North West 200: Speed king Alastair Seeley bears down on Robert Dunlop's crown
Alastair Seeley's convincing seven-second EventServ Supersport victory over Michael Dunlop in last night's opening race of the 2015 Vauxhall International North West 200 took him a step closer to Robert Dunlop's all-time record of 15 wins.
The Carrickfergus rider now joins the late, great Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter on 13 triumphs and he immediately paid respect to his peers following a fantastic triumph for Hector and Philip Neill on their 600 Tyco Suzuki.
"I won a British championship on this type of bike and while no one favours them these days, I think the Suzuki is a great wee 600 for the North West 200," said Seeley.
"I'm now level with Joey and Michael on 13 wins, which I never dreamed of when I took my first win here back in 2008, but that gets the ball rolling, despite this bike being sat in the back of the TAS workshop for a year.
"It just goes to show how good a bike the TAS boys can prepare," added Seeley, who also set a new class lap record of 117.077mph on the penultimate lap.
North West 200 rookie Glenn Irwin looked to be on course to join Bruce Anstey as a debut winner at the Triangle after leading in the early exchanges with Seeley, but his Gearlink Kawasaki expired on the fourth lap on the run from Station Corner to University.
William Dunlop was also a retirement after his CD/IC Racing Yamaha gave up the ghost on lap three, but his brother Michael did his utmost to protect his father's record, putting in a late spurt on the MD Racing R6 Yamaha but he couldn't quite match the Tyco by TAS Racing pilot.
Michael said afterwards: "We've had a lot of work to do and we've made good progress for Saturday's races, but every year Suzuki seem to come out with a quick bike for the North West.
"I was chasing Seeley down but I got caught in a slipstreaming battle and it let him get away."
Fermanagh's Lee Johnston, on the East Coast Racing 675 Triumph, completed the all Northern Ireland podium, albeit a further seven seconds down on Dunlop.
Anstey, Dean Harrison and Conor Cummins filled the remaining top six positions.
The night was halted prematurely after a red flag in the second Superstock encounter involving Hungarian rider Sandor Bitter, whose injuries were reported as non-life threatening.
It was shaping up to be a classic with Ulster trio Johnston, Seeley and Michael Dunlop at the head of the field. It will now take place tomorrow.
Guy Martin, meanwhile, set social media alight after comments he made about the North West 200 circuit yesterday.
The 33-year-old Lincolnshire ace, now combining a TV career alongside his day job as a truck mechanic and road racer for the Tyco BMW Motorrad Racing Team, launched into a rant during qualifying.
"I'm not a fan of the circuit. In fact, I get bored going around it with all the chicanes that have been installed over the last few years," said Martin, still seeking an elusive first victory at the world-renowned event.
"It is not really a road race anymore, more of a short circuit. My Tyco BMW is so good my granny could ride it in a straight line around here."
Quick to hit back at Martin was rider co-ordinator and Belfast Telegraph columnist for the week Phillip McCallen.
"The year I first raced here, granted there were not as many chicanes," said the man with 11 Triangle wins on his own CV.
"However, to say he got bored, personally speaking, you never get bored when you're winning."
Martin later went out in Superbike qualifying and finished the shortened session in 14th position, just over 15 seconds slower than pole position man Seeley.