North West 200: Dunlops feeling the pressure
The Dunlop brothers William and Michael will be amongst the favourites when the Relentless North West 200 in association with Blackhorse bursts into action tomorrow morning.
Michael starts the two Supersport races from pole position — a repeat of last year, but is determined to win this time around.
“I have to win a Supersport or Superbike this year, that’s the pressure I put myself under,” he said.
“Last year I had a problem in the Supersport race and finished third despite setting the fastest lap. This time it is pole and a win I am looking for. I am in a private team racing against better funded teams and to beat them is the plan.”
He also starts from seventh position in the Superbike races just ahead of Alastair Seeley and Ryan Farquhar as this local trio attempt to become the first Irishman to win a Superbike race at the North West 200 since 1997.
William, meanwhile, is on pole position for the 125cc race where he has fellow Ballymoney rider Paul Robinson alongside him on the front row while in the Supersport races he starts from seventh position.
“I would love to win the 125 and Supersport races, that’s what I’m aiming for,” he explained.
“I won the 125 last year and a repeat of that will do. In the Supersport class if the CD Yamaha is going well I intend to win, even if I have to beat Michael to do so.”
Of course missing from tomorrow’s action will be Steve Plater following his high-speed crash yesterday. And like the thousands of fans, Michael Dunlop will miss seeing Plater roaring off the grid.
“Nobody wants to see anyone crashing and it’s a real shame Steve won’t be on the grid as he would have been in the thick of the action and probably the man we all had to beat,” he admitted.
Despite Plater’s absence any one of half a dozen riders are capable of winning tomorrow.
In the feature Superbike races, John McGuinness will start from pole position on the remaining HM Plant Honda looking for his second Superbike victory, but alongside him on the front row will be Keith Amor, who incidentally has never won a race at the North West, on one of the new super-fast BMW machines and Conor Cummins on the McAdoo Kawasaki, like Amor yet to win here.
Hard on this trio’s heels will be Guy Martin, BSB front runner Stuart Easton, who clocked a remarkable 204mph through the speed trap on Tuesday evening and Mr. North West 200 Michael Rutter — 12 times a winner here, nine of those wins in the Superbike class.
Rutter has been forced to switch from his normal Ducati Superbike to a BMW, but he could well be a dark horse given that the leading six riders have less than a second covering them following practice.
Amor from Falkirk also features strongly in the Supersport and Superstock races, second to Michael Dunlop in Supersport and third behind Cummins and Ryan Farquhar in Superstock.
These races should provide fireworks being highly competitive with Seeley fresh from podium success in BSB starting from fourth on the grid chasing his third North West 200 Superstock race win in a row while Ian Hutchinson a
double TT winner in these classes cannot be ruled out nor can Bruce Anstey, Cameron Donald, Ian Lougher, Guy Martin or Gary Johnson.
Seeley said: “It has taken a bit of time to get back into road racing mode, but we are still confident of pulling off a win tomorrow.
For Cummins, from the Isle of Man, the Superstock pole was his first at the North West where he has never finished higher than fifth in a race, a statistic he will look to put right tomorrow.
He said: “It’s about time I got a result here, as I’ve been on the podium at the TT, won at the Ulster and hold the outright lap record at Dundrod, so a podium here would compliment those results.”
However, all eyes will be on the Dunlop boys as they look to add to their personal tally of wins at the North West, while Seeley, and Farquhar could also give the home fans something to cheer about as they look to fight off the international challenge.