Newcomers Patricia and Richard loving life at the North West 200
Every year the fonaCAB International North West 200 welcomes newcomers to the 8.97-mile Triangle Circuit and they play a pivotal role in adding to the colour of the event.
Some of these fledglings may take flight and become stars of the future and ambassadors for the event.
Indeed, many of the big names at this year’s 90th Anniversary meeting all came through the newcomer’s route.
The likes of Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman, Glenn Irwin, Dean Harrison, Ian Hutchinson and Lee Johnston are household names now, but it took a little while for them to settle into the style of racing encountered at Portrush.
In fact, on Hutchy’s first appearance at the North West in 2004, during a restarted Supersport practice session he pulled a massive wheelie off the line and threw the machine up the road towards Millbank Avenue, breaking his leg!
One of this year’s debutants is American rider Patricia Fernandez from Tulsa in Oklahoma.
She has raced in Moto America and several series around the world and is no stranger to road racing here in Northern Ireland having made her mark by becoming the fastest female around the 7.4-mile Dundrod Circuit with a speed of 121.130mph on her Kawasaki in the 2018 UGP Superstock race.
She is sponsored by Magic Bullet lubricants, manufactured and produced by Global Lubricants in Lisburn, and completed her first amateur season in 2011.
Her first Pro-Race in America was in 2013 and she is only one of three female riders in history to qualify, compete and score points throughout a full season.
“I can remember my first club race — I was scared and I cried, but I was also determined to do it. I was addicted from my first lap,” admitted Fernandez.
She is enjoying the opportunity to compete alongside the superheroes of road racing and is fulfilling one of her career ambitions by riding at the North West.
“Wow, it’s fast,” she said after her first laps around the track.
“There are parts you are pinned in sixth gear, but for me the Coast Road is the most fun.
“It’s quite technical and I’m struggling with the chicanes, trying to remember which ones are tight and which ones open out.
“A lot of the corners have camber changes halfway through them and I was just getting my braking points sorted on the first night. Once comfortable, I’ll start pushing a bit more.”
She was round at over 103mph on Tuesday night on her Superstock Kawasaki, but will be looking to improve today.
This year, the leading newcomer would appear to be British Superstock 1000cc challenger Richard Cooper, riding for the Buildbase Suzuki team, and he showed his class by being the seventh fastest in the opening Superstock qualifying on Tuesday.
“Not too bad for never having ridden around here before,” the 36-year-old Nottingham man grinned. “I’m learning every lap and got behind my ex-team-mate Michael Dunlop for a lap, so that helped. Yes, you could say I’m pleased with how things went.”
Cooper has had a varied career in motorcycle racing on various types of bikes around the world, from a 90cc step-through Honda in an eight-hour race at Mallory Park recently to World Superbike, European Superstock 1000, BMW Motorrad Boxer Cup, Honda Hornets, British Junior Superstock and Superbikes, Daytona 200, Yamaha R1 Cup, and KTM 990cc Dukes series to name but a few.
He was 2011 British Superstock 1000cc champion and won the last BSB race of 2018 at Brands Hatch before returning to challenge for this year’s Superstock 1000cc Championship.
However, this is his first road race, and prior to the event the diminutive Cooper said: “Riders say road racing is like a drug, but I don’t want to take their word for it, I want to try it myself to see if I will be addicted.
“I am old enough and wise enough to approach racing on the roads in the right way and I believe in my own ability. I’m also a racer and won’t just be riding around for fun, but I also won’t be breaking any records.”
The North West 200 attracts riders from around the world nowadays and among the newcomers this year are Lukas Maurer from Switzerland, who was ninth in the International Road Race Championship last year and fifth in Supersport, Erno Kostamo from Finland, the third-place finisher in the IRRC Superbike series behind Danny Webb and Didier Grams, Vassilios Takos from Germany and Francesco Curinga from Italy.
Among the local newcomers is Carl Phillips, the leader of the AJ Plumbing Ulster Superbike series who rides a Team ILR/Mark Cloverdale Paton that was second fastest through the speed trap on Tuesday.
Last year’s third-place finisher in the same series, Ryan Gibson, goes in the Supertwin race on one of six KMR Kawasakis, and in the Superstock races are Alan Johnston, Joseph Loughlin, William Hara and 2018 Manx Grand Prix winner James Chawke.
It is always interesting to watch the newcomers and see how they progress throughout the week.