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North West 200: The unmissable pilgrimage for petrolheads

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Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during  17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200. Miss North West 2011 Jade Toner along with and Lee Johnston from East Coast Racing.

Relentless International North West 200. Miss North West 2011 Jade Toner along with and Lee Johnston from East Coast Racing.

He's after you! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush!

He's after you! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush!

Take that!  They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush.

Take that! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush.

Relentless International North West 200. Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Relentless International North West 200. Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Three year old Alfie Orr from Kells met his hero Bruce Anstey  at Coleraine Town Hall this morning at a 'Meet the Fans' event ahead of Saturday's Relentless North West 200.

Three year old Alfie Orr from Kells met his hero Bruce Anstey at Coleraine Town Hall this morning at a 'Meet the Fans' event ahead of Saturday's Relentless North West 200.

Newly crowned Miss North West 200 Jade Toner from Limavady was on the beach at Portrush

Newly crowned Miss North West 200 Jade Toner from Limavady was on the beach at Portrush

Kirk Jamison BMW during Tuesday night  Superstock  practice for the North West 200.

Kirk Jamison BMW during Tuesday night Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

 Relentless International North West 200.Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Relentless International North West 200.Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

North West 200 practice night. Superbike practice session. Alastair Seeley

North West 200 practice night. Superbike practice session. Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Gary Mason.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Gary Mason.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Guy Martin. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Guy Martin. 17th May 2011

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing honda.

Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

Guy Martin Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike  practice for the North West 200.

Guy Martin Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing setting the fastest Superbike time of 119mph during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing setting the fastest Superbike time of 119mph during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Michael Rutter.17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Michael Rutter.17th May 2011

Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda  at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Ian Lougher Blackhorse Kawasaki (No2) at Blacks Hill leads Adrain Archibald Kawasaki (No 13) during 17th May 2011  practice for the North West 200.

Ian Lougher Blackhorse Kawasaki (No2) at Blacks Hill leads Adrain Archibald Kawasaki (No 13) during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Conor Cummins. 17 May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Conor Cummins. 17 May 2011

Michael Rutter  Riders Bathams  Ducati at Blacks Hill during  17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Michael Rutter Riders Bathams Ducati at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Adrian Archibald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Adrian Archibald.

North West 200 practice night 17th may 2011.Bruce Anstey get a good luck kiss from his partner Annie.

North West 200 practice night 17th may 2011.Bruce Anstey get a good luck kiss from his partner Annie.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing Honda during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing Honda during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Stephen Thompson (No 11) BMW  leads Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Stephen Thompson (No 11) BMW leads Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Bruce Anstey and Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Bruce Anstey and Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Cameron Donald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Cameron Donald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop has problems with his Superbike.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop has problems with his Superbike.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Alastair Seeley, Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Alastair Seeley, Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing.

Guy Martin

Guy Martin

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Cameron Donald, Wilson Craig Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Cameron Donald, Wilson Craig Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Ian Lougher.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Ian Lougher.

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Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

The riders were testing their machines to the limit for the first time yesterday during a practice before the North West 200 races on Saturday.

For families and revellers who travelled to the north coast however, the weekend had started early.

Portrush and Portstewart's natural sea air was tinged with the scent of fish and chips, fresh doughnuts and candy floss emanating from an army of portable catering vans that have been anchored along the coastal fringe of the circuit for days in order to secure a spot.

The popular Ballyreagh Golf Course atop the cliffs leading down to the sea below attracted a different type of visitor — anyone and everyone who could secure a spot to watch the racers speed along the Ballyreagh Road for their warm-up.

Adrian McGowan from Ahoghill brought his friends and family to soak up the atmosphere.

“I'm a motorcycle fan myself,” said Adrian, “But it's also a great day out for the family. My three-year-old son TJ is enjoying watching the bikes race past. It's our highlight of the year.”

Over the roar of passing superbikes he added: “We've been coming for a few years now and it seems a little quieter this year than normal, but it always gets busier towards the weekend.”

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The unique road racing element is a big draw to petrolheads across the UK and beyond for its stripped-down nature and the merciless corners, straights and chicanes have claimed many a rider, but still, a growing number of people who are indifferent to the racing are attracted every year for the festival atmosphere the race brings.

Nadine Walker from Ballymena brought her kids for the afternoon. She explained: “My daughter Chenai (5) is really enjoying the excitement of the practice session but Regan (3) is a little scared by all the noise.

“It's great because there's a lot more to do besides watch the racing.”

Locals Alistair Purvis and Keith Fotheringham enjoyed an ice-cream with John Mitchell from Manchester.

Alistair explained the significance of the event to the local community: “I've watched the North West every year since I was four years old.

“I've noticed in the last few years that it's got a lot more corporate — things have got more expensive — but in terms of Portrush, it's the biggest event we have here in terms of tourism.

“It brings a great amount of business into the area. Everything from shops to taxi drivers benefit. People come here to spend money. I've seen people this week from Belgium, France and Italy.”

He adds: “Another important factor is that this is a sport where it doesn't matter what religion you are. Everyone is welcome.”

In Portrush town centre, resident Brian McMullan was oblivious to the commotion.

“When the North West's on there's a good crowd about the town,” he smiled.

“It brings people out to the pubs and clubs as well as those who watch the race. It's hard to travel about the town but it's great for the local economy so I can't complain.”

As the rain drew in yesterday afternoon and the riders retired to the paddock, the sound failed to diminish on the streets of Portrush and Portstewart as bars and clubs began to come to life.

The partying has begun.


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