North West 200: Harrison gets off to a Super start in the sunshine
Dean Harrison topped the opening Superbike qualifying session yesterday for the 2019 fonaCAB International North West 200 in association with Nicholl Oils.
The Silicone Engineering Kawasaki rider, who has never won a race at the North West, was just half a second faster than the Tyco BMW of crowd favourite Michael Dunlop, having his first road race outing since the TT last year.
In the dry and sunny conditions, Alastair Seeley, out for the first time on the PBM Be Wiser DucatiV4RR, was third fastest just 1.6secs behind Dunlop as he got to grips with the Italian machine.
Bradford ace Harrison said: “I’m over the moon to lead the first qualifying session. I ride this bike in BSB and I know it inside out. The Silicone team are a close-knit group and we all get along well. Can we win here? That’s the plan. The sun’s out, the track is in good condition and we are off to a good start.”
Lee Johnston, who had a nasty moment when his brake lever came back to the bar at University running up the slip road to the roads closed barrier, Peter Hickman and James Hillier completed the top six, with the winner of the last three Superbike races at the North West, Glenn Irwin, 7/1000sec behind his team-mate in seventh.
A disillusioned Irwin commented: “I felt like I was just riding down to the shops. I’m not happy at all. It’s probably a combination of bike and rider, but I didn’t come here just to ride round and make up the numbers.”
Michael Rutter, riding under number 90 as the North West celebrates its 90th Anniversary and who first rode here in 1992, was out on the £250,000 Bathams/Aspire Ho RCV213S Honda and finished the session in ninth position almost five seconds slower than Harrison after a few niggling problems.
John McGuinness, back at the event after his crash in 2017 and now on the Norton, was down in 19th having broken down at University after only three laps.
Hickman headed the Superstock field on the Smiths BMW with Johnston 1/437 secs behind on the Ashcourt BMW, with Dunlop (MD Racing BMW) making it a top three for the German manufacturer and a mere 0.062sec behind Johnston.
Irwin was again outpaced by team-mate Hillier in fourth, the Carrickfergus rider down in sixth behind Rutter, with circuit newcomer and former British Superstock champion Richard Cooper seventh, half a second behind Irwin.
Record 24-time winner at the North West 200 Seeley topped the Supersport session on the EHA Yamaha a fifth of a second ahead of the consistent Johnston, with Hillier completing an impressive day’s work in third, half a second behind the Ashcourt Yamaha. Seeley was a double winner of this class last year and is a leading contender in the British Championship on this same bike.
Dunlop, this time Honda mounted, showed no signs of ring-rustiness after his 10-month sabbatical, taking fourth spot ahead of Harrison and Hickman (Trooper Beer by Smiths Triumph).
Other impressive performances in the three main classes came from Paul Jordan and Davey Todd.
The surprise of the day came in the Supertwin class from Jamie Coward (KTS Kawasaki), who topped the leaderboard a fifth of a second ahead of KMR Kawasaki mounted Rutter, with Christian Elkin in third position.
Irwin, making his Supertwin debut at Portrush on the second KTS Kawasaki, was fourth, while 55-year old Jeremy McWilliams was fifth having only got one flying lap on the KMR Bayview Hotel Kawasaki after he hit mechanical issues.
McGuinness, giving the Lightweight Norton its debut on the roads, was down in 20th.
Normally bubbly, confident Irwin will be looking to make a step forward, especially in the Superbike class tomorrow, but history is against both him and Kawasaki as the Japanese manufacturer has not been the favoured machine in the Superbike class, and you have to go back to 1977 to find the last Kawasaki winner, and that was Mick Grant.
Irwin has, of course, said himself that he hasn’t nearly the same miles under his belt as most of his chief rivals at the North West, nor has he had the time on the new-spec bike he had with the Ducati, so maybe he is being a bit hard on himself after opening qualifying.
Honda Racing’s Ian Hutchinson forfeited his times from the opening Superstock qualifying session after his machine was found to be using non-compliant fuel.
Race rules stipulate the use of a control fuel only in each machine.
North West 200 Tuesday Qualifying
Superbike: 1st D. Harrison 121.210mph, 2nd M. Dunlop 120.969, 3rd A. Seeley 120.470, 4th L. Johnston 119.867, 5th P. Hickman 119.591, 6th J. Hillier 119.401, 7th G. Irwin 119.397, 8th I. Hutchinson 119.329, 9th M. Rutter 119.028, 10th C. Cummins 119.016
Superstock: 1st P. Hickman 121.448mph, 2nd L. Johnston 120.795, 3rd M. Dunlop 120.767, 4th J. Hillier 120.427, 5th M. Rutter 120.405, 6th G. Irwin 119.659, 7th R. Cooper 119.448, 8th D. Harrison 119.913, 9th D. Todd 118.365, 10th P. Jordan 118.055
Supersport: 1st A. Seeley 116.547mph, 2nd L. Johnston 116.470, 3rd J. Hillier 116.081, 4th M. Dunlop 115.852, 5th D. Harrison 115.310, 6th P. Hickman 114.829, 7th P. Jordan 113.939, 8th D. Todd 113.520, 9th I. Hutchinson 113.472, 10th G. Johnson 113.342
Supertwin: 1st J. Coward 108.425mph, 2nd M. Rutter 108.352, 3rd C. Elkin 108.025, 4th G. Irwin 107.977, 5th J. McWilliams 107.482, 6th S. Bonetti 107.352, 7th D. McGee 107.074, 8th H. Saiger 106.197, 9th M. Sweeney 105 762, 10th C. Phillips 104.718