Wee Wizard Alastair Seeley showed his determination to hold on to his King of the North West crown with another dominant, high-speed display in last night's thrilling and major incident free opening three-race programme on the north coast.
Carrick rider Seeley (38) scorched to a brilliant win in the first Supersport race on his Derry-backed EHA Yamaha to extend his North West wins record to 22. He also finished second for Moneymore-based Tyco BMW to emerging English rider Peter Hickman (Smith's BMW) in Superstock.
Seeley also posted the fastest laps in both races, cheered on by massive trackside crowds in the bright early evening sunshine - 117.671mph in Supersport and 122.514 in Superstock. Local hero Michael Dunlop took third in the Superstock race.
Another English visitor, Martin Jessop, took the third and final Supertwins race with some of the loudest cheers of the night for a fantastic second place by veteran Glengormley racer Jeremy McWilliams (left), the oldest rider in the event at 54, on Ryan Farquhar's KMR Kawasaki.
Earlier in the day, Seeley had been edged down to fourth on the grid in qualifying for tomorrow's Superbike races by Carrick rival Glenn Irwin (Ducati), Dean Harrison (Kawasaki) and Michael Dunlop, Seeley's Tyco BMW team-mate.
Seeley will now aim to use his win and second place last night to launch an assault on the front three with a repeat of last year's thrilling Superbike duel, won by Irwin, on the cards.
Seeley will go all out for revenge, saying after his Supersport win: “I bided my time in the early laps with a full fuel load. The team owners, Edward and Gail Allingham, provided me with a good package. The R6 Yamaha we knew was good at World and British Supersport level and now we have shown what it can do here.
“I knew I had to make a gap on the last lap so I put my head down for race win No.22.
“I had plenty left, if needed. I really like Supersport, it suits my height and weight and I gelled with this bike quickly. That’s 11 wins in 11 years here, that was my first target this weekend and I’ve reached it on the first night.”
In perfect conditions for the first race, Jessopp led into Mill Road roundabout too quickly, hit the roundabout and chaos ensued behind. Some riders, taking evasive action, went the wrong side, allowing Seeley, Lee Johnston and Adam McLean to break clear at the front.
Johnston eventually took third on his Padgett’s Honda with James Hillier (Kawasaki) in second.
Hickman was overjoyed to grab his first North West win in the Superstock race.
“Finally, a win here,” he smiled. “It’s great for the Smiths team who put the money into the sport. I knew I was faster on the Coast Road and made my move at Juniper. I got clean past him (Seeley) on the brakes — he let his brakes off, I said no way and let mine off again and we touched, but I managed to hold it together to take my first win.”
Seeley commented: “I bided my time again in a big freight train of riders, trying to save my tyres. I had a bit of a weave in the last two laps, but I thought I had it until Hicky came up the inside into Juniper.
“I let the brakes off, so did he, we touched and I was heading for the kitty litter. My motocross experience told and I stayed on and brought it home second. No worries about Peter’s move. I must remember that.”
Third-placed Michael Dunlop admitted: “I had a bit of a slide at Juniper, but that’s what happens. I’ll just keep the head down and keep battling on.”
Third-placed Supertwin rider Joey Thompson revealed Michael’s late uncle and legend Joey inspired him to come to the North West from Yorkshire, saying: “I’m thrilled to be here as Joey Dunlop was a hero of mine. I didn’t have the experience to go round the corners like these boys. It’s only my second visit.”
Runner-up McWilliams said: “That was fun, but nerve-wracking on the run out to University with the slip streaming. I was fifth on the last lap and hung in there in case the boys tripped up and they did at Juniper and I got into second on the last corner.
“I’m buzzing, and relieved to see a podium. This was for Ryan’s efforts and for our team-mate Darren James, who crashed in Tuesday’s practice.”