Practice for the Relentless International North West 200 commences this evening when a quality line-up of almost 300 entries from around the world takes to the 8.9 mile Triangle Circuit for the first time at this year’s event.
Local contenders Michael Dunlop, Ryan Farquhar, William Dunlop and last year’s double winner Alastair Seeley will all be looking to make their mark in the opening sessions for Superbike, Supersport and Superstock machines.
They will be taking the challenge to a strong overseas contingent, led by nine-times winner Bruce Anstey and his fellow Antipodean Cameron Donald, with British Superbike regulars Michael Rutter, Stuart Easton, Gary Mason, Gary Johnson plus the unconventional Guy Martin all out to make life difficult for the local heroes.
Seeley last year became the first local winner of a Superbike race at the North West in 13 years in the feature Superbike event, and he will look to set a front row qualifying speed this evening, as will Michael Dunlop, fresh from a spectacular record-breaking double at the recent Tandragee 100.
The fact that the last Dunlop to win a North West 200 Superbike race was his late father Robert, who did the double in 1994, will be sure to spur on the 22-year-old.
Farquhar, meanwhile, has one major ambition left to complete his extraordinary racing CV — to win an international Superbike race — and the most successful rider in the history of Irish road racing will be looking to put some miles on his MSS-prepared KMR Kawasaki this evening, his first run-out on this particular machine following a tremendous start to the road racing season.
Anstey is probably the rider with a point to prove this week. Dropped from the Relentless Suzuki by TAS team following his record-breaking win at the Ulster Grand Prix last August, the ‘Flying Kiwi’ was quickly snapped up by the all-conquering Padgetts Honda team (10 international road race wins in 2010) and will be looking to lay down an early marker once practice gets under way.
Scottish rider Stuart Easton, from Hawick is the man on form, currently third in the British Superbikes championship after a runner-up finish at Croft over the weekend.
The 27-year-old set an amazing fastest-ever 204mph through the speed trap at the North West last year on his way to second place behind Seeley in the North West 200 feature Superbike race, and the switch to MSS Colchester Kawasaki this season could well see Easton give Kawasaki their first Superbike race win at the North West since 1977.
Roads close around the Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine Triangle between 5.00pm and 9.15pm tonight.
Schedule of practice is as follows:
Newcomers – 5.30 to 6pm; Superbike machines – 6.15 to 6.50pm; Supersport machines – 7.15 to 7.50pm; Superstock machines – 8.15 to 8.50pm. Practice continues on Thursday morning, roads closing between 9.30am and 3pm.