Michael Dunlop set the Vauxhall International North West 200 on fire Tuesday, after posting the fastest lap in the Superbike class on his Hawk Racing BMW in the last seconds of the session.
The Ballymoney man, who was having his first pure roads outing of the year after opting to race in the BSB series rather than at the early season Irish Nationals, was over half a second faster than arch rival, Alastair Seeley.
“Aye, it was steady enough.” the 27 year old said after laying down the opening mark of the meeting in glorious sunshine.
“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.”
Alastair Seeley, who is bidding to win a record 16th North West 200 race, was runner up in the session on the Briggs Equipment BMW.
“I hit the footpath at Juniper on the last lap and did a bit of motocrossing but I wasn’t on a quick lap anyway.” the Carrickfergus man said.
“We have a couple of tweaks to make to the bike and then I will happier but it is coping well with the bumps and that makes it easier.”
Tyco BMW’s Ian Hutchinson was third fastest, a further second back. Hutchinson and Dunlop were joint quickest through the speed trap, breaking the beam at 203.4mph.
“I am never a great qualifier but I am on the front row in each class so I am happy enough with that.” the Bingley man said.
“I don't think we have much more work to do with the bikes really.”
North West veterans John McGuinness and Michael Rutter circulated together for much of the session on their official Honda and Bathams/SMT BMW superbikes with McGuinness finishing fourth fastest just ahead of Rutter.
James Hillier was the fastest Kawasaki taking sixth place on the Quattro Plant ZX10R just ahead of Peter Hickman on the similar JG Speedfit bike. Conor Cummins (Honda), Bruce Anstey (Valvoline Padgetts Honda) and Lee Johnston (East Coast Construction/Burdens BMW) completed the top ten.
Dan Kneen’s stand in in the Mar-Train Yamaha squad, Jeremy McWilliams caused a minor sensation after posting 11th fastest time on his first ever laps of the superfast 8.9 mile Triangle circuit on the R1 Yamaha.
“I run into traffic or I think I could have been higher up the order.” the 51 year old said.
“Everything happens so fast out there on one of these superbikes as you approach Station at 190mph. The onboard television cameras don't do justice to the speed. It is scary and requires a huge amount of concentration.”
GearLink Kawasaki’s Alastair Seeley finished a massive 3.8 seconds faster than Ian Hutchinson (Came BPT Yamaha) in the Supersport qualifying session with Martin Jessopp taking third spot on the Riders Motorcycles Triumph.
“My bike was missing a little bit as well.” Seeley said afterwards.
“I know the bike having raced with the team in the British championship in 2013 and they have given me everything that I have asked for with the bike.” the 36 year old said.
Hutchy had only ridden his R6 Yamaha for the first time at Oulton Park BSB last week before posting his runner up qualification time.
“It is great to have the good weather because it allows you to get some laps in and not be worrying about slipping off.” he smiled.
“We just need to make the bike stop better now and we wont be far away.”
“The boys said I was third and I didn’t believe them.” a surprised Martin Jessop said.
”Seeley came past at University and I couldn’t stay in his slipstream so I know that our gearing is way off.”
Jessopp topped the times in the Supertwins session on his Riders ER6 Kawasaki twin ahead of class specialists Ivan Lintin (RC Express Kawasaki) and Ryan Farquhar on his SGS/KMR Kawasaki. James Hillier (Quattro Plant Kawasaki) was fourth fastest and in form Paul Jordan (B+W Kawasaki) was fifth ahead of that man McWilliams on a second SGS/KMR ER6.
“I can’t believe that either!” Jessop said.
“I have never run the bike on a road before. The boys said to just do a few steady laps and get the fuelling right but we ended up fastest.”
Michael Rutter posted an impressive fastest time on the Bathams/SMT BMW he usually rides in the British Superstock series.
“I am well happy with that.” the 13 times North West winner said.
“It is good to be here on a bike that I ride all of the time. I can just jump on and get going with this bike because I know it but with the superbike that hasn’t turned a wheel before this week I am not sure what it is going to do.”
Rutter’s last race win at Portrush was in the Superstock event in 2012 and he believes he can win again.
“It was great to ride along the coast road in the sunshine today and see everyone at the side of the road.” the 44 year old said.
“I haven’t seen this place like that for about ten years and it felt just like the old days.”
Seeley (Briggs BMW) and Tyco BMW’s Ian Hutchinson were second and third with Michael Dunlop fourth fastest on the MD Racing BMW.
The opening practice session of the 2016 event was brought to a premature end with just a few minutes left to run of the Superstock session when Ben Wilson crashed his EHA Aprilia at Mill Road roundabout, sustaining a broken leg in the incident.
Practice commences on Thursday morning at 10 am with roads closing at 9.15am.
Dunlop changes teams for NW200
Four time North West winner William Dunlop had been due to ride a R1 Yamaha in the superbike class at the 2016 Vauxhall International North West 200 but after a split with CD Racing the Ballymoney man will only compete in the Supersport and Superstock classes at the seaside event.
“I will race a IC Racing Yamaha R6 and the MSS Kawasaki superstock spec ZX10R.” Dunlop explained.
The 30 year old finished 9th fastest in the 600cc class and 10th on the stocker. His 182mph speed trap time was almost 5mph faster than any other machine but Dunlop says she isn’t comfortable with the new machine just yet.
“It is quick but we are struggling to get it out of corners at the moment.” he said.
“But we aren’t far away in either class and I am happy with that.”
Ryan Farquhar has first run on Tyco BMW S1000RR
Dungannon’s Ryan Farquhar was 15th quickest in superbike practice on his first race outing on the Tyco BMW S1000RR.
“The bike is really fast but we need a few adjustments.” he explained.
“We tested at Kirkistown last week and I had a good set-up for there but it isn’t working here. We need to make some changes to the chassis and to the engine braking and we are still too low geared at the moment.”
Farquhar performed slightly better in the Superstock category, posting 12th fastest time on his IEG BMW and claimed provisional runner up slot in the Supertwins class.
Lee Johnston struggles with injury
Lee Johnston pulled in during the Superstock practice after banging his injured leg at Juniper.
“I was in so much pain I was crying.” The Fermanagh man said after retiring his ECC/Burdens BMW with fifth fastest time.
Johnston sustained an injured groin after suffering a high speed splits in a crash at the Scarborough Spring Cup a month ago but the winner of last year’s Superstock race at Portrush has still his sights set on race glory on Saturday.
“Once racing starts I’ll forget all about the pain.” he smiled.
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