North West 200: Michael Dunlop, Alastair Seeley and William Dunlop head list favourites
If you are looking for high-octane entertainment set on a rugged and picturesque coastline, with the world’s bravest men (and women) employed to entertain the masses on two wheels — then the Vauxhall International North West 200 is the place for you this coming May.
Station Corner, Juniper Hill, the Magic Roundabout and Mather’s Cross are just some of the famous vantage points that have become annual pilgrimages for tens of thousands of race fans for decades.
If you have never sampled the smell of Castrol R on the north coast, or in more recent times the high-pitched scream of a 200bhp four-stroke motorcycle being pushed to the absolute limit on the run from York Corner towards Coleraine at over 200mph… then you haven’t lived.
The main protagonists at this year’s event include 12-time winner Alastair Seeley and his Tyco BMW Motorrad team-mate William Dunlop. Carrick-born Seeley won Superstock and Supersport races at last year’s event and will be a big favourite on the ultra-fast German BMW S1000RR machinery.
He’s also expected to roll out a TAS Racing machine in the Supersport classes and is highly motivated for a sixth middleweight top step at the Triangle. Ironically, his new team-mate at Tyco BMW, William Dunlop, will be on a very special CD/Curran Racing R6 Yamaha in the Supersport classes, where he too is confident of victory.
Dunlop won the opening Superbike race last year, and such was the quality of his victory over his brother Michael, that William received the McLean Bookmakers’ Race of the Year accolade at the motorcycle awards in January.
Never to be discounted, Michael Dunlop went on to win the all-important and coveted North West 200 Superbike race later in the day, and with the all-new factory-built Milwaukee Yamaha YZF-R1M under his backside at this year’s event, the 11-time TT winner will be a big favourite for additional honours.
Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston was a double Supertwin winner at last year’s event and with East Coast Racing BMWs for the Superbike and Superstock classes this season, and the British championship-winning 675cc Triumph also parked in his ECR stable, the diminutive little character from Maguiresbridge could pose the biggest threat to the Dunlops and Seeley for Superbike honours.
Others worth a mention are official Honda duo Conor Cummins and John McGuinness and, of course, the evergreen quiet man of road racing Bruce Anstey. The 46-year-old Kiwi will again be racing with Valvoline by Padgetts’ Honda and only a brave man would bet against him taking his eleventh, or maybe twelfth, victory at this year’s event.
Local team Mar-Train Racing secured official Yamaha UK support for the next two years and with Bradford’s Dean Harrison their sole focus this season, the Temple-based team will be looking for their third North West 200 win.
Crumlin’s Stephen Thompson has yet to win a North West 200, but the journeyman competitor always guarantees value for money, and in the Penz13.com BMW squad alongside 13-time winner Michael Rutter and Canadian Dan Kruger, the County Antrim builder is worth keeping an eye on.
Aussie maverick David Johnson has over a decade of British championship experience under his belt and is undoubtedly this year’s high-profile newcomer.
The Vauxhall International North West 200 track action gets under way on Tuesday, May 12, with the opening practice sessions taking place from 9.15am to 2.45pm.
Dates for you diary
Practice and qualifying again takes place on Thursday, May 14, between 9.15am and 2.45pm with the opening races for this year’s festival getting under way later that same evening from 5.15pm to 9pm.
* An Evening with TT Legend John McGuinness takes place on Wednesday, May 13, with tickets priced at £5 per person in the NW200 Marquee. They are available from www.vauxhallnorthwest200.co.uk.
* A Question of Bikes with former GP and NW200 Racer Steve Parrish is in the NW200 Marquee on Friday, May 15. Tickets are £5 and are available on www.vauxhallnorthwest200.co.uk.