North West 200
Irish road racing’s flat- out thriller
Linking the three Northern Irish towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine, the 8.9-mile seaside venue’s mix of high speed straights, tight (and controversial) chicanes and a spectacular coast road section has always attracted riders from roads and short circuit racing – and it’s the only road race former British Supersport and Superstock champion, Alastair Seeley, competes in. Over the past decade he has dominated, winning his 17th race in 2016 to become the NW200’S most successful exponent. Who better to take us on a lap of the NW200 on his Tyco BMW superbike? Over to you, Alastair…
Start line to York Hairpin
When the lights go out the pack plunges into the first corner at Millbank in third gear. The North West has a mass start and everyone is jockeying for position through this right hander and on into the left at Primrose.
You can make a few passes here but you don’t need to go mad. There is a big bump on the entry to Primrose that can throw you about. The superbikes pull a huge wheelie on the run down to York, dropping from fourth to first gear for the tight hairpin.
This is a good place to make a pass on the inside but on the first lap you have to be careful as you have a full tank of fuel and you don’t want to run on or worse, into the side of someone else.
If you’re mid pack you can end up sort of peddling your way in a traffic jam around here which isn’t very graceful!
York to Ballysally (the Magic Roundabout)
On the first lap tyre temperature is important and you have to be careful not to highside on the exit of York. Then it’s short shifting up the hill and round the right kink towards Mill Road roundabout, which we go round the wrong way! You are powering up the hill between the houses here in third and it is bumpy going into the tight right-left flick. There is room to make a pass going in but it is usually a follow-the-leader job. In the last few years this place has caught a few people out because there is a little dip in the road and you can come in too hot with nowhere to go. It is one of the places I warn newcomers to be wary of.
The run out to Station is when you really get going, powering the big bikes up into fifth and rolling slightly for the fastest corner on the track. There are a couple of undulations that give you big wheelies on the approach, so you have to keep your wits about you. We go through Station at 150-160mph.
From here to University you leave the shops and houses behind and there are just fields and hedges on one of the fastest part of the course. We hit over 200mph on this stretch as the pack slipstream one another a few inches apart.
The track is bumpy at these speeds and it isn’t really straight. You have to pick the side of the road to go on so you don’t get closed out and it really does feel like you are trucking along on the big bike. Everyone is choosing lines and then you hit Black Bridge where the bike wheelies flat out in sixth!
There is a slight right just before University that I try to stick to the inside of, and then it is on the brakes hard for the first-gear left-hander. This is another good place to make a pass and you drive hard up over the hill to the Magic Roundabout. As you hook third the bike wheelies out over the hill and some riders use the hard shoulder to sweep into the roundabout.
This is one of the best places to spectate because we come really close to the fence on the entrance and you could almost reach out and touch our helmets.
It is second gear for the roundabout. The bike is on its side with the tyres working hard, spinning up and sliding like mad on the exit.
Ballysally (the Magic Roundabout) to Metropole
You drive hard from second to fifth from the roundabout to Mather’s. This is a really bumpy section through a fast left kink. I had a big off here on a 600 a few years ago when Keith Amor broke down in front of me and I clipped the back of him at about 130mph.
Mather’s used to be THE corner on this track before it was chicaned. It is what it is now and the important thing is to be precise. The entry is tight and you have to judge your braking perfectly, which isn’t easy going down from the high speeds while you are trying to make a pass on someone!
There is a bump on the entry just to make it a wee bit harder and the back wheel can be left hanging in the air.
After Mather’s it is slipstream city as you tuck into a high-speed train and hammer along in sixth to Magherabouy. The whole idea is to try to keep race position and not lose the tow. You can be leading coming out of the chicane, drop down back to fifth or sixth and then end up leading again as we pass and repass on this part of the track.
Magherabouy chicane is one of the hardest passing places because you can’t see the entrance as you come over the hill. Again it is very tight and you have to approach with precision, especially towards the end of the race.
It is a quick flick left and right, watching you don’t clip the kerb on the exit in second gear. The run down the hill into Portrush is superfast. There is usually a gaggle of big bikes together as we plunge past the filling station and between the houses into Metropole. This is where all the passing begins on the last lap because you are getting close to home. If you run down the inside it makes the corner very tight and the road is covered in white lines so you have to be careful with the front brake and your lean angle. You go from sixth gear down to first and the bike is snaking all over the road, so it is a spectacular place to watch as we battle it out for race position.
Metropole to the finish
Going round Metropole’s long lefthander you are always leaned over so you short shift into second. This is the start of the coast road section and there are huge crowds watching on the embankment.
You don’t want to hit the rev limiter as you approach Church corner, one of the most important places on the track. On the last lap you have to be right at the front of the pack going through the right-hander to give yourself a good run under the railway bridge and up the hill. It has been a controversial place in the past with some hard passes being made here in races I’ve won.
You are driving hard up to Black Hill from Church, staying clear of the houses and big kerbs and dodging the manholes. It is an area you have to treat with respect and you have to roll the throttle a little on the big bike.
Black Hill is where all the photographers go for the big wheelie shots but I try to keep the wheel down and power over the top as you go from third down to second and then back up to fifth for the run along to Juniper.
Juniper is all about the brakes and this is where the race is won or lost on the last lap. I use practice and qualifying to work out my braking markers but I am not going to tell you how I choose my line because that is the vital part and I don’t want all my rivals to know!
It is really easy to make a mistake at this late stage and run straight on or over the grass. Someone as good as Michael Rutter has crashed here doing that but if you can get it all inch perfect, with your nose in front, then you should be home and dry and on your way to the chequered flag!
‘Wee Wizard’ Seeley in last year’s Supersport race
Seeley leads William Dunlop during NW qualifying
Seeley leads Hutchy and Anstey in the Superbike race