Hungry Irwin is setting his sights on six of the best at NW200
The waiting is over, the weather looks set to be fair and the competitors are keen to tackle the first International road race of the season — the fonaCAB International North West 200 in association with Nicholl Oils.
The big news is that Michael Dunlop was passed fit yesterday and will take to the track today on the Tyco BMW and MD Racing machines.
Practice bursts into life this morning — roads are closed between 9.15am and 3pm — with a number of burning questions set to be answered.
Will Glenn Irwin get his new mount, the Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki ZX-10RR, dialled in after a couple of torrid BSB rounds?
Can Alastair Seeley tame the power and speed of the all-new PBM Be Wiser Ducati V4RR Superbike? And will the machine master the high-speed straights it will encounter for the first time?
Have Tyco and Smiths BMW overcome the late arrival of their new Superbike machines for Dunlop and current fastest rider in the world Peter Hickman?
Who will win the Honda battle — Ian Hutchinson, David Johnson or Conor Cummins?
Will the much-awaited debut at Portrush of the Norton Superbike in the hands of John McGuinness be a podium contender?
Can a rejuvenated Lee Johnston put the Ashcroft/H&J Martin racing machines on the top step?
Will Dean Harrison on the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki put his excellent BSB form to good use on the roads? Or can debutant Richard Cooper mix it with the regulars?
Irwin, who has won the last three Superbike races at the North West on PBM Be Wiser Ducatis, made the off-season switch to the BSB-winning Quattro Plant team and will take in Superbike, Superstock and Supertwin races on Team Green machines harbouring hopes that he could potentially win six races this weekend.
The 29-year-old Carrickfergus rider said: “That’s the mentality of a motorcycle racer, I’ve entered six races and want to win all six.
“Yes, this is a great family week, but we are ultimately here for the racing.
“I feel like I turned a bit of a corner with the bike and my confidence in the second race at Oulton Park last time out, so I’m keen to show what we can do on the Superbike and Superstock here.
“I’m relatively new to the North West, and the number of laps I’ve done compared to everyone else is pretty minimal, so having more races is invaluable. I’ve done my homework and I’m prepared, so with the fantastic package the team have given me, let’s see what we can do.”
Team-mate James Hillier is no slouch at Portrush having scored six podiums, including two runner-up finishes behind Seeley last year in Supersport.
Irwin’s east Antrim neighbour and fierce rival Seeley is in unknown territory with the Ducati V4RR Superbike and spent Sunday clocking up the laps during a Kirkistown track day.
The record 24-time North West 200 winner said: “It was a bit of a last-minute test, but at least I got out on the bike. It feels good and will feel even better going up the long straights at the North West.”
Seeley also returns to the Supersport class with the EHA Yamaha Team he won both Supersport races with last year, and as this is the machine he rides in British Supersport he will be well accustomed with its characteristics.
BMW are the dark horses having had little track time with the new model and spare parts just beginning to filter through. However, Tyco and Smiths have two of the most determined and respected riders in their teams, who will certainly not want to let Irwin and Seeley grab all the glory this week.
Dunlop, although saying little prior to his return to racing, has had speculation following his every move recently, but as is normal he will do his talking on the track.
Hickman, on the other hand, has had two BSB rounds under his belt this year and Oulton Park indicated his team have made progress with the new machine.
Fourteen-time NW200 winner Michael Rutter will run the No.90 plate on his Bathams/Aspire-Ho RCV213S Honda in both races to mark the 90th anniversary of the event.
The grids are packed in all classes with top-quality riders such as Lee Johnston, Derek Sheils on the BE/RK Racing Suzuki and Derek McGee, whose confidence will be sky-high after a four-timer at Tandragee.
There is also Davy Todd, the double winner of the opening IRRC at Hengelo at the weekend on the Penz13.com BMW, Paul Jordan on the RC Express Dafabet Devitt Kawasakis and Logan Racing Supersport Yamaha, Jeremy McWilliams on the KMR Kawasaki Supertwin, Brian McCormack fresh from a Mondello Park four-timer, Michael Sweeney and not forgetting Maria Costello and American Patricia Fernandez making her debut on the Magic Bullet machines.
Belfast Telegraph Digital