With torrential rain and high winds forecast on the North Coast, today’s Relentless International North West 200 will more than likely come down to a battle between the wet weather specialists.
And if you add in the problematic and often frustrating decisions for teams on bike set-up and tyre choice, experience really comes into play.
Michael Rutter set the pole position time in the Superbike class in dry conditions on his Rapid Solicitors/Bathams Ducati, and with 12 wins from 21 podiums since his debut back in 1992, the 39-year-old Englishman will be many people’s favourite for a wet weather Superbike double this afternoon.
Setting a bike up for wet conditions is something of a ‘black art’, and even with the correct tyre combination and suspension set-up, a rider still needs a large portion of bravery to succeed around the high-speed 8.9-mile Triangle circuit.
Portadown’s Phillip McCallen, the only man to have won five races in a day at the North West 200, back in 1992, explains the difficulty facing the riders in today’s event.
“Some riders enjoy racing in the wet and others not so much. It’s all about getting a setting that gives you maximum feel and feedback so it no longer becomes all about power,” explained McCallen. “Everything is softened off and the playing field becomes levelled.
“In those conditions you have to favour the Rutters and Farquhars of this world but never rule out Michael Dunlop, Alastair Seeley or even Bruce Anstey.
“It will make it very interesting indeed; there’s no doubt about that.”
Today’s North West 200 is Manxman Conor Cummins’ first international road race since his horrific crash at last year’s Isle of Man TT, and he has no preference on conditions for today’s races.
“It’s racing isn’t it? You just have to take it as it comes,” explained the McAdoo Kawasaki rider in his laid back nonchalant manner.
“The tough thing around here is keeping a wet tyre on the bike, as the high speed runs rip them to bits. A wet front is no problem but on the rear it’s a tough choice. I’d go for an intermediate.” Dungannon’s Ryan Farquhar [KMR Kawasaki] is a well-known wet weather specialist, but the 35-year-old believes a re-shuffle of the race programme may well be the best option in the interest of safety.
“A drop of rain would probably suit us better,” explained the three-time NW200 winner. I’ve spoken to Mervyn Whyte [Race Director] and in my opinion a 4-lap Supersport race to start the day would let us see if the wet tyres can stick it.
“If they run a practice session it’s just more expense for everyone, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Relentless Suzuki team manager Phillip Neill has kept a keen eye on the short-range weather forecast and was actually on his way to a meeting with Race Director Mervyn Whyte when we spoke.
“I think they may just get away with a dry opening race if it gets away on time,” Neill explained. “But we also need a practice session in the wet; there’s no doubt about that.”
Former North West 200 competitor and current BBC MotoGP and NW200 commentator Steve Parrish agrees with both Farquhar and the Relentless Suzuki team boss.
“I think it’s imperative that they have a wet practice session, but I also think Ryan’s idea of running Supersport first would work,” he said. “We always used to race here in the wet, but I suppose the bikes weren’t as fast back then and everyone wasn’t just so safety conscious. It’s a difficult decision for the organisers, as if they don’t run there will be a lot of disgruntled fans and spectators, who are pretty much the lifeblood of the event.”