Smokin' Irwin and Seeley light up a memorable North West
What is in the water in East Antrim that produces Vauxhall International North West 200 triple winner and Man of the Meeting Alastair Seeley, double Superbike winner Glenn Irwin and, of course, triple World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea, who rode a parade lap to thank the fans for supporting him on his world racing exploits on a spectacular day on the North Coast.
Seeley’s wins (now a remarkable 24) we come to expect and he didn’t let the side down with two sizzling Supersport wins on the Derry team EHA Yamaha plus a new lap record and a Superstock race win, on the Moneymore Tyco BMW.
This time Seeley turned the tables on his Thursday nemesis Peter Hickman in a race again decided at the Juniper chicane, Seeley going around the outside of his rival to win by a 10th of a second.
“I thought I had blown it,” Seeley said afterwards. “I had kept them guessing earlier by looking as if I was going to go inside, but on the last lap I went in sideways round the outside, but not wanting to go over the gravel, which would have incurred a penalty. Peter got me on there on Thursday and I got him back today.”
Seeley proved he is human by incurring a five second penalty for a jump-start in the opening Superbike race leaving him mired in the pack, while in the second he was never in the hunt, crossing the line in a lowly 10th position as fellow Carrick townsman Irwin celebrated his double win by puling the pin on smoke grenades he’d bought for £80 a fortnight ago in anticipation.
Of his Supersport wins on Thursday and Saturday, Seeley said: “From the first day I spoke to the EHA team about coming to the North West it has all gone to plan.
“Two successful tests at Castle Combe and Kirkistown allowed me to come here in the right frame of mind, as I knew the package was perfect for the job.
“Saturday’s plan was the same as Thursday evening, settle in on the early laps, assess the pace and who was going to be challenging, then pulled the pin. I’m delighted to increase my Supersport win record to 12 and now we have 24 wins in total coming in 11 consecutive years. I feel I have a few wins left in me yet and it is thanks to the EHA Racing team for such a big effort’”
Irwin proved untouchable on the PBM Be Wiser Ducati and in reality, did we expect anything else? He was certainly confident when he ordered those smoke grendades.
He was arguably on the best bike, but he had to be able to ride it to its maximum capability and did so for the first double Superbike win since Steve Plater in 2006 .
He has certainly become a top British Superbike performer and that class showed, with the exception of a slight lapse of concentration when he hit a false neutral at Juniper Chicane in race one that allowed Dean Harrison to close the gap before Irwin put the hammer down to win by over a second.
The confident Irwin enthused: “What can I say, it was an awesome day! I managed to get the hole shot in both races and just got my head down to break the tow on the other riders.
“With the clear road you can ride almost a perfect first lap and the support I got from the crowd was unreal – I didn’t need a pit board as the crowd kept giving me all the signals I needed.
“The sun shone all day and the crowd was huge, so with it being a hard week for the team after Shakey Byre’s accident, hopefully today’s wins have lifted everyone’s spirits.”
Irwin was referring to multi British Superbike champion Byrne’s accident during the Snetterton test last week when he sustained a range of injuries including spinal fractures.
Dean Harrison and Michael Rutter completed the podium in Superbike race one and Michael Dunlop and Lee Johnston in race two, Dunlop lucky to finish as his rear tyre was completely shredded in the centre.
Incidentally when was the last time at the North West that three local riders finished 1-2-3 in a Superbike race?
Juniper Chicane saw a dramatic conclusion to the Supertwin race where James Cowton surprised Joey Thompson with an inside pass into the final part of the chicane forcing the 20-year old Yorkshire rider to jump the kerb on the exit, nearly taking out Jeremy McWilliams, who was on his outside.
McAdoo Kawasaki, in their 35th year of sponsorship, saw their rider Cowton win his first North West 200 race by 0.6 seconds from McWilliams with a disappointed Thompson third, just 0.8sec behind the ex-Grand Prix racer.
A sensational day’s racing with only one red flag when Dutch lady rider Nadieh Schoots crashed her Kawasaki at Ballysally roundabout and was taken to hospital with leg a leg injury.
Huge credit to Mervyn Whyte and his team for promoting the slick programme of races on Saturday – he has put up with criticism in the past over things that were not under his control, but he certainly deserves all the plaudits for this year’s spectacle.