Revving up for North West 200
A plethora of road racing talent and a world-renowned rock star were on hand to launch this year's Vauxhall International North West 200 at the Titanic Suite in Belfast yesterday.
Mar-Train Racing's Alastair Seeley -- 10-times a winner at the Triangle, and a healthy favourite in the middleweight and Superbike classes -- headlined the event, but was joined by possibly the strongest line-up of riders that the North Coast event has boasted in a couple of decades.
"When you look at the riders in this room today, not forgetting the likes of Michael Rutter and Guy Martin who are not even here, then the North West 200 has serious strength in depth this year," said Seeley.
Isle of Man TT legend and top Honda star John McGuinness was there to discuss his plans for the May showpiece and his race against time to be fit after breaking his wrist in a training incident.
Milwaukee Yamaha duo Ian Hutchinson and Aussie BSB star Josh Brookes discussed their North West 200 podium and victory aspirations with BBC NI's Stephen Watson.
And the Dunlop brothers William and Michael proudly spoke of their father Robert -- and the all-new Man of the Meeting Award, which will be awarded in his name for the first time on May 17.
Other star names in attendance were current British Supersport champion and new recruit to the Rapid Solicitor's Kawasaki British Superbike team Stuart Easton. The Scottish rider was joined on the Titanic Grand Staircase by BSB regular and newcomer to the event Peter Hickman and Team Traction Control Suzuki's Steve Mercer.
Mercer's TTC Suzuki team owner, and member of the Prodigy, Keith Flint received a warm welcome from BBC's Jackie Fullerton, following a rendition of the Prodigy's famous 'Fire Starter'.
Former Grand Prix Winner Jeremy McWilliams [KMR SGS International Kawasaki], who celebrates his 50th birthday later this week, discussed his return to the North Coast to defend his Supertwins crown.
McWilliams said: "Winning at the North West is up there with winning a Grand Prix. To finish second in my first year was satisfying enough, but to win last year was very special."
The Glengormley man went on to say: "Last year we had a 'one-two-three' and this year the goal is to do something similar."
Joining McWilliams in the KMR team are team owner Ryan Farquhar  and former NW200 Superstock winner Keith Amor . Both men are making a return to action after short sabbaticals from the sport.
Event Director Mervyn Whyte said of his impressive line-up: "The North West is delighted to have the very best road racers on the grid.
"Not only will we have all the top stars who race in all the other International races but the North West has also attracted entries from superb riders like Alastair Seeley, Stuart Easton and Jeremy McWilliams."
The announcements of an additional lap to both of Saturday's Superbike races and the presentation of a new Man of the Meeting award were met with universal approval.
The Superstock and Supersport races will run over six laps as normal with both Supertwins events taking in four circuits.
In an attempt to eradicate any disadvantage suffered by riders who fall foul of wet and dry practice sessions, a new alternate grid positioning system will also be introduced.
"We currently allocate grid positions based upon practice timings over Tuesday and Thursday's practice sessions but if one session is wet and the other dry and a rider hits trouble in the dry he will lose out," Whyte explained. "If the weather changes this year from one session to the other we will alternate the grid positions along the lines of the BSB system using times from both practices. It will be a fairer system."
With the new road closing legislation in place, Northern Ireland's biggest sporting event is set for a great week of racing beginning with the opening practice on May 13.