Seeley masterclass proves the highlight as North West 200 thrills the crowds
Spectacular, dramatic, sensational, stunning... four words that best describe Saturday's 2017 Vauxhall International North West 200, and at the head of the action we had two East Antrim neighbours, Glenn Irwin and Alastair Seeley, the Dunlop brothers, Lee Johnston and young 20-year old Adam McLean from Tobermore taking the challenge to the host of competitors who took to the 8.97mile Triangle.
Certainly the event had everything - stunning racing despite tricky conditions, a long delay due to heavy rain, an excellent strategy from the organisers, who held firm and believed in the weather forecast, which proved 100% correct.
Seeley emerged as Man of the Meeting, collecting the Robert Dunlop Trophy with his first hat trick of race wins on the Saturday in the Supersport, Superstock and opening Superbike race, to add to his Thursday Superstock race win with a new lap record.
The 37-year old extended his record of wins at the event to 21 since his debut in 2004, and has now established a podium record of 31 to make him the undoubted master of the event - remembering that just a few weeks prior to the meeting he just had two rides in the Supersport class for Gearlink Kawasaki.
Saturday's opening Bet McLean Supersport six-lapper was delayed for half an hour to allow the track to dry after overnight rain, although there were a lot of damp patches, especially in the chicanes and along the coast road.
Seeley got a perfect start to lead as epic battle ensued with Hutchinson, Jessopp, Bruce Anstey, Lee Johnston, Adam McLean, William Dunlop, Dean Harrison and Michael Dunlop - in fact at the end of the second lap 13 riders were within three seconds of each other.
At Juniper Chicane on lap three Johnston and McLean had a coming together that left Johnston crashing, though relatively unscathed, and Seeley went on to take the chequered flag just over four seconds ahead of the Dunlops - William getting the better of Michael by 0.404sec for second.
After an almost four hour delay due to the Bennetts Suzuki of Michael Dunlop depositing oil on the track and giving the track time to dry out somewhat, the Anchor Complex Superbike race got underway over four laps.
Seeley didn't get a good start, but was ahead by Ballysally and went on to simply annihilate the opposition, as he cleared off to win by over 21.5 seconds from Rutter, Johnston and Irwin.
The CP Hire Superstock saw roads almost dry but, as they raced, light rain fell and as riders went into the last lap, some had their hands up looking the race to be stopped - shortly afterwards the red flag came out -with the result of race declared from the end of the fourth lap giving Seeley his third win on the day and his 21st in total.
The moral of the race - always be in front as you cross the finish line, as you never know when the race is to be stopped in 'iffy' conditions.
Rutter finished second saying, "That was lethal, should have been stopped two laps earlier. It was terrifying out there; it's our lives at risk."
Michael Dunlop said: "It was savage out there and some are sitting on the fence. I'm OK either way - race or not race. People have to remember we are riding 200mph machines for long periods and that creates a lot of spray. Some will complain on the internet if we don't race, but they aren't out there, are they? I suppose you are damned if you do and damned if you don't, but at the end of the day safety is paramount."
Seeley on his day said: "Fantastic, it was hard, hard work in the conditions, damp and then dry, managing the tyre, short shifting, managing slides and broadsiding at 170mph. Thanks to the teams that supported me at the North West and all my personal sponsors and I'm delighted to repay their faith in me with wins and podiums."
Tyco BMW joint team owner Hector Neill said: "I'd have been happy with a couple of wins. A few months ago Alastair had no bikes and look what he's done. Make no mistake though, I want to win the Senior TT and Hutchy has prepared well here and he will be hard to beat on our bikes."