North West 200: A guide to the ultimate white knuckle ride with Phillip McCallen
To give you an idea of what a lap of the 8.9mile North West 200 feels like from the saddle, and to bring back memories of 1992 when I won a record five races in a day, let me be your guide around the white-knuckle ride that is the Triangle circuit.
The lights go out and I accelerate towards the fast first right hander at Millbank Avenue and then back a gear for the left at Primrose, then on the power over the crest before it’s hard on the brakes for York Corner.
A good passing place as the race goes on, but with everyone braking at the maximum you are forcing the machine right and braking at the same time, to out-brake a front runner is difficult.
There are consequences if you mess it up, you can overshoot, run wide and lose all your drive up to Mill Road Roundabout.
This roundabout wasn’t there in my early days when it was a fast left and right where I made up a lot of ground in my races.
Today it is blind braking, blind apex on the roundabout taken the wrong way around and then accelerate carefully as the road is off camber and it is easy to high-side here if you are not careful.
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Driving hard off the roundabout you get the knees, elbows, head and toes tucked in out of the wind towards Station Corner. It takes some nerve to take Station flat out, but it dictates your speed and drive for the fastest section of the course out to the University, over 200mph on a good day.
You have to watch at Black Bridge to keep the front wheel down and not let the wind get under it, forcing you to roll the throttle and lose momentum to University.
Some dab the back brake, the idea is to keep the wheels on the road and stay tucked in. If the wheels are off the ground you lose drive, simple as that.
University, where I lost the front and crashed going for my sixth win on that day in 1992, is different to York. Here it doesn’t matter how late you brake, somebody tries to leave it later.
There is a slip road, safe run-off or a block pass that can thwart your drive up the hill towards the ‘Magic Roundabout’, where there are differing lines like wide on the hard shoulder or keeping to the width of the road, it doesn’t matter as you still have to brake and turn over a camber, then chuck the bike on its left side before flicking right. This right is crucial for the drive to Mathers Chicane — not there in my day; it was keep her pinned from the roundabout through Mathers to the Metropole.
Today it is a fiddly chicane that is hard on the brakes after the fast, bumpy run from Ballysally, so easy to out-brake yourself and if you don’t stop you can easily incur a time penalty. It’s one line through the chicane and then gas it on the very fast run to Magherabuoy Chicane, again blind braking and apex. If you overshoot you ruin your race.
You know if that chicane wasn’t there it would create a speed and tyre problem because you would be in excess of 210mph down the hill to Metropole — unthinkable.
You still approach the tight entrance to Metropole at 180mph going hard on the brakes from 300 metres slowing to 40/50mph. Get it wrong and you head for Barry’s!
Church Corner is crucial using half the road (again to reduce speed), but still crucial to drive hard under the railway bridge and the right-hander where you are again off-camber towards Black Hill, a very technical corner, late apex with a change of camber mid-corner and a footpath jutting out at you on the exit if you run wide over the crest.
Get it wrong here and you can easily lose three or four lengths towards the crucial Juniper Chicane, last chance saloon if you want to win a race. There are different lines into the chicane, get it right and you win the race, but get it wrong and your race is over.
There is still the tricky exit to the chicane that has seen a few riders on their ear thinking the race was in the bag (Michael Rutter springs to mind, Michael Dunlop and Christian Elkin also ended in a heap here).
Finally, the drive up past the caravans and the late, late apex to the blind Quarry Hill where you line up with a pole before tipping the bike on its side and the short run to the chequered flag. If you are on maximum lean and maximum speed, nobody gets past.
Some four-and-a-half minutes of high speed excitement. I still miss the buzz of racing the Triangle and look forward to this evening’s first races.
The Supersport and Superstock races will be very tight with a potential Michael Dunlop victory in Supersport. Alastair Seeley starts favourite in the Superstock, he’s wee and light, but any one of half a dozen could fight for the win. Martin Jessopp probably starts favourite for the Supertwins, he loves the wee bike, it’s his pride and joy, but Derek McGee on one of Ryan Farquhar’s bikes has been going well here at home.
He’s comfortable with the circuit,happy with the bike and will think ‘I can beat these boys,’ while the former Grand Prix runner Jeremy McWilliams will have his work cut out with the likes of Rutter, McLean, Elkin, Cowton and Thompson for a podium place.
Phillip McCallen is an 11-time NW200 winner, including a record five wins in one day, BBC anaylyst and owner of Phillip McCallen Motorcycles