Belfast Telegraph

North West 200: Stars won't have it all own way

Blast from the past: Rider Liaison Officer Steve Plater (left) and BBC analyst Phillip McCallen, both former NW200 winners, during the opening practice session of the 2018 Vauxhall International North West
Blast from the past: Rider Liaison Officer Steve Plater (left) and BBC analyst Phillip McCallen, both former NW200 winners, during the opening practice session of the 2018 Vauxhall International North West

By Phillip McCallen

Well that’s the first day’s practice done and dusted at the North West and to be honest I believe it was generally a good day all round with all classes getting a run out and the riders getting up to speed once again on the unique Triangle circuit where top speed is held for longer than on most other circuits.

I can tell you from experience that does take a bit of getting used to on those early laps.

Glenn Irwin was not impressed that he didn’t get out for another couple of laps and the fact that he only rides in the one class does hinder him and I have sympathy with him, but being realistic Race Director Mervyn Whyte knew that road opening time was approaching fast and he could not risk getting close to the deadline. Given a dry tomorrow he should be able to make up for lost time.

I was really impressed with Michael Dunlop yesterday — he was totally focused, he looks bike fit and physically fit which is a good combination and not interested in talking.

He also has race-winning bikes and race-winning teams in Tyco BMW and his own Carl Cox-backed MD Racing team — this is a real big year for Michael. Tyco boss Philip Neill will have his work cut out with three top runners in his garage and the rivalry between them will be intense.

Three good riders, good bikes, all winners, so why not get them together in one awning?

Honda Racing recruit Lee Johnston must be happy with his first outing of the season on the Honda Racing Fireblade, putting in a faster lap in Superbike than Michael but still needs to qualify the bike with another fast lap tomorrow.

He has done no racing this year and is bound to be a bit rusty, but that lap will have filled him with confidence on a bike that was slated right, left and centre last year. Lee is no mug and would not have signed a contract if there were any doubts in his mind about the potential of the motorcycle.

On the other side of the Honda garage Ian Hutchinson has fought his way through adversity to be back on the grid but in my opinion I don’t believe he will win a race this year.

That is not being detrimental, just look at what the man has been through — twice — to get to where he is.

I know this is his livelihood and he has to try and be as fast as he can with a contract to honour. At this moment do I believe he is at the level he was when he won all five TT races in 2010? I don’t think so, but what he is doing is trying to recover as quickly as possible so he can get time on the motorcycle and plan ahead to next year.

Like all top road racers, he has that will to win, but at this moment he is struggling physically.

A big shout out to Derek McGee on the KMR Kawasaki in topping the Supertwin qualifying ahead of many top names.

He is coming off the back of a win at Tandragee although I would put Martin Jessopp as an odds-on favourite for race wins. I looked at his bike and the best of materials and a load of money has been chucked at it, but McGee could very well be a fly in the ointment.

What with the stoppages and the weather yesterday it is probably not a fair judgement on certain performances, with the ever-changing conditions, good riders on good machines maybe hitting the track at just the wrong time.

The forecast would appear to be good for tomorrow and the weekend and we could well see a reversal in fortunes and for sure the cards will turn again before and during tomorrow’s qualifying and races.

We will see some entertaining and tremendous racing with maybe, just maybe, a little surprise waiting in there to threaten the top runners’ supremacy.  

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

Belfast Telegraph

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