North West 200: Not so fast, Alastair Seeley, we won’t let the record go without a fight
Seeley will have to get past Dunlop boys to take Robert's crown
Carrickfergus's Alastair Seeley is not only on course to equal or better Robert Dunlop's record tally of 15 wins during today's action at the Vauxhall International North West 200 - the double British champion now also has a chance of equalling Phillip McCallen's five-in-a-day tally, which has stood the test of time since 1992.
The Tyco BMW rider has been afforded that opportunity due to a revised race schedule, that sees Thursday night's Superstock race -red flagged on the second lap due to an incident involving Hungarian rider Sandor Bitter - now slotted in at the start of today's race programme.
It's a big ask for any rider to complete a clean sweep in today's ultra-competitive modern era, but two men who will be hugely motivated to stop Seeley are Robert Dunlop's sons, William and Michael.
The Dunlop boys shared the Superbike spoils last year, and with their undoubted Supersport pedigree, it wouldn't be beyond realms of possibility that the Ballymoney men put an embargo on Seeley's charge towards their father's record for another 12 months.
Michael Dunlop will no doubt sacrifice his Supertwin ride in today bulging six-race programme, to make sure he lines up against Tyco BMW mounted Seeley in all five of the main four-stroke classes.
Seeley already has one up on the MD Racing pilot, having taken NW200 top step number 13 on Thursday night, after Phillip Neill blew the dust and cobwebs off an aging 600 TAS Suzuki. But I cannot see it being so easy today.
Milwaukee Yamaha team owner Shaun Muir has brought across chief engineer Mick Shanley to oversee the smooth running of Dunlop's factory Yamaha YZF-R1M in the Superbike races. So I fully expect the Ballymoney man to be rubbing shoulders at more than a few road ends with his big Tyco BMW rival in both seven lap encounters.
Both Seeley and Michael Dunlop are high confidence racers, and the 11 time TT winner will probably be asking his crew, 'what's all this fuss about Seeley? I'm going to be the man winning five today for Yamaha!'
William Dunlop is a changed man since joining the Tyco BMW team and while Hector Neill is the team figurehead, it's been his son Philip who has slowly drawn out the best from the elder, yet quieter, Dunlop sibling.
William won his first international Superbike race at last year's event, out-gunning his brother with a move at Juniper Hill chicane, in a race that will be talked about for many a year.
In some people's eyes William finally came of age that day, stepping out of Michael's matt black shadow, and despite suffering a nasty high-side during qualifying this week - he does feel he can challenge for another Superbike podium today.
But what of his dad's record?
"It's inevitable that my dad's record would be broken at some stage," said William philosophically. "Had my dad not been injured I think it would have been more like Joey's TT record, and he would probably have ended up with something like 30 NW200 wins."
Giving credit to his team-mate and also speaking of his brother Michael, he added: "Alastair is riding well and to beat him here at the North West you need to be fully committed, as he's really good around here. Since the crash I've had another session with Micky [his osteopath] and am feeling a lot better, so I think I can be fighting for a podium on the Tyco BMW. But I'm sure Michael will have a damn good go at him."
Fermanagh's Lee Johnston was leading Thursday's Superstock race on the East Coast/Burdens Racing BMW and looked to be a match for Seeley before the red flag. And in the Supersport class, fellow Carrick racer Glen Irwin shocked us all when he led for brief periods before his Gearlink Kawasaki gave up the ghost.
Both are confident they can help the Dunlop cause in today's races, and no one more so than young Irwin, who only has one thing on his mind - a north coast top step in his debut year.
"I'll not be doing anything stupid and jeopardising my British champion campaign, but Thursday night's race shocked me as I was so comfortable riding with those boys," said the 25-year-old.
"I've a lot of respect for Alastair and a lot of respect for the circuit, but I know if it comes down to the last lap, I've already worked out where I'm stronger. Records are there to be broken, so I wouldn't begrudge him that. I haven't won my first North West 200 yet, but I'd like to keep coming back and try to win 15 or even 20 myself."