SPANISH MOTOGP ANALYSIS
The 8.9-mile Vauxhall International North West 200 course will boast the finest grid of any road race in the world as it attracts racers from every discipline. Lining up alongside the pure roads men like John Mcguinness, Michael Dunlop, Bruce Anstey, Ian Hutchinson, Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison, will be Peter Hickman and Glenn Irwin – who normally ply their trade on the short circuits.
In fact, Irwin’s participation on his factory-supported Bewiser Ducati Panigale is one of the NW200’S organisers coups of 2017. He’s up for the challenge. “I’ve been getting adrenaline pains in my chest watching onboard laps of the North West,” he said.
Getting his eye back in
The 27-year-old was completing a day of refresher laps ahead of his return to the famous Triangle course he last raced for Gearlink Kawasaki in 2015. The prospect of the BSB star doing battle with the NW200’S most-successful rider, Alastair Seeley and outright lap record holder Michael Dunlop has fired the imagination of many road racing fans.
“This will be the first road race that I’ve competed in where I am not a newcomer and I will be on a 200bhp bike – 70bhp more than I had last time out. But people have to respect that road racing is still very, very new to me. I’ve only done about 20 laps of the North West course on a 600, so everything will be different this year.”
Irwin may have found the pace to secure BSB podiums, but he knows he has to approach the roads more warily.
Track demands respect
The NW200 is one road racing’s fastest courses and Irwin will be treading new ground - thanks to the higher top speeds of his Bsb-spec Panigale compared to the Supersport Kawasaki he raced two years ago. “I have to keep that bit of respect that needs to be kept and it isn’t just about going flat out everywhere,” he said.
“I got a nice phone call from Ben Wilson today telling me about a few places on the track that he found very different on a superbike compared to how they had been on a 600 – places where the front wheel just went straight up in the air. I appreciated that.”
Another unknown for the young Ulsterman is how the Ducati will perform on the roads, especially on the long, high-speed straights of the course
that links the three towns of Northern Ireland towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine.
“It is a great bike and has been very reliable in BSB. We will have the revs turned down a bit on the engine for the North West,” explains Irwin.
“The bike has been very quick in BSB but there aren’t any straights that are miles long and we haven’t developed it for the road racing. Maybe it won’t be the fastest bike on track but the one thing I do know is that it will be friendly and will handle well.”
A 2015 sensation
Regardless of Glenn’s lack of experience and the Ducati’s shortage of road race outings, Irwin was a sensation when he raced at the 2015 NW200 – finishing on the podium in the second Supersport event after a titanic duel with circuit specialists Alastair Seeley and Lee Johnston. He covered himself in glory again at the Ulster Grand Prix, claiming a podium finish, but it was the 27 -year- old’s performance at last year’s Macau Grand Prix that really excited the pure roads brigade. Irwin battled at the front throughout the race with Michael Rutter, Martin Jessopp and eventual winner, Peter Hickman, before retiring on the penultimate lap.
“After Macau Paul Bird (PBM boss) started thinking about the North West,” Irwin explains.
“The last time I raced there I ran well and that gives you confidence. As a racer the scariest thing in the world is not being competitive.
“I won’t worry about the time sheets until after Thursday qualifying at the North West. I’ll be hoping that I won’t be too far away. Everybody knows I like to race and I will get stuck in and make a challenge.”
‘I’ve been told there are places where the front wheel goes straight up!’ GLENN IRWIN
BSB podium winner is a definite NW200 Superbike contender
Glenn Irwin hopes to battle at the front