Steve Plater, eight times a winner around the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine triangle, set the quickest superbike time during last night’s opening practice session for Saturday’s Relentless North West 200 as Honda riders dominated with the first four places on the provisional grid.
Plater, from Lincolnshire, lapped the circuit at a speed of 118.449mph, 2.4 seconds faster than HM Plant Honda team-mate John McGuinness, but well short of the 124.109mph lap record held by Plater thanks to the introduction of a new chicane which the riders treated with caution on the opening laps.
The provisional front row was completed by Stuart Easton from Hawick riding at the North West, in association with Blackhorse, for the first time in three years on his Swan Honda, who topped the speed trap times on the approach to University with a staggering wind assisted 204mph twice on his way to third position less than a second behind McGuinness.
Michael Dunlop gave the locals something to cheer about with fourth position on the Robinson Concrete Honda, a second ahead of Conor Cummins on the McAdoo Kawasaki.
Plater said: “The HM Plant Honda was working well and I set the fastest lap on the final lap of the session.
“It takes a little time to become reacquainted with a road course again after BSB, but things are going well and I’m satisfied to be on provisional pole position,” he added.
Ryan Farquhar was satisfied with the new chicane, situated prior to Mathers Cross.
He said: “There is not much wrong with it — you just ride it like Mill Road Roundabout and it is the same for everyone.”
It was Farquhar’s first outing on the MSS Colchester Kawasaki and he took sixth place ahead of local riders Adrian Archibald and Alastair Seeley riding the Relentless Suzuki by TAS at the circuit for the first time.
A notable non-qualifier was Michael Rutter, who failed to complete a lap on the Riders Ducati due to mechanical gremlins, leaving him with it all to do in tomorrow morning’s final qualifying session.
Kiwi Bruce Anstey topped the supersport session — punctuated by a stoppage to clear up an oil spillage at the ultra-fast Station
Corner — when he lapped at 114.001mph, 0.6 seconds ahead of William Dunlop with Keith Amor, on his first appearance of the season, in third spot, a second behind Dunlop.
William Dunlop set the fastest time in the 125GP class with a speed of 96.739mph, only completing two flying laps.
Dunlop came into the pits after his two opening un-timed laps, made a few adjustments and on his first timed flying lap immediately jumped to the top of the time sheets 3.8 seconds faster than Chris Palmer.
On his second and final flying lap the Ballymoney rider went quicker again and, despite a dislike for the new Mathers Cross chicane, was five seconds faster than the opposition, Palmer retaining second with Belgian Renzo Van der Donckt in third.
The fourth and final practice session for superstock machines was cancelled due to the time taken clearing the oil spillage and it will take place tomorrow morning along with the final qualifying session, with roads closing at 9.30am.