The Relentless North West 200 is the fourth round of the season-long Duke Road Race Ranking Series — now entering its 10th year — and a brand new trophy will be awarded to the winner.
This particular series is the only one which measures performance across the entire road-racing season — 26 counting events are scheduled for 2011 — effectively creating a championship for those dedicated to competing between the hedges.
The Relentless North West 200 is the first international counting event of the season and current leader Ryan Farquhar will be looking to have consolidated his position at the top of the rankings come tomorrow evening.
The series was created by Isle of Man-based Duke Marketing, with the aim being to give recognition to road racers who take up not only the challenge of the international road races, but also the national events throughout the season.
First run in 2002, when Ian Lougher won the title and the Geoff Duke Trophy, the series has been won five times by Farquhar including a hat-trick of victories in the last three seasons — hence the new trophy.
“Geoff (Duke) said (previously) that anyone who won the series three years running would keep the trophy,” revealed the Dungannon racer last night.
“It was something I always had at the back of my mind and true to their word they handed me the trophy to keep earlier this year and I was proud to receive it,” he said.
“No-one knows the amount of time, effort and commitment it takes to win the Duke Rankings, riding in three or four classes week-in week-out all around Ireland, the Isle of Man and at Scarborough.
“It is certainly in my sights to try and win the new trophy on offer this season, but it won’t be easy,” he added.
Farquhar got the defence of his crown off to a flying start this season with an amazing six wins from six starts at Scarborough in April.
That was quickly followed by five from five at the Cookstown 100 and then two wins and two second places at the Tandragee 100 which sees him lead William Dunlop and his brother Michael in the points table by a considerable margin, these three the major contenders for the 2011 title.
Entering the fray for their first road race of the season are double North West 200 winner from last year Relentless Suzuki by TAS rider Alastair Seeley, new Padgetts Honda man Bruce Anstey, 12-time North West winner Michael Rutter, Conor Cummins and Gary Johnson, all likely to score well this weekend, but not serious Duke title contenders as they concentrate solely on the ‘big three’ international events.
Farquhar and the two Dunlops can certainly add to their tally tomorrow.
The further up the finishing order, the more points on offer as the chase for the Duke Road Race Ranking title hots up at the North West 200. It promises to be a thrilling battle.