Seeley faces major threats as he bids to enhance leading tally
The only thing we can be sure of ahead of today’s opening races at the North West 200 is to expect the unexpected.
Predicting who can win or even be on the front row is a near impossible task with that second qualifying session still to come this morning, but the name of Alastair Seeley is likely to figure large.
Seeley holds the record for most wins at the North West with 24, almost half having been in the Supersport class.
He was a double winner last year on the EHA Yamaha and rides the machine in the British Supersport Championship, having taken four second places in the first two rounds to date.
This, plus the fact that he was fastest on Tuesday, will see the 39-year-old Carrickfergus rider start favourite this evening, but there are plenty of competitors trying to knock Seeley from his perch.
Among them is Hull-based Maguiresbridge rider Lee Johnston, who was just a fifth of a second slower than Seeley in first qualifying. Now on the Ashcourt Racing with H&A Martin Yamaha, he has the ability and tenacity to take it to his rival.
James Hillier was third fastest in first qualifying as he chases his first win here, and finished second to Seeley a year ago in both races.
Michael Dunlop, on the MD Racing Honda, surprised many with his speed, having not raced since the TT almost a year ago. He was fourth fastest.
He could well be the dark horse in this encounter, while Dean Harrison will look to win his first North West 200 race on his Silicone Kawasaki with arch-rival Peter Hickman on the Trooper Beer Triumph capable of a podium.
Two young chargers, Paul Jordan and Davey Todd, are well capable of throwing a spanner in the works of the fancied men, with a podium not beyond the realms of possibility for either.
In Superstock, it was a virtual re-run of Supersport, with Hickman the fastest on the Smiths BMW on his first ride on the machine, with Johnston, also BMW-mounted, Dunlop (BMW), Hillier and his Quattro Plant Wicked Coatings Kawasaki team-mate Glenn Irwin and Harrison all potential winners.
Newcomer Richard Cooper (Buildbase Suzuki) is worth keeping an eye on as he keeps improving with every lap.
Ryan Farquhar has six KMR Kawasakis on the Supertwins grid with veterans Jeremy McWilliams and Michael Rutter possible winners, with the major threats coming from Jamie Coward and his KTS Kawasaki team-mate Glenn Irwin, Christian Elkin (Dynocentre NI Kawasaki) and Derek McGee (KMR Kawasaki), while Italian Stefano Bonetti on the VAS Paton will be looking to mix it with the Kawasakis.
Roads close this morning between 9.15am and 3pm for the second qualifying session for the fonaCAB International North West 200 around the 8.97-mile circuit connecting the Portrush–Portstewart–Coleraine triangle.
Roads will again close from 5-9pm for the opening three races of the meeting: Race 1, six-lap Tides Restaurant Supersport; Race 2, six-lap Bayview Hotel, Portballintrae Superstock and Race 3, four-lap MCL Insuretech Supertwin.