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North West 200: Expect a new lap record on a great day of racing, says Phillip McCallen



Crowd control: Michael Dunlop leads the pack into York Corner

Crowd control: Michael Dunlop leads the pack into York Corner


Crowd control: Michael Dunlop leads the pack into York Corner

Well qualifying is completed, bikes are well set up or as near as they will ever be.

At the end of the day riders are never 100% happy and are always looking for that wee bit more, a tweak here, a tweak there, looking for perfection that is not possible on a nine-mile road circuit. It has to be a compromise.

A superb final Superbike session was interesting even though it was interrupted by a red flag for an oil spillage. Right from the off everybody was trying to make up for lost time after Tuesday evening and it was only in the final few minutes that the fast times were set.

Glenn Irwin taking his maiden pole position on his ninth and final lap, Dean Harrison second fastest again on his ninth and last lap, Michael Dunlop making up the final spot on the front row for tomorrow’s two races once again on his eighth of eight laps completed, a mere 10th of a second splitting the trio and all on different manufacturers’ machines — PBM Be Wiser Ducati, Silicone Engineering Kawasaki and Tyco BMW.

Watching them closely, I believe they all have a little bit left in the tank and, given fair conditions tomorrow, Michael Dunlop’s lap record could well be in jeopardy.

Harrison is arguably the surprise packet on the front row, but if you look at his results he has been chipping away, picking up his first podium here last year, he has more experience under his belt since then and has a great team behind him.

Alastair Seeley is in fourth position, heading up the second row seven 10ths behind his new Tyco BMW team-mate Dunlop which will certainly motivate him come the races and again, like Tuesday, he seemed to have a gear linkage problem just as he was about to head out onto his final laps, a distraction he could have done without.

Another interesting statistic for you from qualifying yesterday is the fact that our pole position riders were all winners here last year — Irwin in Superbike, Seeley in Superstock and Supersport and Martin Jessopp in Supertwin.

BMW fill five places in the front two rows on the Superstock grid with Harrison a thorn in the German manufacturer’s side on his Kawasaki, again in second.

Honda are up against it in Superbike with the Padgetts Fireblade of Conor Cummins ninth, Lee Johnston 10th on the Honda Racing entry with Ian Hutchinson putting in a heroic ride in 13th. Considering where Hutchy has been injury-wise and the last minute decision in being passed fit to ride, he is a miracle man all right.

Supersport throws together a variety of machinery on the front two rows with the EHA Yamaha of Seeley on pole, the Riders Triumph 675cc of Jessopp in second and the Kawasaki of that man Harrison completing the front row with the two Hondas of Michael Dunlop (MD Racing with Carl Cox) and Johnston (Padgetts) filling row two alongside the Temple Golf Club/Caffrey Yamaha of William Dunlop.

Jessopp was fourth fastest Supertwin through the speed trap at 152 mph but over the full lap he was quickest, 0.038sec ahead of local lad Adam McLean, but the Tobermore racer got flicked off his Roy Hanna Kawasaki after clipping a kerb exiting Juniper chicane and luckily landed on the grass and was quickly back on his feet.

Only four riders lapped under the 5min barrier — Jessopp, McLean, James Cowton and Joey Thompson (left) on the impressive Paton bike that was fastest through the speed trap at 158.4mph.

And 53-year-old Jeremy McWilliams was fifth, probably relieved to get a good session in having not completed a flying lap on Tuesday. 

Everything is in place and buzzing for what should be exciting, entertaining and ultra-competitive racing in all classes tomorrow and, yes, I’m as excited as ever waiting on the lights to go out for the Vauxhall International North West 200 races — but still nothing like pulling the visor down, twisting the throttle and blasting off to start a race and then winning one.

We all hope for an accident free day and wish Mervyn Whyte and his team a successful event.

Phillip McCallen is an 11-time NW200 winner, including a record five wins in one day, and owner of Phillip McCallen Motorcycles

Belfast Telegraph