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Alastair Seeley cranks up the heat ahead of the North West 200

By Paul Lindsay

Alastair Seeley firmly threw down the gauntlet during yesterday's opening qualifying sessions at the Vauxhall International North West 200 - on a day when wind and rain dominated a brief spell of spring sunshine.

The Tyco BMW rider topped both the Superbike and Superstock sessions on the German S1000RR BMW Motorrad machinery before his TAS Racing team blew the dust off a two-year-old Suzuki to put the Carrickfergus man at the head of the provisional leaderboard in the Supersport class as well.

With inclement weather playing havoc with all of the qualifying sessions, it was a day when experience counted most and even though a dry session tomorrow could yet give the grids a major shake-up, the Wee Wizard is more than happy with his work for the Tyco BMW team.

"It was nice to get back on the 600 Suzuki as the last time I rode it was back in 2012 here at the North West 200," said double British champion Seeley.

"I had a few slides and a few warnings but we kept it steady in all classes and we can't complain about three provisional pole positions.

"There was a lot of traffic out there and I got held up pretty badly at times but there's more to come for sure on all three bikes and we will sit down and go through the data with a fine tooth comb," said the 12-time winner, just three short of Robert Dunlop's all-time record.

Michael Dunlop slipped in behind Seeley in both the Supersport and Superstock sessions on board his own MD Racing Yamaha machinery and despite being two seconds adrift in the 600 class and four behind in the Superstock, the Ballymoney man has made his intentions very clear.

In the Superbike class, it was Gary Johnson who got closest to Seeley with the current British Superbike Championship leaders and North West 200 debutants GB Moto Kawasaki, albeit 3.7 seconds down.

The ECR/Burdens BMW of Fermanagh's Lee Johnston was third quickest in the Superbike category and for me, the diminutive rider could prove to be Seeley's biggest threat in the blue riband class come Saturday.

Rounding out the top six in the Superbike category in wet and tricky conditions were Dean Harrison (Mar-Train Yamaha), Ian Hutchinson (PBM Kawasaki) and Honda TT legend John McGuinness.

The Dunlop brothers, Michael and William, were eighth and ninth respectively on their Milwaukee Yamaha and Tyco BMWs, right behind Penz13.com mounted 13-time Triangle winner Michael Rutter.

Guy Martin completed the top 10 on the Tyco BMW but the man who stood out alongside Seeley and Michael Dunlop was Harrison.

The Bradford lad has always fallen on the wrong side of good fortune on the north coast, but last year's Supertwin TT winner was third in Superstock and sixth in Supersport.

Speaking afterwards, team owner Tim Martin said of his new recruit: "Dean fits in really well with our set-up and it has been a good opening day

at the North West 200 for us. We've got it all wrapped up nice and safely and our testing programme has proved to be beneficial."

Having tasted North West 200 success for the first time last year with Seeley - who took a double in Mar-Train livery - the Temple businessman was coy enough not to put pressure on his up-and-coming young star.

"I won't make any big predictions," he added.

"We had a run out at the Cookstown recently, which was very worthwhile over the bumps and jumps, and the idea is to come out of here with the bikes all set up for the TT, so any results will be a bonus."

The pick of the newcomers was undoubtedly Glenn Irwin, who overcame an early technical problem with his Gearlink Kawasaki to post the fifth fastest time in the Supersport class, although he has yet to qualify his VRS Kawasaki in the Supertwin category.

Bruce Anstey and Ryan Farquhar are currently non-qualifiers in the Superbike class and Maria Costello has yet to qualify in Superstock.

Top riders Keith Amor, Conor Cummins, James Hillier, Rutter and newcomer Ben Wilson all still have to qualify in the Supersport category.

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