North West 200 Course Guide
Everything you need to know about the North West 200 course from start to finish, literally. Take in the North West 200 experience right now…
A Lap of the North West 200 – with Alastair Seeley (8.970 miles)
With 17 wins to his name, Alastair Seeley is the most successful rider in the history of the North West 200 so who better to take us through a flying lap of the high speed circuit than the Carrickfergus rider.
While waiting for the lights to go green, I’m only thinking about one thing – winning. It’s important to get a good start but with so many places around the circuit to slipstream it isn’t as critical as some other courses.
We’re all across the road coming in and you have to defend your line through the first corner, so that means staying tight to the kerb and getting through safely. I’ve been passed too many times here on the first lap to know what not to do now!
There’s a big bump right on the apex of this long left turn which unsettles the bike. You’re cranked right over too but it’s manageable and never quite as much as you are on the short circuits. The crucial thing is to get a good drive out as you pop a wheelie on the run down to York.
Seeley takes on the action…
The white lines on the road into York are like ice so you have to be careful on the brakes. I’m lucky, I’ve never had any incidents here but on the first lap the tyre isn’t always up to temperature and I saw my former team-mate Bruce Anstey land on his head after he high-sided on the exit one year. At the start of the race we’re all bunched in together and if you’re in the middle of the pack you’re almost paddling round because it’s so tight. Therefore, when you get a bit of room you try to take a wide sweep in and use the entire road on the exit.
Mill Road Roundabout
I’ve never ridden this part of the circuit before the roundabout was put in so I don’t know it to be any different. Like the Magic Roundabout, we take it from the opposite direction as normal traffic. It can catch you out on the brakes because it’s so fast on the uphill approach but I’ve made a few passes going in. I saw Guy Martin, my team-mate in 2012, crash into the middle of the roundabout once so I know it can be tricky.
On the opening lap, it’s all about follow-my-leader right up until Mill Road and the highest gear is generally third, maybe fourth, but after that point things get really fast – this is when you need horsepower! Station is a real ballsy corner and you’re 100 per cent committed and there is absolutely no room for mistakes. It’s fifth gear on a Superbike and sixth on a 600 – you’re completely flat out on a 600. It really is an amazing sensation and I hold my breath every time!
There’s a wee rise in the road here that you would hardly notice in your car but we’re actually taking off and jumping – flat out in top gear! We’re doing over 200mph at this point and this is the part of the course where slipstreaming is important so you’re normally surrounded by bikes. I remember the weather was wet in 2011 and my superbike was spinning the back wheel all the way down through here in top gear and the rev limiter lights on the dash were constantly illuminated as the back wheel kept kicking up off the road.
Because I’m smaller and lighter a lot of people think I have a big advantage over the bigger riders but it only really comes into play at places like University where you’re going right down the gears and driving out from low speed. It’s uphill out of here so that helps as well. Braking into University can be scary because you can get knockback on the run down from Station with the bumps and the brakes don’t work until you’ve had a couple of pumps and by that time you can have missed your braking marker and have to take to the slip road.
I like the roundabout – it’s short circuit style and you can really scratch around it. I don’t ride over the dirt on the red tarmac hard shoulder on the way in although John McGuinness told me it’s a good idea if you’re being closely followed as you can kick dirt up on them! It’s really important to get on the gas early on the exit to get a good run out and leave black lines on the road. I had a nasty moment after the roundabout in 2010 when I collided with Keith Amor at 140mph and ended up sliding and bouncing down the grass verge for a couple of hundred yards but luckily I was ok.
Lots of people say they really dislike the chicane here but I don’t. I can imagine it suits us short circuit boys but I do miss the big ballsy corner that Mathers used to be. You’re approaching it so fast and then its right down to 30mph. The run from here to Magherabuoy is all about slipstreaming again. We’re going so fast and we’re usually so close together that you have to put a lot of trust in the boys around you. I’ll sit just inches off someone’s back wheel to stay out of the wind and it’s really strange because when you’re doing that there’s almost silence inside your helmet. You can hear the engine on full song because there’s no buffeting but it’s all different when you sit up and brake – the wind which hits you in the chest almost knocks you off the back of the bike!
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It’s a blind entry here and it’s really hard to judge but the men I learnt from were Bruce Anstey and Raymond Porter. Bruce was so late on the brakes going in and Ray was so aggressive through the flip flop. I try to watch what other people do and get it altogether in practice so that by race day I know exactly where I want to be and when.
The idea behind Magherabuoy was that it would slow us down a bit for the run into Metropole but that doesn’t really work anymore because the bikes are so fast now that we’re back up to fifth. The road is really bumpy and it’s covered in manholes and that makes braking a lot trickier than at University or Mathers. You have to be really careful, especially in the wet, but this is the start of the fast flowing section along the coast road and I love that part of the track.
You run right to the edge of the kerb on the exit here and you have to keep the power on to get a good drive out under the railway arch and up the steep hill. I made one of my favourite passes ever at the North West going into Church on Stuart Easton in the 2010 Superbike race. I had a sniff a couple of laps before but Stuart’s Swan Honda was a missile and he got me going into Metropole on the last lap. But I went under him again at Church and made it stick to the end!
This is a great corner. The kerb jumps out at you on the exit as the bike wheelies over the top of the hill. I try to keep my body over the front wheel so I can get on the throttle early and I don’t showboat wheelie. I try to really ride the bike and keep the front down as much as possible and I’ve a thumb brake that I use to help with that as well.
This corner is so important – it’s the do or die place for the last lap passing manoeuvres! I try to test the limits of the brakes during qualifying, to get a ‘banker’. I can then keep pushing to be later and later on them in the race. I’ve made a few winning passes here and so far I haven’t had to use the grass but you never know!
The race is won or lost on the coast road from Metropole to Juniper. You really need to be coming out of the chicane first for the run to Quarry. It’s a difficult bend because it’s blind and you have to go in committed despite not being able to see the exit – but if you do it right, you’ll see the chequered flag first! It’s the last corner and if you go in first you should come out the winner.
Now you know the NW200 course back to front, left to right and inside out, why not check out the best places to eat and drink around the course?
Words by Phil Wain.