Michael Rutter upset the formbook and the odds to put himself in pole position for the two Superbike races at the North West 200 tomorrow.
The 12-time winner around the Triangle circuit had been largely overlooked in the build-up to this year’s event but announced himself to the world with a blistering final qualifying session yesterday.
He guided the Rapid Solicitors Bathams Ducati around the 8.9mile circuit in a time of 4m 26.336secs — a speed of 121.245mph — and just over half a second ahead of his team mate Martin Jessopp (120.986mph) with local ace Michael Dunlop (120.791mph) completing the front row.
Afterwards Rutter admitted that his time had come as a bit of a shock to him as well.
“That was a bit of a surprise, we had a few problems along the way,” he smiled.
“At the end of the day this was only practice and I expect the racing to be real close come Saturday, with my team mate, the TAS boys and Michael Dunlop the main threat.
“I feel there is another win in me around here and it would be great if I could pull it off.”
Rutter has not won at the North West since 2008 but one success tomorrow would move him into equal second position in the all- time winners list with Joey Dunlop, who managed 13 wins on his home circuit.
Alastair Seeley was fastest in both Superstock and Supersport sessions with Michael Dunlop also on the front row for both classes, which should ensure that Rutter and company do not have things all their own way with local success a distinct possibility.
However, yesterday’s practice was marred by a serious accident
on the opening lap of the first session of the morning when MSS Colchester Kawasaki team mates Stuart Easton and Gary Mason collided. Easton was transferred to hospital with a suspected broken leg, pelvis and internal bleeding.
Seeley, a double winner at last year’s meeting, had set the fastest Superbike speed on Tuesday evening, but was plagued by a number of grumbles with the Relentless Suzuki by TAS.
It meant he never got a real flying lap yesterday with his Tuesday time leaving him on the third row tomorrow, starting from seventh position.
“We’ll be fine come Saturday, starting from the front row would have been ideal, but we had a few niggling problems and the third row it is, we’ll be looking for a good start and take it from there,” he commented.
For Michael Dunlop, looking to emulate his father Robert, the last Dunlop to win a Superbike race at the event in 1994, his front row start came after a few handling issues with the Street Sweep Kawasaki and he must fancy his chances tomorrow.
Top performances came from newcomer Simon Andrews, starting from 10th position on the grid, while James Hillier in only his second year starts one place behind.
Racing tomorrow should be fast and furious given favourable weather conditions with roads around the Triangle closing at 10am and the first of five races scheduled for 11am.