Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

North West gets McWill power

Why grand prix ace Jeremy has to tick another box at 48

Way to go: Jeremy McWilliams (left) gets on track for his North West debut with team boss and fellow competitor Ryan Farquhar

Jeremy McWilliams has been there, done that and amassed a whole collection of T-shirts.

So what on earth is possessing a comfortably off 48-year-old who has achieved it all at the top end of bike racing to risk his neck with a first tilt at pure road racing when the hospitality tent and commentary box offer a more comfortable Relentless North West 200 option.

Jeremy's place in history is assured for the forseeable future as the last Irish rider to win a Grand Prix race when he won the 2001 Dutch MotoGP at Assen.

Yet Monday found him hurtling between the hedges in search of fresh thrills and challenges as practice got underway for the 2012 North West as Jeremy, a veteran of 176 MotoGP rides, prepares to hit the road as part of Dungannon ace Rayn Farquhar's hugely successful KMR Kawasaki team.

How strange it was to see him in a Newcomers' bib on Monday night, almost as if there were stabilisers on his bike like a kid forsaking three wheels for the first time.

But make no mistake.. for all the kidology leading up to his North West debut, Jeremy will be going all out to win. As the man to beat, he has to, with every rival top rider and raw newcomer on the block out to claim his racing scalp as a badge of honour.

So why is he putting his head above the trenches to be shot at, when he doesn't have to, especially as a one-time critic of road racing, another red rag to the artillery ranged against him on the coast road grid.

“I can remember going to the North West as a young kid, lying behind a hedge watching the action,” he offers.

“Since those days I’ve always harboured an ambition to compete in what is, after all, Ireland’s biggest and most prestigious event. What with other commitments it has never been possible until now and it was on a trip to Australia with Ryan that the idea was first hatched and here we are.

“It will be strange heading out onto the track with a newcomers bib, having listened to the advice from newcomer liaison officers Phillip McCallen and Steve Plater, two racing legends. But, yes, I’m looking forward to it and who knows, if I enjoy it, I could well come back for more.

“Can I win? Who knows, either way I’ll be in for some stick, but I’m realistic and know I’m up against some experienced road racers, so I’m just going out to enjoy myself and see where that takes me.”

As rival Michael Rutter said at the final North West press conference, who is kidding who?

His last local appearance was a winning one at the Sunflower Trophy meeting last October where he also rode a KMR Kawasaki ER6 for Farquhar.

“Jeremy's been talking like a rookie about his chances, but who is he trying to kid with his experience of MotoGP racing down the years?,” asked Midlands rider and race folk hero Rutter.

“He'll be going flat out to win like the rest of us. The line-up should make for some superb racing. We're all so evenly matched these days, men and machines — no-one is going to race clear of the rest — and with no clear advantages, podium places are going to be hard to secure. It all adds up to a treat for the fans.”

The action continues on Thursday with roads again closing from 9.30am until 2.30pm for practice and then reclosing between 5.30pm and 9.00pm for the Livewire Superstock six-lap race and the Vauxhall Supertwin race over four-laps.