North West 200: Easton is back but Seeley may miss out
After a three-year sabbatical, double Macau Grand Prix winner Stuart Easton (Swan Honda) announced his return to the Relentless International North West 200, in association with Black Horse, during last night’s press conference at BBC’s Blackstaff Studios in Belfast.
But the big story from last night’s media gathering was the possible omission of local favourite Alastair Seeley from the feature Superbike races at the May 15 event.
The current British Superstock champion will race for Moneymore-based Relentless by TAS Suzuki in this season’s British Superbike Championship and would surely have given local racing its best chance of a Superbike winner since Phillip McCallen reigned supreme back in 1997 — but currently Seeley is only entered in the Superstock class at the NW200.
When questioned last night, Relentless Suzuki team boss Philip Neill remained philosophical, hinting that further talks with event organisers, Coleraine & District Motor Club, may change the situation in the coming weeks. Seeley’s antipodean team-mates Bruce Anstey and Cameron Donald will be entered in all three classes — Superbike, Superstock and Supersport.
Looking ahead to the May 15 extravaganza, Race Director Mervyn Whyte MBE announced plans for the Ballymoney Borough Council Supersport, Clinton Enterprises Supersport and Greenline North West 200 races.
He also paid tribute to BBC Sport Northern Ireland’s continued support stating: “It is a pleasure to work with such a professional and enthusiastic media partner where we enjoy extensive online, television and radio coverage.”
Shane Glynn, Sports Editor for BBC Northern Ireland revealed coverage plans for the event, saying: “It’s the first year of a new five year contract for BBC NI, and we’ve been busy working out ways that we can improve and build on the output we’ve already delivered.”
A first for the North West 200 — as announced in last week’s Belfast Telegraph — is a daytime practice session, that will be run on Thursday, May 13. Roads will close between 9.30am and 3pm offering competitors an opportunity to qualify in similar conditions to that of race day Saturday.
Local competitor Alastair Seeley was thrilled with the new format and said: “It’s a professional approach and the correct way to go. Riding at night in low sunlight can be pretty dodgy at times and the daytime session will pretty much replicate what we should be experiencing on race day.”
Other riders in attendance last night were Ian Hutchinson, Conor Cummins, Keith Amor and local stars Ryan Farquhar and the Dunlop boys William and Michael.