Magic Michael Dunlop throws down the gauntlet at North West 200
Dunlop won’t let Seeley take his father’s NW crown without a fight
With the north coast bathed in sunshine for yesterday’s opening practice sessions of the Vauxhall International North West 200, Michael Dunlop fired a shot across the bows of his Superbike rivals when he topped the 40-minute session on his Hawk BMW with a speed of 121.652mph.
It put the Ballymoney man half a second ahead of the Briggs RAF Reserve BMW of Alastair Seeley, who is attempting to beat Michael’s late father Robert’s record of wins around the 8.97-mile circuit come racing time — the Carrickfergus ace is currently tied with the ‘Mighty Micro’ on 15 wins each.
However, the fastest lap of the day went to veteran Michael Rutter in Superstock when he lapped at 121.847mph, an unofficial lap record for the class.
BMW machines filled the first three positions of the provisional Superbike front row with the Tyco BMW of Ian Hutchinson in third position behind Dunlop and Seeley with a lap of 120.894mph.
In his 22nd year of coming to the North West, John McGuinness slotted his Honda into fourth position ahead of Rutter and James Hillier.
On board the Mar-Train Yamaha, Jeremy McWilliams — deputising for the injured Dan Kneen — was a respectable 11th fastest at 118.060mph on his first serious outing on the machine.
The speed trap situated on the stretch of the circuit heading towards University Corner recorded five times over 200mph with Dunlop and Hutchinson equal at 203.4mph.
Tyco BMW’s Ryan Farquhar — 15th fastest overall — broke the timing beam at 201mph, while Seeley and McGuinness both clocked 200.4mph on their respective BMW and Honda.
Bathams SMT BMW ace Rutter — a 13-time North West winner — just edged out Seeley in the Superstock class, having to take the unofficial lap record to claim provisional pole.
BMW dominated the first seven places on the provisional grid with Hutchinson, Dunlop, Lee Johnston, Martin Jessopp and Gary Johnson following the leading duo home.
The session ended early after a red flag incident at Mill Road Chicane, where Ben Wilson of Lincolnshire crashed heavily. He was taken to hospital with a suspected broken leg.
In an eventful session, Lee Johnston high-sided from his BMW and sustained no serious injuries while Brandon Cretu of Pennsylvania came off his Bimota at University Corner and returned in the pillion of the travelling doctor’s motorcycle relatively unscathed.
William Dunlop, Ryan Farquhar and McWilliams finished in 10th, 12th and 14th positions respectively.
The opening practice session of the day was for Supersport machines and Seeley, who was Gearlink Kawasaki mounted, topped the times a massive 3.880 seconds ahead of the Came BPT Yamaha of Ian Hutchinson.
It was a great result for Hutchinson, who six years ago feared he would have to have his leg amputated following an horrific crash at Silverstone. The Bingley ace has since defied the odds to battle back to the top of the sport.
Seeley came within a second and a half of his own lap record, setting a high standard ahead of tomorrow’s final qualifying session.
Yeovil’s Jessopp was third fastest on his Rider’s Triumph, less than a second behind Hutchy, with Hull-based Co Fermanagh rider Lee Johnston in fourth.
Michael Dunlop finished the session in sixth with a speed of 113.302mph on his MD Racing Yamaha just over seven and a half seconds behind Seeley.
Now running his own team following the split with CD Racing, William Dunlop put it all behind him to finish in ninth position on his IC Caffrey Yamaha, but significantly he was fastest through the speed trap at 182mph, four and a half miles an hour faster than the Quattro Plant Kawasaki of Hillier.
On the Mar-Train Yamaha, McWilliams finished 11th on his Supersport debut at the Triangle, the 52-year-old former Grand Prix rider registering a lap of 112.731mph and a speed of 170.5mph through the trap.
Farquhar and McWilliams were the early pace-setters in Supertwin qualifying, but at the end of the 30-minute session it was Jessopp who emerged as provisional fastest with a lap of 107.348mph, just four one hundredths of a second ahead of fellow Englishman Ivan Lintin.
Farquhar had to settle for third at 106.781mph while SGS/IEG/KMR Kawasaki team-mate McWilliams came sixth behind Hillier and Magherafelt rider Paul Jordan, who was thrilled to beat two-time NW winner McWilliams.
Lintin and Farquhar both flew through the speed trap at 158.8 mph while McWilliams was 14th at 153mph.
Ballymena rider Mark Shields had the misfortune of crashing out at the final bend and was led away with a suspected arm injury.
Qualifying continues tomorrow morning with roads closing at 9.15am with four sessions for Supertwin, Superstock, Supersport and Superbike.
The roads will re-open again at 3pm before closing once again two hours later with the first three races for Supersport (six laps), Supertwin (four laps) and Superstock (six laps) set to take place.
If there is a repeat of yesterday’s warm, dry weather then records will undoubtedly be in jeopardy.
Superbike: 1 M. Dunlop 121.652mph, 2 A. Seeley 121.386, 3 I. Hutchinson 120.894, 4 J. McGuinness 120.231, 5 M. Rutter 119.860, 6 J. Hillier 119.024.
Superstock: 1 M. Rutter 121.847mph, 2 A. Seeley 121.403, 3 I. Hutchinson 120.803, 4 M. Dunlop 120.651, 5 L. Johnston 120.258, 6 M. Jessopp 120.049.
Supersport: 1 A. Seeley 116.412mph, 2 I. Hutchinson 114.806, 3 Martin Jessopp 114.412, 4 L. Johnston 114.081, 5 J. McGuinness 113.805, 6 Dean Harrison 113.365.
Supertwin: 1 M. Jessopp 107.348mph, I. Lintin 107.332, 3 R. Farquhar 106.781, 4 J Hillier 106.491, 5 P. Jordan 106.022, 6 J. McWilliams 105.902.
Super show: Michael Dunlop led the way in Superbike practice but the old guard of Jeremy McWilliams and Michael Rutter (top) showed they still have plenty to offer while (above) Alastair Seeley was top of the Supersport standings presseye/pacemaker
Belfast Telegraph Digital