Seeley throws down gauntlet in quest to enhance his North West 200 record
Alastair Seeley showed no signs of easing his stranglehold over the North West 200 after setting the pace on the first day of qualifying to top both the Superbike and Supersport classes, though he could not make it a practice hat-trick in the Superstock category.
The 17-time North West winner has won more races around the Triangle circuit than anyone else, and the 37-year-old ‘Wee Wizard’ from Carrick proved again that he will be the man to beat in the week’s races, which begin tomorrow evening.
Seeley topped the blue-riband Superbike class with a 4:25.100 lap time at an average speed of 121.811mph, more than a second and a half faster than his nearest challenger in Michael Rutter.
What will please Rutter, though, is that he managed to lap the Bathams BMW Superstock even faster than Seeley’s Superbike managed, with the West Midlands native clocking a 4:24.634 to push Seeley back into second by just 0.141seconds, ahead of the BMW of Fermanagh’s Lee Johnston.
Tuesday’s qualifying times rarely decide who triumphs in the Thursday and Saturday races, but what will be cause for concern for the rest of the field is that Seeley believes he can — and will — go even faster.
“We didn’t go for an out-and-out lap on the Superbike,” said Seeley, who was disappointed to be bumped off the front in the Superstock class by 45-year-old veteran Rutter.
Behind Seeley and Rutter in the Superbike class came Isle of Man TT favourites Michael Dunlop and Ian Hutchinson on the Hawk Racing Suzuki and Tyco BMW respectively, with the pair expected to be right in the mix for victories this week as they finalise their preparations for the TT in three weeks’ time.
The top five was rounded out by another Carrick rider, British Superbike star Glenn Irwin on the Be Wiser Ducati.
Honda’s struggles to get to grips with the new Fireblade continued with John McGuinness down in seventh, seven seconds slower than Seeley, and the returning Guy Martin way down in 19th.
The former Tyco BMW rider took last year out from road racing to recover from serious injuries sustained at the 2015 Ulster Grand Prix and focus on other commitments that included TV work and the Tour Divide cycling race, but returns this year with the Honda Racing factory team and his sights set firmly on winning his first TT.
Two years ago, Martin made a string of critical comments about the North West track, in particular the chicanes that break up the long straights. This time around the Lincolnshire native kept hush on the event itself, though made clear that his attentions lie elsewhere as he gets to grips with his new bike.
“It’s a means to an end,” Martin said of his attendance. “If I want to race the TT I need some signatures. That’s the only reason I’m here.”
Martin secured a late deal to ride the Wilson Craig Honda in the Supersport class, but was off the pace in all three categories as he finished 16th in the 600ccs and 15th in Superstock.
With no racing today, riders will get another chance to practice tomorrow before racing begins from 5.00pm.
North West 200 first practice
1. Alastair Seeley, Tyco BMW. 4min 25.1 secs 121.811mph
2. Michael Rutter, Bathams/SMT BMW. 4 min 26.670 sec 121.093mph
3. Michael Dunlop, Bennetts Suzuki 4mi 27.639sec 120.655mph
4. Ian Hutchinson, Tyco BMW. 4min 29.782 sec 119.697mph
5. Glenn Irwin, Be Wiser PBM Ducati, 4 min 30.030sec 199.587mph
1. Michael Rutter, Bathams/SMT BMW 4min 24.634 sec, 122.025mph
2. Alastair Seeley, Tyco BMW. 4min 24.775secs, 121.960mph
3. Lee Johnston, East Coast Construction BMW, 4 min 25.173 sec, 121.777mph
4. Ian Hutchinson, Tyco BMW. 4min 26.265 sec 121.278mph
5. Dean Harrison, Silicone Engineering Kawasaki, 4min.28.977 sec, 120.055mph
1. Alastair Seeley. Gearlink Kawasaki. 4 min 41.480 sec. 114.722 mph
2. Dean Harrison Silicone Engineering Kawasaki 4 min 42.975sec 114.116mph
3. Lee Johnston Jackson Racing Honda 4 min 43.968sec 113.717mph
4. Martin Jessop Riders Motorcycles Triumph 4 min 45.063sec 113.280mph
5. John McGuinness Jackson Racing/ Bet Victor Honda 4 min 45.893 sec 112.951mph
1. Martin Jessop Riders Motorcycles Kawasaki 4 min 56.494 sec 108.913mph
2. Michael Rutter KMR/IEG Kawasaki 4min 58.171sec 108.300 mph
3. Ivan Lintin Dafabet Devitt Kawasaki Racing 4min 59.330sec 107.881mph
4. Lee Johnston KMR/NI Air Ambulance Kawasaki 4 min 59.671 sec 107.758mph
5 Dan Cooper KW Electrical Kawasaki 5min 02.880 sec 106.616mph