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Michael and William Dunlop have dramatic first day at North West 200

By Paul Lindsay

Ballymoney’s Michael Dunlop set a blistering pace during the opening qualifying session for this year’s Vauxhall International North West 200 at a sun-soaked north coast.

The Hawk Racing BMW rider took the provisional pole position time in the all-important Superbike class with a stunning lap of 121.652mph yesterday.

And there were suggestions from Dunlop that even better was to come during the rest of an eagerly awaited week.

In stark contrast, Michael’s  brother William was left on the back foot, having announced a late parting of the ways from Randalstown race sponsor Chris Dowd.

With the support of Nick Morgan’s MSS Colchester Kawasaki team, William posted 12th and 10th places in Superbike and Superstock qualifying, and aboard a brand new Ivan Curran/Caffrey Transport R6 Yamaha, he was ninth in the Supersport class.

“At the moment I’m not expecting too much here and just want to get away from the North West unscathed,” said mild mannered William, on a day when big crowds watched the practice sessions.

“Obviously it is not the perfect preparation for the Isle of Man TT either, as I will have no time on the new bikes beforehand.”

William added: "I can confirm that I have split with Chris Dowd, but still retain the backing of Ivan Curran and the team's sponsors. I had hoped to have a new R1 Yamaha and R6 for the North West, but they have not materialised. It's disappointing and it has knocked me back a bit, but you live and learn.

"I will race an IC Racing Yamaha R6 and the MSS Kawasaki Superstock spec ZX10R this week.

"The wee 600 Yamaha certainly is quick but we are struggling to get it out of the corners at the moment, although we aren't far away in either of the classes and I am happy with that."

As so often is the case, much of the talk amongst the fans was reserved for William's brother Michael, who said after his Superbike practice: "It was steady enough. That is our first run out with the Superbike and we have a bit to go yet with it but now we have a guide. Hopefully we can get some good results this week."

Michael is hoping to prevent Carrick's Alastair Seeley from surpassing his late father Robert Dunlop's North West record. Seeley has 15 victories at the circuit, the same number achieved by Robert.

Less than a second down on Michael, Seeley said: "I gave the footpath a wee nudge on my last lap and got to use my motocross skills. We have a couple of tweaks to make to the bike and then I will be happier, but we're not far away."

Tyco BMW mounted Ian Hutchinson was third fastest, a further second back on Seeley, but the Bingley ace is in the form of his life and not too hung up on pole position.

The BMW man did trip the timing beam at 203.4mph, and said afterwards: "I have never been a great qualifier at the best of times, but I am on the front row in each class and that's definitely good enough for me at this stage."

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