Belfast Telegraph

North West 200: William Dunlop has the skills to pose a major threat

By Phillip McCallen

In golf, they talk about the third round in Major tournaments as moving day when the leading contenders look to edge clear of the pack and stake their claim for victory in the decisive fourth and final round.

At the North West, it is moving day in more ways than one from the get-go. The jockeying for position began with yesterday's first practice and it was interesting to watch virtually the entire field trying to get to grips with new experiences in one way or another.

We had 30 newcomers out on the track in a whole new learning curve and, probably more than ever, many of the top riders and seasoned North West competitors were out on new bikes they are still trying to get the feel of in racing conditions after weeks of testing.

Initially, it was a case of just getting out and getting a few miles in. The weather didn't help - drizzle just as practice was getting under way, then rain and high winds which played havoc with tyre choices and bike handling.

All things considered, it was a day when sensible people just wanted to get out, get the job done and get back in safely to work on what they'd learned.

It was only when the track dried out and riders changed tyres to slicks late in the day that we saw them hit anywhere near the speeds they are capable of, Michael Dunlop being the perfect example.

Michael didn't go out early as he waited to see how the conditions developed and then produced the second fastest Superbike lap of the day with his final effort.

Michael being Michael, all eyes will be on him and even though his new Yamaha R1 isn't fully up to racing spec, he has put down a marker.

His quieter brother William likes to keep out of the limelight away from the track and he lets his riding do the talking for him.

But he is one of two riders I think will have returned to their motorhomes yesterday feeling quietly confident of wins, and justifiably so.

The other is obviously Alastair Seeley, who dominated the practice with the fastest times in three classes, topping the leaderboard in Supersport, Superstock and Superbike.

He won on the BMW Superstock last time out at Oulton Park which shows he is getting to know the bike and what it can do and, deep down, I'd say he has picked out the races he believes he can win.

As for William, he has greatly impressed me with the way he has matured as a rider and man.

He looks very relaxed and I put that down to being confident and happy with his Tyco team and his bikes. He can handle the Supersport Yamaha R6 with his eyes shut and the BMW like a big toy. He seems to be able to make it work the way he wants and that's a good sign.

He would be too modest to predict success for himself but after third behind Seeley in the Supersport yesterday, I'd consider him a major threat to anyone's ambitions.

Below the radar, I saw Ian Hutchinson emerge as a dark horse yesterday. As everyone knows, Ian is a great rider who has experienced four not so good seasons after his shocking accident and injuries that threatened to end his career.

It was clear yesterday that he has put in a lot of work in testing with the Paul Bird Kawasakis.

It's a team full of winners with Stuart Easton and Shane 'Shakey' Byrne on board and Ian looks ready to step up to the plate again.


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