost like a ritual that they would focus on her during an exciting race.
“People would actually bypass us and come up to Norma to get her autograph when we would be doing signing sessions and that is just testament to how popular she was.
“We used to have such craic with her and it’s very sad. She was a great person and for me personally, I remember I had a difficult season in 2013 and I begged Norma and Michael to give me a shot in 2014 and they did that,” he added.
“I couldn’t afford to pay for the ride that we had already agreed on and I was about £10,000 short, but they still took me racing. I owe them so much and they have played a massive part in getting me to where I am now.”
Andrew Irwin, who will make his debut in the World Supersport Championship in 2018 with the PTR Honda team, finished as the runner-up in the British Supersport Championship on the Gearlink Kawasaki, claiming his debut win at the final round at Brands Hatch.
“It’s terrible news and Norma has done so much for me and Glenn and one thing is for sure, our careers wouldn’t be where they are today without the help that Norma gave us,” he said.
“It wasn’t just Michael who ran the team, Norma was a massive part of it and it’s really sad. I will always appreciate all that she did for me.”
North West 200 record-breaker Seeley went close to clinching the British Supersport title for Gearlink Kawasaki in 2013, finishing as the runner-up.
He later won his 16th NW200 race at the Triangle course on the Kawasaki in 2016 to become the most successful rider ever at the event, taking over from Robert Dunlop.
Seeley, who has now won 21 NW200 races, said on Facebook: ‘Very sad news. Norma de Bidaph has passed away. She was a wonderful woman, boss, cook, etc & will be sorely missed. I just missed out on bringing Gearlink & Norma a British title but made up for it by becoming record holder around NW200 on Michael & Norma’s little Kwak. RIP Norma’.