This week sees the start of the International road racing season with the traditional opener again being at the North West 200. And with the competition getting ever and ever closer, it should be a frantic, high speed encounter.
Of course, recent years on the Causeway Coast have been severely hit by the weather so what everyone’s keeping their fingers crossed for most of all, as well as a safe day’s racing, is a dry day and no interruptions.
Although the weather has caused lengthy delays, when the racing’s taken place it’s been the usual slipstreaming battle at the head of the field. Whether it’s the Superbikes or the Supersports, we can expect 5-6 bikes duking it out along the coast road on the final lap.
Can anyone stop the Wee Wizard?
Arguably, the man they all have to beat again is Alastair Seeley and having tied with Robert Dunlop’s record total of 15 wins last year, he’ll be keen to finally take it outright. He rides for his familiar RAF Reserve BMW team in the Supersport and Superstock classes whilst he’s reunited with Gearlink Kawasaki for the two Supersport encounters.
The Carrickfergus rider has an uncanny knack of getting himself positioned correctly on the final laps, and, more often than not, has been able to use his short circuit prowess, from the Metropole Corner onwards and, particularly, through the Juniper chicane. As always, talk will be if he – or anyone else for that matter – can match Phillip McCallen’s record of five wins in a day in 1992.
That task is certainly getting harder and harder given the level of competition and potential race winners – the list is endless and one man who’s started the season on fire is Ian Hutchinson. He clicked with the Tyco BMW, in both Superbike and Superstock trim, immediately and his short circuit form has been exemplary so far with a brace of thirds in the opening Pirelli Superstock 1000 rounds.
The Dunlop dynasty:
Seeley should carry his home nation’s main hopes but Michael Dunlop and William Dunlop have both been victorious at the North West in the past and will no doubt do so again. Michael has contested the opening two rounds of BSB, instead of contesting the likes of the Cookstown 100 and Tandragee 100, and whilst the weather may not have been the greatest, he’s certainly had plenty of track time. He may have one eye on the TT, his main event of the year, but is sure to be well to the fore.
William is perhaps more enigmatic than his younger brother and, arguably, has yet to fulfill his ultimate potential. Highly successful at the Irish National road races, he’s yet to consistently transfer that form into the Internationals. He’s taken occasional wins but not regular ones; however splitting from CD Racing Yamaha during the late hours on Monday before Tuesday’s practice sessions began, it’s unknown if William will be able to take a podium place with no practice time on his two new machines.
Like Hutchinson, Valvoline Racing by Padgetts rider Bruce Anstey was on the podium at last year’s event and is showing no signs of slowing down despite having recently turned 47. 2015 was another superb year for the Kiwi and having made his NW200 debut in 2002, he has the astonishing record of finishing on the podium, at least once, every year since.
Honda Racing’s John McGuinness can never be counted out and whilst the Isle of Man TT now sees the Morecambe man at his best, he loves the North West and won’t be going just to make up the numbers. It’s his 11th year with the Honda team and that familiarity continues to pay dividends in his results.
And then there’s the third ‘veteran’ on the entry list – Michael Rutter. Now riding for the Bathams SMT Racing team, the Midlander has taken 13 wins at the North West and although his last one came back in 2012, he’s still highly competitive as seen by his early season pace on the short circuits.
The list of potential race winners is endless with McGuinness’ team-mate Conor Cummins, Peter Hickman, James Hillier, Ryan Farquhar, Lee Johnston, Gary Johnson, Martin Jessopp, Dean Harrison, Dan Kneen and Ivan Lintin just some of the other riders on the entry.
Who do you think has it in the bag? Will it be one of our more experienced veteran racers, or perhaps we’ll see one of our younger racers taking pride of place on that podium? Why not share your thoughts below…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.