North West 200: Michael Dunlop still the man to beat
Honda star Michael Dunlop will be looking to put the disappointment of Thursday night's Ballymoney Borough Council Supersport result behind him, when he takes to the grid for today's five-race programme at the Vauxhall International North West 200.
Dunlop rode what looked like a textbook race during Thursday night's Supersport encounter, leading for all five laps, only to be heartbreakingly beaten on corrected time by Gearlink Kawasaki's Alastair Seeley. The Carrick man charged through from the second wave, stealing in for his ninth top step at the Triangle by just over a second.
Honda TT Legends-mounted Dunlop is on pole position for today's two Superbike races, sponsored by Eventserv and Vauxhall, but there's every chance Seeley could controversially spoil the Ballymoney man's party yet again, with another corrected time victory from the second row of the B Group aboard his MSS Kawasaki. So keep your stopwatches handy!
Besides Dunlop on the front row of the grid – restricted to three riders per row these days in a similar format to MotoGP – is HM Plant Honda by Padgetts rider Bruce Anstey and the enigmatic Tyco Suzuki truck mechanic and TV star Guy Martin.
A victory for Anstey would see his win tally move into double figures alongside Seeley, but the man outside him on the grid, Guy Martin, is still searching for that elusive top step, and this week he looks hungry.
The second row houses Seeley's MSS Kawasaki team-mate Dean Harrison, Tyco Suzuki's British Superbike star Josh Brookes and Milwaukee Yamaha-mounted William Dunlop.
These three are the races' dark horses for podium honours. Harrison is international road racing's new kid on the block and with the speed and tenacity he has shown thus far, I believe the 24-year-old from Bradford can steal in for a podium.
Josh Brookes needed little or no introduction to the knowledgeable North West 200 fans during the opening sessions on Tuesday. And having posted seventh place on Thursday night in the Superstock race –taking the third fastest lap of the race – the 30-year-old Aussie could shock them all with a big, big, win on his pure road racing debut.
Newcomer or not, being aboard his regular British Superbike machine will inspire confidence in the New South Wales man and, with 20 podiums under his belt last season in BSB and the promise he has shown this week, I believe Brookesy would be a popular, if not slightly surprise winner.
William Dunlop is another rider who has all the ingredients bubbling inside, to burst onto a Superbike podium with his new team Milwaukee Yamaha. Dunlop has impressed new team boss Shaun Muir with his initial connection on the team's factory supported R1 Superbike, but wet weather could, unfortunately, be his undoing.
Michael Rutter, Cameron Donald and John McGuinness head up row three on individually liveried and branded Honda Fireblade machinery, and again all are more than capable of podium honours.
McGuinness on the TT Legends bike is the pick of the trio, as Rutter is still carrying an injury and Donald, at this stage, seems to be using the north coast event as additional practice for the TT.
Seeley is, as previously mentioned, in the second group and another danger man in that second wave is TT winner Gary Johnson on the Lincs Lifting Honda Fireblade.
The opening race of the day is the McKendry Fabrications Supersport encounter and if the rain comes in biblical proportions, as is forecast, then it will again turn into a race against the clock between Seeley and Dunlop.
Bruce Anstey with four career Supersport wins at the North West should feature, as will Tyco Suzuki's Guy Martin.
Race three on the programme is the Anchor Bar Supertwins' race which should see 49-year-old former Grand Prix winner Jeremy McWilliams [KMR Kawasaki] make it a double success after his popular debut NW200 victory on Thursday night.
The CP Hire Superstock race is the penultimate outing at this year's event and Seeley should again be the main to beat on the super-fast MSS Kawasaki.
Anstey knows the mistakes he made in Thursday night's race against the Wee Wizard, so don't rule out the Kiwi on Clive Padgett's HM Plant liveried Honda. Gary Johnson, Guy Martin, Derek Sheils, Conor Cummins and Josh Brookes should all feature strongly.