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Michael Dunlop determined to give home fans plenty to roar about as he eyes up Superbike glory at North West 200


Michael Dunlop on the Suzuki during North West 200 practice

Michael Dunlop on the Suzuki during North West 200 practice


Michael Dunlop meets Ukrainian refugee children at the North West 200

Michael Dunlop meets Ukrainian refugee children at the North West 200

Glenn Irwin during the Meet the Riders event in Coleraine

Glenn Irwin during the Meet the Riders event in Coleraine


Michael Dunlop on the Suzuki during North West 200 practice

This time last week, Michael Dunlop had yet to confirm his choice of Superbike machine for the North West 200 following his dramatic split from Paul Bird’s Ducati team last month.

Today, Dunlop will attempt to clinch his first victory in the blue riband class since 2016 on the Hawk Racing Suzuki, which he unveiled in the race paddock only five days ago.

The Ballymoney man only rode the GSXR-1000RR machine in anger on the roads for the first time in Tuesday’s opening qualifying session around the 8.9-mile Triangle course, but Dunlop came out with all guns blazing.

He ended the day second fastest, only 0.173s behind Australian BSB star Josh Brookes, who jumped at the chance to return to the North West for the first time in eight years on the MCE Ducati when the opportunity arose following Dunlop’s departure.

Four-time Superbike winner Glenn Irwin raised the bar in final qualifying on Thursday to snatch pole position for today’s two Superbike races, with the Carrickfergus man unofficially breaking Dunlop’s 2016 lap record by 1.8s with a blistering 124mph lap on the Honda Racing Fireblade.

Dunlop, though, improved his own time by five seconds on the Suzuki to secure a spot on the second row of the grid behind Irwin, Peter Hickman (FHO Racing BMW) and Richard Cooper (Hawk Suzuki), where he is sandwiched between DAO Kawasaki’s Dean Harrison and Davey Todd on the Milenco by Padgett’s Honda.

It might be a tall order for Dunlop to return to his NW200 Superbike glory days given his lack of mileage on the new Suzuki, but the 33-year-old remains the outright lap record holder at the event and won’t go down without a fight.

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The 19-time Isle of Man TT winner has a massive following, particularly at the North West 200, which is practically on his doorstep.

Sadly, Michael is the last member of his legendary motorcycling family carrying the baton forward, but he is determined that the Dunlop name will remain at the forefront of road racing for a long time to come.

“The North West is only up the road from me and it was always like a big home race,” he said.

“There’s a lot of fans come out and people really just want to see a Dunlop on the grid.

“Sadly I’m the only one left now to carry the name, and the fans want to see that.

“We’re on the back foot, but that was always going to be the case anyway,” he added.

“But I’ll have a go and I can only do my best. I’m still the lap record holder here and people talk about this as a build-up to the TT, but for me I want to win anywhere I go and it’s no different at the North West.”

Fellow Ulsterman Irwin will line up as the favourite today after his blistering performance in final qualifying on Thursday, when he also claimed pole in the Superstock class.

He opted to sit out Thursday’s Superstock race along with team-mate John McGuinness due to the poor conditions, but with dry weather expected on the north coast today, the Carrickfergus rider will be a man on a mission as he sets off in pursuit of a fifth Superbike victory in a row.

“Qualifying was so good, I had a good feeling from the first lap and set about our work,” Irwin said.

“To go under the faster ever lap by two seconds is something that pleases me a lot and again shows the potential of the Fireblade as a roads package, as well as our potential for this weekend.”

On his decision not to race on Thursday, Irwin added: “I spoke with John (McGuinness) about (Thursday) evening’s Superstock race and spoke with some riders in the 600 race, and made the decision to sit it out.

“I have a young family and racing on the roads in the rain is not a risk I’m willing to take, so sorry to the fans but I’m sure everyone will understand, and we’ll be back in action on Saturday.”

Irwin’s chief opposition today could come from fellow British Superbike contender Hickman, who was second quickest overall in qualifying on the FHO BMW M1000RR, 2.2s slower than his Honda rival.

Hickman is a Superbike winner at the TT, Ulster Grand Prix and Macau, with a NW200 victory in the premier class the only glaring omission from his glittering road racing CV.

“I want to win a Superbike race — I want to win every race I’m in,” Hickman said.

“The Superbike is working well and I just missed out on getting a final fast lap on Thursday when the flag went out, but I’m happy.”

Impressive Nottingham ace Cooper is another leading contender and the 39-year-old has already sealed a podium finish with third in Thursday’s Superstock race.

A double British Superstock 1000 champion, Cooper was the top newcomer in 2019 and is continuing to shine this week, while Bradford’s Harrison is another potential winner on the DAO Racing Kawasaki as he targets a first ever success at the North West.

Tuesday pacesetter Brookes finished second in the 2014 feature Superbike race and will be quietly optimistic of his prospects on the sweet-sounding MCE Ducati, while Milenco by Padgett’s Honda rider Todd is having a fantastic week so far and is a dark horse on the new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade.

Thursday’s double winner Alastair Seeley will start from 11th on the grid on the IFS Yamaha after struggling with his R1 Superbike.

The 26-time winner has switched over to the Superstock machine he has been riding in this year’s Ulster Superbike Championship for today’s Superbike races and certainly cannot be discounted from a rostrum charge.

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