North West 200: Riders from Down Under looking good
The southern hemisphere has provided a number of distinguished riders who have left their mark on the North West 200 over the past 30 years.
New Zealand, in particular, has a remarkable record as the only country from outside the UK and Ireland to have produced race winners around the Triangle.
In 1982 Stuart Avant became the first overseas winner when he won the 500cc race riding a Suzuki.
Another 13 years elapsed before Robert Holden claimed the final Supermono race when he rode a Ducati to victory, then made it a Kiwi double by winning the second Superbike race, also on board a Ducati, after a titanic tussle with Phillip McCallen and Iain Duffus.
Holden, unfortunately, lost his life in a practice accident for the 1996 TT races.
Today Bruce Anstey from Wellington has established himself as one of the North West 200 stars, equal fifth on the all-time winners list alongside Tony Rutter with nine race victories.
Anstey, of course, rode for the Moneymore-based TAS Racing team over an eight-year span following a North West debut win in the Production class (now Superstock) in 2002, but has switched to the all-conquering Padgetts Honda Team, who won an amazing 10 international road races in 2010.
Anstey has been on the rostrum in at least one race every year since his debut, and if he manages a rostrum this year he will equal Rutter’s record of a podium in at least one race for ten consecutive years.
He scored a memorable hat-trick in the 2007 meeting,, picking himself up off the tarmac after an opening Superbike race crash to win the two Supersport races and the Superstock race.
Anstey had come close to a hat-trick in 2004 when after winning the first 600cc race by a tenth of a second from Ryan Farquhar and the Production race by half a second from Ian Lougher, he was in contention for the second Supersport 600cc race, dicing with John McGuinness for the win, when he high- sided out of contention at Church Corner on the final lap.
Of course, there is another hugely-talented southern hemisphere competitor in Cameron Donald from Melbourne, Australia.
He has yet to win at the North West, but has two podiums to his name from 2008 when he was team-mate to Anstey at Relentless Suzuki by TAS.
Donald finished second in the feature Superbike race losing out to Steve Plater by half a second, and third behind Alastair Seeley and Anstey in the Superstock race.
He has also switched teams and manufacturer for 2011, riding for the local Wilson Craig Honda Team, and both he and Anstey will be hoping to fly the Australian or New Zealand flags around the Triangle come Saturday afternoon.