Belfast Telegraph

Phillip McCallen: Lap records will tumble as hungry riders give their all in pursuit of North West 200 glory

 

Seeing red: Ian Hutchinson (Honda Racing) at Black Hill during Tuesday’s Superbike practice session
Seeing red: Ian Hutchinson (Honda Racing) at Black Hill during Tuesday’s Superbike practice session

By Phillip McCallen

We’ll be going racing this evening at the North West 200 and if it’s dry again, as expected, then I think we could see some lap records broken.

It’s been years since I remember the riders having such a good practice on the Tuesday and the speeds were brilliant for the first day.

They now have the chance to build on that and fine tune their machines in today’s final qualifying sessions, which means the speeds will go up another notch.

I can certainly see Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record from 2016 going on Saturday if it’s dry because there are so many hungry riders on new machinery.

It’s all bubbling up nicely and I think we’re going to witness some very close racing on the north coast this year.

We’ll see the top eight to 10 riders shuffling places in final qualifying and I think Ian Hutchinson will move up the leaderboard a bit more on his Honda, and Michael Rutter should also be closer to the front on the RCV.

Alastair Seeley made a solid start on the PBM Ducati on Tuesday and he wasn’t far behind Dean Harrison, so he will be learning with the bike all the time and he’ll only get faster as he becomes more comfortable on it.

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The same goes for Dunlop, who was very impressive on Tuesday considering he hasn’t actually raced since last year’s Isle of Man TT, and of course Harrison and Peter Hickman will be faster as well.

Who finally seals that pole position spot will come down to whoever can put the lap together in practice, and by the end of this afternoon we’ll have a clearer picture of what to expect.

But I genuinely feel that you’ve got about eight riders there who are in with a good chance in the Superbike class.

In Supersport, Seeley edges it for me at the moment but he’s not going to have it easy this year.

Lee Johnston has a new Yamaha R6, which was built for the roads, and he was right behind Seeley on Tuesday, plus we mustn’t forget about James Hillier.

He finished second in each race last year on his Kawasaki after starting from about 16th on the grid and he could be in the battle at the front if he can get away on the first lap.

It’s difficult to make a break for it on a 600 at the North West 200 but Seeley is so small and light that he might be able to edge ahead if he can make space for himself on the first lap, which would allow him to get away.

I think Johnston will give him a run, though, as he’s in a good place this year with a great team around him.

I wouldn’t discount Dunlop either on his Honda because he only rode the bike for the first time on Tuesday and was fourth quickest.

Harrison is another strong contender on his Kawasaki and Hickman shouldn’t be far away on his Triumph, though he’s quite big for a 600 and I don’t see him running with Seeley at the North West. However, it will certainly be good practice for him ahead of the TT.

In the Supertwin race, I’m tipping Jeremy McWilliams to win it on the KMR Kawasaki because he’s got 30 years of experience behind him and he feels confident with the bike.

He can enjoy riding at the North West without the risk of having a 250bhp machine beneath him, so it suits him at that this stage of his career.

Some of the younger guys like Jamie Coward and Derek McGee might want it a bit more but I think Jeremy’s experience will outweigh that.

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