Michael Dunlop has switched to a Honda for the Superstock class in 2022 after relying on BMW power in past seasons.
And it seems to have been a shrewd move, with Dunlop fast out of the blocks on the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade in Tuesday’s first qualifying session, which he led with a lap of 117.402mph.
The 33-year-old’s sole victory in the class at the North West was achieved in 2014 on a BMW, and Dunlop – a five-time winner around the 8.9-mile north coast course – will be lining up with the intention of adding another win in this evening’s first Superstock outing.
However, the Superstock races are often closely contested and the Ballymoney man faces a raft of challengers, including dark horse Richard Cooper, who was a surprise package in 2019.
The Nottingham rider sealed a shock runner-up finish on his debut at the NW200 three years ago on the Buildbase Suzuki, albeit in wet conditions.
Cooper, though – who is again riding Suzuki machinery for the Hawk Racing team – is a live contender, and the 39-year-old was third fastest on Tuesday, lapping at 115.273mph despite plenty of damp patches around the course.
“I was trying to pick my lines but I was still being cautious because there were quite a few wet patches out there,” Cooper said.
“In 2019, I never managed to get my braking markers right, so that was something I was working on and we’ll keep trying to build on that this week.
“It’s still only my second time here but hopefully we can get some decent results on the Buildbase Suzuki.”
NW200 favourite Michael Rutter is another contender on the Bathams BMW and few riders have as much experience of the Portrush-Coleraine-Portstewart course, where the 50-year-old made his debut in 1992.
Rutter – the third most successful rider at the event with 14 wins behind Alastair Seeley (24) and Robert Dunlop (15) – was second fastest behind provisional pole man Michael Dunlop on Tuesday.
“The bike feels good and it’s fast,” he said.
“On Tuesday I got held up a bit on my last lap and there were still a lot of wet patches out there. I just need to get more laps done to get up to speed again.”
A long list of podium contenders include Ian Hutchinson on the Milwaukee BMW, James Hillier (OMG Yamaha) – a Superstock winner in 2019 – Alastair Seeley (IFS Yamaha), DAO Kawasaki’s Dean Harrison and Milenco by Padgett’s Honda riders Conor Cummins and Davey Todd.
Peter Hickman’s two NW200 victories have come in the Superstock class and he is an obvious threat on the FHO Racing BMW, while Honda’s Glenn Irwin and past winner Lee Johnston (Ashcourt Racing BMW) will be aiming to secure a decent grid spot in final practice today after missing out on Tuesday.