The scene is set for motorcycle racing’s answer to a world heavyweight title showdown tonight as Carrick rider Alastair Seeley bids to overtake legend Robert Dunlop’s record of 15 wins at the Vauxhall International North West 200... with Robert’s son Michael Dunlop determined to stop him.
Seeley (36) will power his BMW and Kawasaki bikes off the grid in two races tonight with a warning from the late, great Robert’s son ringing in his ears.
“I will be doing all that I can to protect my dad’s record and to stop Alastair breaking it, if possible,” vowed Michael who will be riding for the Hawk BMW team in Superstock and the MD Yamaha in Supersport
The two riders go head to head in 600 Supersport and 1000 Superstock races on the north coast tonight, following a daytime practice session, with a Supertwins race in between.
And despite the pressure on him, Seeley, who scored three wins last year to equal Robert Dunlop’s tally, said: “I will just do what I do every year – stay relaxed, enjoy the event and see if I can win some races. It would be great to break the record, but it’s not getting any easier.
“Of course I want to win a 16th North West and the plan is to try and get it out of the way on Thursday night. I don’t intend stopping there and my optimum career target would be 20 wins around here. It’s achievable, but as I always do, it’s one race at a time.”
Michael Dunlop may well have to rely on some sibling-support from elder brother William to keep Seeley at bay until Saturday’s main event at least when Seeley has four more races.
Michael and Seeley are evenly matched in the Superstock class, which saw total German domination on Tuesday, with BMW S1000RR machinery filling the top seven places.
But in Supersport, Dunlop needs to find almost eight seconds to be on a par with Wee Wizard Seeley, who topped Tuesday’s session with consummate ease on his Gearlink Kawasaki.
William Dunlop is now managing his own team, having parted company with CD Racing at the start of Race Week, but if his 182mph speed trap time is anything to go by – some 7mph quicker than Seeley – a fifth Vauxhall North West 200 win for him could be on the cards tonight
Michael Dunlop set a provisional pole position time for Saturday’s Superbike races with a lap of 121.652mph in Tuesday’s practice.
With another day of wall-to-wall sunshine forecast, Dunlop’s time may well be topped during today’s second Superbike session, which will determine the grid for Saturday’s two blue-riband Superbike races.
The Dunlops versus Seeley battle is something that takes a little bit of pressure off some of the other favourites this week, and top of that list is Tyco BMW rider Ian Hutchinson.
The 11-time Isle of Man TT winner cruised to provisional front-row starts in both the Superbike and Superstock categories, and was second fastest overall in the Supersport class aboard his Came BPT Yamaha.
A double tonight for Hutchinson is not out of the question and going by his present form in British championship, few would bet against it.
North West 200
He used to be the main headline grabber on the North Coast and this year he is happy to slip in under the radar — well that was until Tuesday afternoon when he topped the Superstock session with a new unofficial lap record at 121.847mph.