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Michael Rutter races at the North West 200

Michael Rutter races at the North West 200

Relentless North West 200. Cat has nine lives..... Adam Child Suzuki from Hook England has a narrow escape during  Thursday Supersport  practice

Relentless North West 200. Cat has nine lives..... Adam Child Suzuki from Hook England has a narrow escape during Thursday Supersport practice

Brian Little

Adrian Archibald  -  Supersport, North West 200 May 2011

Adrian Archibald - Supersport, North West 200 May 2011

Rowland White/Presseye

Ian Hutchinson, North West 200 May 2011

Ian Hutchinson, North West 200 May 2011

Suzuki Team boss Hector Neil in the North West 200 padock.

Suzuki Team boss Hector Neil in the North West 200 padock.

Guy Martin, North West 200 May 2011

Guy Martin, North West 200 May 2011

Practice day 2, North West 200 May 2011

Practice day 2, North West 200 May 2011

Ian Hutchinson, North West 200 May 2011

Ian Hutchinson, North West 200 May 2011

Cameron Donald, North West 200 May 2011

Cameron Donald, North West 200 May 2011

Gary Mason and Philip McCallum, North West 200 May 2011

Gary Mason and Philip McCallum, North West 200 May 2011

Mark Jamison, North West 200 May 2011

Mark Jamison, North West 200 May 2011

John Burrows and William Dunlop, North West 200 May 2011

John Burrows and William Dunlop, North West 200 May 2011

Ryan Farquhar

Ryan Farquhar

Denver Robb, North West 200 May 2011

Denver Robb, North West 200 May 2011

Adrian Archibald, North West 200 May 2011

Adrian Archibald, North West 200 May 2011

Alastair Seeley, North West 200 May 2011

Alastair Seeley, North West 200 May 2011

Josh Brooks, North West 200 May 2011

Josh Brooks, North West 200 May 2011

Philip Neil, North West 200 May 2011

Philip Neil, North West 200 May 2011

Technical Director Mervyn Whyte, North West 200 May 2011

Technical Director Mervyn Whyte, North West 200 May 2011

Alastair Seeley, North West 200 May 2011

Alastair Seeley, North West 200 May 2011

Guy Martin, North West 200 May 2011

Guy Martin, North West 200 May 2011

William Dunlop, North West 200 May 2011

William Dunlop, North West 200 May 2011

Cameron Donald

Cameron Donald

Cameron Donald  -  Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Cameron Donald - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Rowland White/Presseye

Michael Rutter - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Michael Rutter - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Rowland White/Presseye

Ian Lougher  -  Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Ian Lougher - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Rowland White/Presseye

Fabrice Miguet leading Paul Cranston - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Fabrice Miguet leading Paul Cranston - Superbike, North West 200 May 2011

Rowland White/Presseye

Gary Mason and Stuart Easton

Gary Mason and Stuart Easton

19.05.11. PICTURE BY DAVID FITZGERALDFEATURE ON THE NORTH WEST 200 ROAD RACE PRACTICE YESTERDAY IN PORTRUSH - JAMIE MCDOWELL STORY. People watching the race from the stands

19.05.11. PICTURE BY DAVID FITZGERALDFEATURE ON THE NORTH WEST 200 ROAD RACE PRACTICE YESTERDAY IN PORTRUSH - JAMIE MCDOWELL STORY. People watching the race from the stands

Simona Zaccardi, one of the only women racers from Italy working on her bike

Simona Zaccardi, one of the only women racers from Italy working on her bike

Rachel Vauls a local with friends Emma Sulway and Vick Morris from London

Rachel Vauls a local with friends Emma Sulway and Vick Morris from London

Michael Rutter

Michael Rutter

Michael Rutter, North West 200 May 2011

Michael Rutter, North West 200 May 2011

Hundreds of Motorcyclists arrive on the Stena Caledonia Ferry  at Belfast Harbour to watch the North West 200 May 2011

Hundreds of Motorcyclists arrive on the Stena Caledonia Ferry at Belfast Harbour to watch the North West 200 May 2011

Gary Mason and Stuart Easton, North West 200 May 2011

Gary Mason and Stuart Easton, North West 200 May 2011

Patrick Douglas (local), North West 200 May 2011

Patrick Douglas (local), North West 200 May 2011

Simona Zaccardi, one of the only women racers from Italy working on her bike, Norrth West 200 May 2011

Simona Zaccardi, one of the only women racers from Italy working on her bike, Norrth West 200 May 2011

