Alastair Seeley returned to winning ways at the North West 200 as the all-time record holder mastered the wet roads around the ‘Triangle’ course to clinch his landmark 25th and 26th victories in scintillating style.
The Carrickfergus man was involved in a battle with Englishman Davey Todd throughout last night, with the pair swapping places at the front in the Supersport race, before he then cruised to victory in the Superstock race, too.
In the end, it was the North West’s most successful ever rider who scaled the top step once more after his long winning run came to an end the last time the event was held in 2019.
“We couldn’t have had worse conditions, it was cold, wet and freezing, but fair play to the IFS Racing team because they have done a great job,” beamed Seeley after his Supersport triumph.
“Davey Todd’s Honda was fast and he was stronger than me in some places, but my experience showed out there in those conditions.
“Davey’s bike was strong off the turns but he’s riding well and I knew he would be full of confidence coming off the back of some good results in the British championship.
“But that’s the monkey off my back now and we didn’t have a good year in 2019, but I always say age is only a number and hopefully there’s more to come.”
And, of course, there was, but back to the opener and pole man Seeley was able to make a decisive break for it on the fourth and final lap after Todd was forced wide at York Corner by Jeremy McWilliams, who made a pass on his inside on the brakes.
Both McWilliams and Todd lost some time after going wide, giving Seeley the breathing room he needed at the front on his IFS Yamaha.
Todd fought his way back past 58-year-old McWilliams into second place, but he was too far behind Seeley to make a final attack for victory.
Using all of his vast experience around the 8.9-mile north coast course, Seeley guided his Yamaha home to grab his 13th Supersport success by just under two seconds from challenger Todd, with McWilliams completing the rostrum places to give Dungannon’s Burrows Engineering/RK Racing team a dream result on the night.
Runner-up Todd said: “The last lap was pretty hectic and it was always going down to that final lap.
"The speed of my bike was unbelievable and I thought I could have a go on the last lap for the win, but Jeremy sat me up a York and we both went wide.
“It cost me some time and you can’t let a rider like Alastair get away because once that happens, he’s gone.
“I’m pleased to be on the podium but I felt capable of something more.”
Former MotoGP star McWilliams wound back the years to put the Burrows Yamaha on the podium after being called into the team as a replacement for the injured Mike Browne, who sustained two broken ankles in a crash at the Cookstown 100 last month.
“It feels like a win,” said McWilliams. “It’s just fantastic to be here on the podium and I’m having a great year. A big thanks to John Burrows for the chance to ride his bike.
“I’m over the moon with that and I really enjoyed it out there. Hopefully there’s more to come.”
Adam McLean from Tobermore finished fourth on the McAdoo Kawasaki but was left to rue what might have been, with the 26-year-old’s chances of a podium slipping through his fingers after he made an error on the brakes at the start/finish chicane.
McLean was tussling with McWilliams for third when the mistake dropped him out of the fight for the top three.
The race was re-started over four laps following a red flag on lap two, when a rider slipped off unhurt at Magherabuoy chicane.
That was followed by Seeley's second win of the 2022 meeting, which was achieved with the minimum amount of fuss.
He hit the front on his IFS Yamaha from Todd (Milenco by Padgett’s Honda) and gradually disappeared into the distance, surviving some early slides in the rain before settling into his groove and going on to win by nearly 13 seconds.
“That race reminded me of the Thursday Superstock race in 2012, except there was probably less grip tonight,” Seeley said.
“I was short-shifting out there and trying to find grip, but there just was none at all.
"I had a few slides and then I just rode steady where I knew it was slippery, and I just watched my board from there and brought it home.”
In a processional race, Seeley used his unrivalled knowhow at Northern Ireland’s premier road race to control proceedings from the front, eventually taking the chequered flag after six long laps with 12.8s in hand over Todd, who sealed his second runner-up result of the evening.
“It’s another second place and Alastair got to the front and pushed on,” Todd said.
“He got a gap and, to be honest, I could do nothing about it. The bike was awesome but the conditions were so slippery and I’ve never seen it as bad as that for grip.”
The final podium place went to Richard Cooper, who also finished on the rostrum in the Superstock class on his NW200 debut in 2019, when he was second on that occasion behind James Hillier.
A host of riders decided not to take part in the race due to the conditions, including Glenn Irwin, who had claimed pole position in yesterday’s final qualifying session on his Honda Fireblade.
The Ulsterman’s team-mate, John McGuinness, was also a non-starter along with Michael Dunlop, Lee Johnston, Michael Sweeney and Adam McLean.
However, the conditions did not faze Seeley, who grasped his chance for another win and made it count as he scaled the top step for the 26th time.
Behind the top three, Conor Cummins (Milenco by Padgett’s Honda) and Michael Rutter (Bathams BMW) finished fourth and fifth, while Marty Lennon from Banbridge had an excellent result in sixth on his Yamaha.
The Supertwin race was, meanwhile, cancelled due to deteriorating conditions and fading light.
A statement from the organisers read: “Tonight’s Milltown Service Station Supertwins race has been cancelled due to deteriorating conditions and a lack of time. With failing light and a lot of surface water on the track, it would not be possible to complete the two sighting laps and a four-lap race by 9pm when the roads must be re-opened.”
McWilliams, one of the favourites for the class, was frustrated by the call.
“I’m not very happy, there’s plenty of light,” he said. “None of the riders I’ve spoken to want it cancelled. It has deprived me of another podium or a win.”