Alastair Seeley claimed his 11th career International North West 200 victory after a thrilling Ballymoney Borough Council Supersport race last night on the north coast, which kicked off this year’s Vauxhall sponsored event.
Ironically, it almost ended in tears for the Mar-Train Racing pilot as early as turn three on lap one, after Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston slid off at York Corner — forcing Seeley wide, leaving the 34-year-old with a mammoth task, having to battle back from 15th position.
Seeley’s miraculous victory was the first-ever at the NW200 for Mar-Train Racing and team boss Tim Martin was tangibly jubilant afterwards.
Tyco Suzuki’s Guy Martin took second place ahead of Australian Josh Brookes, who lead in the early stages, but took third place after six pulsating laps and his debut podium at the event — in just his second season of international road racing competition.
Race winner Seeley beamed afterwards: “Lee Johnston made that hard work for me. I ran on at York trying to avoid him and had to do a u-turn to get back into the action.
“I could see the group in front of me and I just picked them off one-by-one.”
The race winner added: “I eventually saw my board which was reading P8 and once I caught that leading bunch I really enjoyed the race.
“The win is testament to Tim Martin and his team for giving me a good bike in the Mar-Train Yamaha R6.”
Thirteen times a winner at the Triangle Michael Rutter lead into turn one on his Smith’s Triumph closely followed by Milwaukee Yamaha’s Josh Brookes, who was racing a Supersport machine for the first time in six years.
The 31-year-old Australian did take the lead for the best part of three laps until Lincolnshire’s Gary Johnson forced his Smith’s Triumph in front at Metropole.
The leading freight train included Johnson at the front from Brookes, Michael Rutter, and the Tyco Suzuki duo of Guy Martin and William Dunlop.
Yorkshire’s Dean Harrison was holding strong in sixth position for Mar-Train Racing, with Seeley closing in on the second Mar-Train bike in seventh.
Rutter’s chance of a podium and a potential 14th North West 200 career victory, ended on the run to the Mill Road roundabout on lap four, when his Smith’s Triumph developed an intermittent electrical fault; the 42-year-old Midlander eventually finished sixth.
On lap five it looked like we might just see a first time winner at the North West, with Gary Johnson [Smith’s Triumph], Guy Martin [Tyco Suzuki] and Josh Brookes [Milwaukee Yamaha] disputing the lead.
But once the Wee Wizard had them in his sights — following the quickest lap of the race on lap four — aboard his British champion steed: the Mar-Train Racing R6 Yamaha, there really was only one outcome.
Seeley nipped in front at Juniper Hill on the penultimate lap and Guy Martin did challenge bravely in the closing stages, but the quick-thinking Carrick man negotiated backmarkers with more aplomb on the run along the coast road on lap six, to register win number 11 at the Triangle; kick-starting the Mar-Train party in the pit-lane.
Tyco Suzuki’s Martin was magnanimous in defeat and after congratulating his former team-mate, the Lincolnshire man had only one thing on his mind: the TT!
“This is just a warm up to the TT. That bike has never turned a wheel until Tuesday night,” said Martin.
“You absolutely have to thrash the life out of these wee bikes to win around here and I think I’m just too mechanically sympathetic to ride a 600 around here.
“You really have to ring its neck. But it is what it is and it sets us up well for the TT, but well done to Alastair.”
Third placed man Josh Brookes looked a little disappointed with the bottom rung on the podium, but said of his debut champagne finish on the north coast: “It’s so difficult to get your braking points exact when you are drafting around here.
“I’m not proud of some of those situations out there, but I’m proud of the podium.
“I was thinking I could win at one point and thought ‘maybe this will work out’ but that’s the way it goes.”