A girl watches on at North West 200 May 2011

A girl watches on at North West 200 May 2011

Locals Alistair Purvis and Keith Fotheringham and John Mitchell from Manchester enjoy an ice cream, North West 200 May 2011

Locals Alistair Purvis and Keith Fotheringham and John Mitchell from Manchester enjoy an ice cream, North West 200 May 2011

Gary Van Marsdyke, Gary Von Drummel, Franz Fleuren and Randy Van Marsdyke from Netherlands, North West 200 May 2011

Gary Van Marsdyke, Gary Von Drummel, Franz Fleuren and Randy Van Marsdyke from Netherlands, North West 200 May 2011

Adrian and Laura McGowan with son T.J and daughter Shannon with Rachel Stephenson and Mark Eccles, North West 200 May 2011

Adrian and Laura McGowan with son T.J and daughter Shannon with Rachel Stephenson and Mark Eccles, North West 200 May 2011

Paul Cruickshank and Edward Phillips from Derry, North West 200 May 2011

Paul Cruickshank and Edward Phillips from Derry, North West 200 May 2011

Nadine Walker with kids Chenai and Regan with her friend Karen Kelly and her son Nathaniel, North West 200 2011

Nadine Walker with kids Chenai and Regan with her friend Karen Kelly and her son Nathaniel, North West 200 2011

Joe and Sue Pilmore, Charlie and Karen Tomlinson from Derbyshire, North West 200 May 2011

Joe and Sue Pilmore, Charlie and Karen Tomlinson from Derbyshire, North West 200 May 2011

Relentless International North West 200. Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Relentless International North West 200. Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Take that!  They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush.

Take that! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush.

He's after you! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush!

He's after you! They might be brothers but there is intense rivalry between William Dunlop and his brother Michael, even if its only on the dodgems at Barry's in Portrush!

Three year old Alfie Orr from Kells met his hero Bruce Anstey  at Coleraine Town Hall this morning at a 'Meet the Fans' event ahead of Saturday's Relentless North West 200.

Three year old Alfie Orr from Kells met his hero Bruce Anstey at Coleraine Town Hall this morning at a 'Meet the Fans' event ahead of Saturday's Relentless North West 200.

Newly crowned Miss North West 200 Jade Toner from Limavady was on the beach at Portrush

Newly crowned Miss North West 200 Jade Toner from Limavady was on the beach at Portrush

Kirk Jamison BMW during Tuesday night  Superstock  practice for the North West 200.

Kirk Jamison BMW during Tuesday night Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200. Miss North West 2011 Jade Toner along with and Lee Johnston from East Coast Racing.

Relentless International North West 200. Miss North West 2011 Jade Toner along with and Lee Johnston from East Coast Racing.

 Relentless International North West 200.Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

Relentless International North West 200.Irish road racer Kirk Jamison.

North West 200 practice night. Superbike practice session. Alastair Seeley

North West 200 practice night. Superbike practice session. Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Gary Mason.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Gary Mason.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Guy Martin. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Guy Martin. 17th May 2011

Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during  17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Michael Dunlop Street Sweep Kawasaki at Blacks hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing honda.

Alastair Seeley

Alastair Seeley

Guy Martin Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike  practice for the North West 200.

Guy Martin Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing setting the fastest Superbike time of 119mph during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing setting the fastest Superbike time of 119mph during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Michael Rutter.17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Michael Rutter.17th May 2011

Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda  at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 Superbike practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Alastair Seeley. 17th May 2011

Ian Lougher Blackhorse Kawasaki (No2) at Blacks Hill leads Adrain Archibald Kawasaki (No 13) during 17th May 2011  practice for the North West 200.

Ian Lougher Blackhorse Kawasaki (No2) at Blacks Hill leads Adrain Archibald Kawasaki (No 13) during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Conor Cummins. 17 May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Conor Cummins. 17 May 2011

Michael Rutter  Riders Bathams  Ducati at Blacks Hill during  17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Michael Rutter Riders Bathams Ducati at Blacks Hill during 17th May 2011 practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Adrian Archibald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Adrian Archibald.

North West 200 practice night 17th may 2011.Bruce Anstey get a good luck kiss from his partner Annie.

North West 200 practice night 17th may 2011.Bruce Anstey get a good luck kiss from his partner Annie.

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing Honda during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

William Dunlop Wilson Craig Racing Honda during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Relentless International North West 200 practice night.Cameron Donald. 17th May 2011

Stephen Thompson (No 11) BMW  leads Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Stephen Thompson (No 11) BMW leads Alastair Seeley Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing during 17th May 2011 Superstock practice for the North West 200.

