North West 200: James Hillier seizes initiative but Ryan Farquhar ready to pounce
The sun shone on James Hillier yesterday as the Hampshire racer turned up the heat in the Supertwin practice session.
Hillier, who has been on the podium twice since making his bow at the Triangle circuit in 2010, finished 0.065seconds ahead of class specialist Ryan Farquhar on the SGS Manx Gas by KMR Kawasaki.
After the earlier heavy rain, the sun helped to improve conditions for the 35-minute session but the lap record of 108.644mph, held by Keith Amor, was never troubled with Hillier's best speed yesterday 99.044mph.
Farquhar, who had led the session in the early stages, said: "Conditions were really tricky and you just had to treat the circuit with a bit of respect. The wind was a problem in a few places, mostly when I was out on the big bike and you had to be really careful.
"I'm just enjoying being back racing," Farquhar added while working at his bike. "I've always worked on my own bikes, but I'm sure there are a few superstars here this week who wouldn't know what it's like."
Jamie Hamilton was third fastest. In fact, he took the Cookstown BE Kawasaki around for a lap with a TV camera mounted on the seat, and was just over a second behind Farquhar with Michael Dunlop fourth on the Gortreagh Printing Kawasaki.
Jeremy McWilliams, the 2013 winner of the opening Supertwin race, only completed one qualifying lap and will need another lap tomorrow morning to guarantee a front group starting position, as will Glenn Irwin, two of the potential front runners for tomorrow evening's first Supertwin race.
Irwin was one of over 30 newcomers who were first onto the circuit yesterday for their five-lap introduction to the unique high-speed circuit, the riders starting in groups under the guidance of Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (Ulster Centre) instructors, including Phillip McCallen and Steve Plater.
Plater, an eight-times North West 200 winner, commented: "It has been great working with the new guys, passing on some of my knowledge of the circuit.
"There are some good fast boys out there and it is just about them taking a couple of steps back from BSB to learn about the cambers of the circuit, the wind and the unique slip streaming they will have not encountered before. Can they be competitive come the races? I would say a top 10 result would be terrific for the likes of Glenn, who is a confident rider."
Carrickfergus rider Irwin said of his first experience of the 8.97-mile Triangle: "I enjoyed the experience despite the weather.
"I haven't got the dangers out of my head yet, but I was behind Lee Johnston in the Supersport session for a lap and learned one or two things, but today was just about getting to know the place."
Other talented newcomers include James Neesom, Alan Bonner and Australian David Johnson, who said: "I have always wanted to race here, but this is the first opportunity I have had and although it is fairly easy to learn the circuit, it is another thing learning how to go fast around it."