THE FAST & FURIOUS
A week of brilliant racing, crashes, controversy & weather chaos
As one of the world’s four international road race meetings, the North West 200 attracts the best between-the-hedges exponents to its 200mph straights, twisting coast road and controversial chicanes each May. Set on Northern Ireland’s north coast, the 8.9-mile circuit that links the sea-side towns of Portrush, Portstewart and Coleraine has become a week-long festival of road racing drama.
TUESDAY PRACTICE DAY
With the action set in a densely residential area, race organisers have to wait until everyone has set off for work or gone to school before the roads are closed and practice can begin at 10am. They must re-open by 3pm.
After the 18 newcomers completed their initiation laps the Supersport, Superbike, Supertwin and Superstock bikes took to the track for 45 minutes each in bright sunshine. Alastair Seeley dominated proceedings, topping the times in Superstock (Tyco BMW) and Supersport (Gearlink Kawasaki) with Michael Rutter (Bathams/smt BMW) fastest in Superstock and Martin Jessopp (Riders Motorcycles Kawasaki) heading the Supertwins timesheets.
Glenn Irwin ( Be Wiser/ PBM Ducati) was fifth fastest superbike but the session was cut short after Chris Dixon crashed at Black Hill and broke his leg, depriving both Irwin and Michael Dunlop (Bennetts Suzuki) of track time.
The two quickest laps of the day were posted during the later Superstock session. Both Seeley and Rutter went faster on their superstock BMWS than they had on the superbikes as they benefitted from better conditions.
THURSDAY PRACTICE AND RACE DAY
After a rest day on Wednesday there was both qualifying on Thursday morn- ing and racing in the evening. Again the weather was perfect but a second crash, this time involving TT legend John Mcguinness at Primrose, saw the action brought to an early conclusion. The Honda Racing rider went down on the 100mph-plus left-hander and was thrown over a 10-foot high fence on to the golf course. He suffered a compound fracture to his lower leg plus broken vertebrae and ribs (full story page 4).
Rutter and his Bathams/smt BMW topped the superbike qualifying with Seeley fastest in the superstock and 600cc classes and Jessopp retaining pole in the Twins.
Again Seeley posted the fastest lap of the day on his Tyco BMW Superstock S1000RR, just 1/900th of a second slower than Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record. The 17-times winner revealed he was asking for his superbike to be set up to replicate the superstock machine.
THUSRDAY EVENING RACING
Superbikes weren’t involved in Thursday evening’s action which comprised Supersport, Superstock and Supertwins races.
Dark horse Martin Jessopp was the star of the night, breaking his North West duck to win the 600cc and Twins races. Seeley was forced to retire from the Supersport race with a blocked fuel filter, leaving Jessopp (Rider’s Motorcycles Triumph) to head home Ian Hutchinson (MCAMS Yamaha) and James Hillier (JG Speedfit Kawasaki).
Jessopp ( Rider’s Motorcycles Kawasaki) set a new lap record of 110.423mph to get the better of Rutter (KMR Kawasaki) in the Supertwins event with Ivan Lintin (Dafabet Devitt Racing) third.
“I have been trying to win a race here for 10 years and now I have won two,” smiled Jessopp.
Rutter’s ER6 was built by Ryan Farquhar who had been seriously injured in a crash in the same race 12 months previously.
Seeley bounced back from his earlier disappointment to dominate the Superstock race with a new lap record of 122.898mph on the Tyco BMW ahead
of Lee Johnston (East Coast Racing BMW) and Dean Harrison (Silicone Kawasaki). It was also a landmark 25th NW200 victory for the TAS Racing team of Philip and Hector Neill.
FRIDAY REST DAY
The paddock was awash with rumours on Friday evening after the Honda Racing team announced they were withdrawing from the event following Mcguinness’ crash. Speculation mounted that electronic problems with the new Fireblade had been behind the smash (see page 4). It meant that Guy Martin’s only race outing on Saturday would be on the Wilson Craig CBR600RR.
SATURDAY RACE DAY
The fine weather of the previous five days came to an abrupt end as heavy showers created havoc for race organisers, teams, riders and tyre technicians.
The opening Supersport event just managed to complete six laps before the heavens opened with Seeley (Gearlink Kawasaki) leading home the Dunlop brothers, William (IC /Caffrey Racing Yamaha) and Michael Dunlop (MD Racing Yamaha). There had been some controversy as to whether the race should have been stopped after rain started to fall on the penultimate lap, an issue that was to raise its head again later in the day.
Unlike Martin, who equalled his Thursday placing of 23rd on the Craig Honda, 21-year-old Adam Mclean was in the thick of the Supersport action. Mclean recently won the 600cc race at the Cookstown 100 on his MSS Kawasaki ZX-6RR.
The youngster claimed a brilliant fourth place finish ahead of established names like Ian Hutchinson and James Hillier, but only after a clash with Lee Johnston at Juniper chicane that forced the Fermanagh man out of contention.
Heavy rain brought a three-hour delay to proceedings, that followed futile attempts to start the first Superbike race in heavy rain.
First Michael Dunlop’s Bennett’s Suzuki dumped oil on the coast road when an oil seal split and the session was restarted in even worse conditions following the clean-up.
When pole-setter Rutter wheeled his Bathams/smt BMW off the grid after the sighting lap and Peter Hickman, Michael Dunlop, Johnston and Hutchinson told television commentators it was too wet to race, the organisers eventually stopped proceedings while they waited for conditions to improve.
Racing resumed on wet roads with Glenn Irwin switching back to a full wet rear on his PBM Ducati after trying an intermediate on the sighting lap.
Michael Dunlop was a non-starter as once again Seeley (Tyco BMW) proved the master of the tricky conditions, lapping five seconds a lap quicker than Rutter and winning the shortened four-lapper by 21 seconds with Lee Johnston taking third.
“I was worried about someone coming up behind me on intermediates as the track dried out towards the end,” said Seeley as he won his third race of the 2017 meeting.
The Supertwins race was another close affair with Rutter (KMR Kawasaki) holding off Dan Cooper (KW Electrical Kawasaki) and Thursday winner, Jessopp. It was the rejuvenated Rutter’s 14th NW200 win and his fourth podium finish of the week.
Superbike and Superstock
The last two races were switched as the Superstock event was brought forward and the feature Superbike scheduled to be the final race of the event.
The second stocker race was to prove controversial when a fantastic battle between Seeley, Hutchinson, Rutter and Johnston was red-flagged after yet another rain shower on the penultimate lap.
Seeley was declared the winner, his fourth win of the week, but Hutchy and Johnston in particular were critical of the organisers for not stopping the race sooner after the leading riders put their hands up to indicate the conditions were too dangerous for racing.
The rain cleared for the final feature superbike race, which was an epic battle between Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser/pbm Ducati) and Seeley on the Tyco BMW.
Ian Hutchinson, Michael Dunlop, Michael Rutter and Peter Hickman all played major supporting roles, but on the last lap it was a determined Glenn Irwin who made the decisive move on Seeley along the coast road to claim a superbike race win at his first big bike attempt at the North West 200.
■ Mcguinness out of this year’s Isle of Man TT– see full story, page 4 – and Guy Martin’s TT in jeaopardy, page 6.
‘It was the rejuvenated Rutter’s 14th NW200 win’ STEPHEN DAVISON