Belfast Telegraph

Why drama is promised in a thrilling final day at the NW 200

 

The finest of margins: Alastair Seeley (EHA Racing) leads the way
The finest of margins: Alastair Seeley (EHA Racing) leads the way

By Roy Harris

WHO will stand on top of the podium today is still a mystery, but one thing we can be sure of is that the 90th anniversary of the North West 200 will be fast and furious.

The ‘house full’ signs are up on the grandstands with the fans eagerly awaiting the drama that will unfold in today’s five-act nailbiter around the Triangle circuit.

It is not so much a whodunnit as who’ll win it, with just a quarter of a second separating the top three on the Superbike front row after final qualifying.

Glenn Irwin, Dean Harrison and Alastair Seeley all lapped inside Michael Dunlop’s three-year-old lap record of 123.207mph in that session and the action isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon.

Irwin, on pole, has won the last three Superbike races, Seeley is the all-time NW200 record holder with 24 wins while Harrison has yet to win at race at the North West.

Picking a winner from that terrific triumvirate is a near impossibility.

A battered and bruised Seeley rides the all-new PBM Be Wiser Ducati V4RR, which has been a revelation in World Superbike and British Superbike.

The Carrickfergus ace suffered a crash on the final lap of Thursday’s Supersport race from which he walked away relatively unscathed.

Irwin has switched from Paul Bird’s Ducati team over the winter now competing under the Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki banner and had a superb runner-up finish in the opening Superstock race.

Harrison has ridden for the Silicone Engineering Kawasaki team for the last five years and also had a tumble in the Superstock opener dicing with Irwin.

Irwin said: “I had a difficult start to North West week and felt like I was riding to the shops. The team made a few changes to the bike for Thursday and I went out and broke the lap record. That gave a confidence a boost.

“Then to finish second in the Superstock race behind Peter Hickman was an amazing feeling and to have Michael behind me put me on the rostrum with the two best road racers in the world. It would be nice to win my fourth North West Superbike race in a row, but there are a lot of fast riders who will be out to stop me.”

Of course, its not all about these three. Fourth on the grid is Dunlop on the Tyco BMW, and after his terrific third spot in Thursday’s Superstock race, will be keen for more podium glory in his comeback to racing after a 10-month sabbatical.

Thursday’s Supersport winner Lee Johnston will be in the mix, as will Conor Cummins on the Milenco by Padgetts Honda, Michael Rutter rides the exotic Batham/Aspire-Ho RC213V-S Honda while Thursday’s Superstock winner Peter Hickman starts in a lowly 11th position on the Smiths BMW after problems in final qualifying.

The return of John McGuinness and Norton has been slightly disappointing despite being eighth fastest through the speed trap at 192.9mph compared to Cummins, who was fastest at 198.6mph, the Norton starts in a lowly 22nd position on the grid.

Newcomer Richard Cooper has been impressive all week on the Buildbase Suzuki and could well break into the top six, with Paul Jordan, James Hillier, Ian Hutchinson and Derek Sheils all chasing top finishes.

Supersport, Superstock and Supertwin all had a race on Thursday providing exhilarating action from the lights going out until the chequered flag and you can be sure of more in their second races today.

Seeley will be out to start today with a Supersport win in race one to increase his record number of wins to 25 after crashing out on the last lap on Thursday.

The normally reliable Jeremy McWilliams had two crashes on Thursday, one at Magherabuoy Chicane in Supertwin and then in the race challenging for the lead at Mathers Chicane and Dean Harrison lost the front of his Kawasaki at University battling with Irwin for second in Superstock.

We probably won’t know until race time if McWilliams takes his place on the grid, but if he does, he has the machine and ability to run at the front.

Supersport looks like a four-way battle with Johnston, Seeley, James Hillier and Harrison with Paul Jordan, Dunlop, Hutchinson and Jamie Coward seeking to close the gap.

Hickman had a dream ride on the Smiths BMW in the Superstock race on Thursday winning with ease.

Irwin, Dunlop, Hillier, Johnston, Harrison and Cooper will be anxious not to let the fastest rider in the world get away as easy today. Or will Italian Stefano Bonetti make it a Supertwin double or can Coward, Rutter, Derek McGee or Christian Elkin lower the Italian flag?

The 90th anniversary parade of past winners and machines should be a terrific spectacle and the machines can also be seen in a paddock display.

RACE SCHEDULE

Saturday (Roads closed 9.15am-7pm)

Race 1 – The Junction Retail and Leisure Park Supersport – 6 Laps

Race 2 – The Anchor Bar Superbike – 7 Laps

Race 3 – John M Patterson Supertwin – 4 Laps

Race 4 – CP Hire Superstock – 6 Laps

Race 5 – Merrow Hotel & Spa NW 200 Superbike – 7 Laps

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