Brian Little

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Bruce Anstey Padgett Honda.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Bruce Anstey and Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Bruce Anstey and Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Cameron Donald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Cameron Donald.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop has problems with his Superbike.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Michael Dunlop has problems with his Superbike.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Michael Dunlop.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Alastair Seeley, Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Alastair Seeley, Relentless Suzuki by TAS Racing.

Guy Martin

Guy Martin

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Cameron Donald, Wilson Craig Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Superbike practice session.Cameron Donald, Wilson Craig Racing.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Ian Lougher.

North West 200 practice night 17th May 2011.Ian Lougher.

Michael Rutter

Michael Rutter

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Michael Rutter races at the North West 200

The man from the Black Country raised a glass of the black stuff in Portstewart’s famous, old Anchor Bar last night — not in toast to his Superbike pole position for Saturday’s Relentless North West 200, but as a get-well-soon gesture to an absent friend.

While the unfortunate Stuart Easton underwent surgery for his crash injuries, the day’s fastest man, Michael Rutter, was feeling pain of a different kind when elation ought to have been his emotion.

The West Midlands rider, a North West veteran now at 39, and his stricken pal from Hawick, are big-time buddies as well as racing rivals — Easton, with his 204mph North West speed record taking Rutter’s 201mph previous best that made him a race folk hero.

“What happened to Stuart has definitely taken the edge off my achievement in getting pole,” Rutter told me in the immediate aftermath of his 121mph run to a surprise top spot that astonished even him.

His first reaction was to ask if I had any news of his old pal’s condition.

“It’s definitely put a downer on things for me,” he added.

“And despite all the bravado you hear in the paddock, it definitely does make you think twice.

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“Stuart’s a great lad. There isn’t a bad bone in his body and I hope the broken ones mend soon. We go out for a few pints together all the time after racing and he’s have been with me down the Anchor after this, for sure.

“Let him know I’m thinking about him. Accidents are a downside of racing and we all know that. It’s not a reason to quit — that will come when I cease to enjoy racing.

“The British Superbike series is our bread and butter. We do road racing for a bit of fun away from that.

“Stuart and I love the North West for the atmosphere and the craic and I’ve also a strong family connection through my dad, Tony, who won nine races here, to my 12 now. He was one of the main reasons I came here in 1992 for the first time and why, I think, the crowd took to me.

“So, yes, it was good to take pole against all expectations but that pint of Guinness isn’t going to go down as well as it might.”

Seasoned pro that he is, after 352 British Superbike starts and so many wins he’s lost count, Rutter will clamber back on board his Ducati tomorrow, determined to enjoy the ride, first and foremost, and if he wins, that will be a bonus, calling for the mahogany to be decorated again down the Anchor.

Ride hard, play hard could be Rutter’s motto. Well I remember the night after he became the first rider to break the 200mph barrier here and watching him celebrate in the same bar with a karaoke rendition of Wild Thing, accompanied by UTV cameraman Albert Kirk, another showman in his own right.

That’s the fun side of the North West that keeps Rutter coming back.

“It’s unique,” he says. “I love the course and especially the coast road stretch. There’s no better feeling than flying along there on the last lap when you’re leading, seeing the crowd going mad and waving their programmes.

“Every winner here is appreciated and the riders feel the same way about the fans. We don’t see the crowd at the finish at most tracks, they’re so far away — here you can almost touch them.”

In taking pole for tomorrow, old favourite Rutter spectacularly forced a rethink among those who had, not so much written him off, as believed his best days were behind him.

Can he confound them again with a 13th North West win on the day?

“If it’s dry, I like to think I’ll be on the podium at least,” he forecast.

“You need a lot of luck as well as ability around this course and I had a fair slice of good fortune to make pole.

“There were mechanical problems with the bike going round which meant I only managed one hard lap but that seems to have been just about enough.

“The TAS Suzukis are still the team to beat. They are built for road racing so its hard to look past Alastair Seeley and Guy Martin.

“But in the right conditions, any one of six of us could win it, really myself, my team-mate Martin Jessopp, Alastair, Guy, Michael Dunlop or Cameron Donald.”

And at that point, a young fan entered the team tent, seeking Rutter’s autograph on a programme article on his hero – a reminder of his popularity and possibly also a favourable omen.

The headline read: ‘There’s life in the old dog yet...’


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