Michael Dunlop and I don't get on but we'll make top team, says Alastair Seeley
Alastair Seeley has spoken for the first time about his fierce North West 200 rivalry with Michael Dunlop, claiming the pair never speak to each other nor exchange handshakes, even when sharing the winners' podium.
They are now team-mates after Dunlop signed a deal with Hector and Philip Neill's Moneymore-based TAS Tyco BMW team to ride one of their Superbikes.
It is an unexpected and intriguing coming together by two of the sport's greatest riders and will inevitably sharpen their competitive edge when they go head to head in front of thousands of fans on the north coast in just over six weeks.
It is an open secret that there is little love lost between Seeley (38), who holds the record of 21 victories at the North West, and Dunlop (29), a 15-times winner at the Isle of Man TT.
Seeley, who is racing this weekend at the opening round of the British Superstock Championship at Donington Park, confirmed: "I'm not sure why we've never seen eye to eye."
Dunlop, who earlier this month left the Hawk Racing team, has already admitted his relationship with the Tyco team in the past has not always been cordial.
But it's going to be fascinating to see how he gets on with Seeley when sharing space in the North West paddock area.
Dunlop's late father Robert once held the record for North West wins (15) until Seeley took over two years ago. The Carrickfergus rider, who has pledged to keep going for as long as he can, is keen to play down any perceived tensions between him and his big rival from Ballymoney.
Long before the official announcement of his arrival, the rumour mill had been in overdrive about Dunlop's plans for the new season and all was confirmed before it went public when a friend texted Seeley to say: "I see you've got a new team mate."
Seeley said: "It is interesting and exciting to have somebody of that calibre in the team. It is good, and it means we are all under the same roof at the North West where we will have the same machinery.
"On race day, it is up to me to do a good job and hopefully keep him behind me. Yes, we are very competitive. I'm not sure why we have never seen eye to eye, but there have never been any altercations or anything done on the track to make it happen.
"Maybe it's how Michael approaches racing. We've never actually shaken hands, or spoke much, on the podium or anything. Probably it's because I'm there to win, and he's there to win.
"The competitiveness of the two of us makes it that we don't like to lose, and he's probably been on the receiving end more than myself.
"That's what makes this year so interesting and exciting for all the fans. We are on the same competitive machinery.
"The North West for me is all about approaching it in the same way I do every year. I've had many team mates over the years, and for me all I see is the same scenario. They are there to be beaten. They are another rival. The fact that it's Michael doesn't really make things any different. In other people's eyes it would."
Seeley won four times last year in the Superbike, Superstock and Supersport classes, narrowly missing out on a fifth victory when he was denied by Glen Irwin in a never-to-be-forgotten duel on the final lap of the headline Superbike race.
As well as Tyco BMW, he has also teamed up with Edward Allingham's EHA Racing for the Supersport class at the North West where he will ride a Yamaha YZF-R6. He also sealed a deal to compete in the National Superstock 1000 Championship to ride a Kawasaki ZX10RR run by the GR Motorsport team WD-40.
Seeley added: "People want to see this big ding dong (with Dunlop), but obviously there is Glen Irwin who had this great race with me last year. It would be nice to go out there and reverse the result."
He is also mindful, and respectful, of an iconic family name which is so revered throughout the motorcycling world, and especially on the North Coast where Dunlop has a vast following.
Seeley said: "The Dunlop name in this country is renowned. The wee lad from Carrick, Seeley, coming along and stamping his authority over something that was once Dunlop-owned territory... well, you know what happens there. You become unliked.
"Records speak for themselves. A win is a win… for me that is what it's all about - winning races, because I am employed by the teams to do that job. We keep talking about Michael. But there are a lot more riders out there than Michael Dunlop. There's Peter Hickman. There's our team mate Dan Kneen.
"We all know that winning a North West takes a lot of luck, being at the right place at the right time. It's not just about me and Michael.
"It's about me and Glen. It's me and Hickman. It's about me and Dan Kneen. It's about me and Dean Harrison. The list of riders who can win goes on. There's Bruce Anstey and John McGuinness."
Seeley claimed he made an overture to Michael Dunlop, the outright lap record holder here and at the TT, in the aftermath of a race at the North West last year.
He said: "I think I offered a hand at one time, but it was rejected. You do it once. Once bitten, twice shy. I've not really had a conversation. There is no real answer as to why we don't.
"I feel no reason to have one. I win races and step up to the podium. He does the same. It was awkward last year whenever the 600 race finished. I had William (his brother) on one side and Michael on the other side.
"William shook my hand in the winner's enclosure, but climbing on to the podium I felt that when somebody (Michael) is looking at the ground and there is no eye contact to reach out a hand, then why should I offer mine?"
Seeley won his first race at the North West in 2008, four years after he started, aged 24. So in the space of 10 years he's triumphed 21 times.
He added: "As I get older I can see it (the win rate) slowing down a bit. But as long as I get the good competitive machinery and ride with the big teams, then they're obviously giving me the package to do the job.
"I look at (Michael) Rutter and (John) McGuinness who are still cracking on and they're in their mid-40's. I don't feel old. I feel as sharp and as fit as some of the younger lads. I wouldn't even bring age into this."