NW200: FULL ANALYSIS
200mph bar-to-bar racing ends in jubilation for BSB star Irwin
Glenn Irwin and Alastair Seeley played their part in what is being hailed as the greatest North West 200 race ever after seven laps of bar-to-bar racing to decide the winner of the feature race on Saturday afternoon.
It had been a major coup for the race organisers to attract the young BSB star and Paul Bird’s Be Wiser Ducati team to the seaside event, and Irwin made it clear from the outset that he was there to win on his superbike race debut.
Irwin’s only previous outing at the North West was in 2015, taking a podium finish on a Gearlink Kawasaki after two fantastic battles with circuit specialist, Alastair Seeley. The pair hail from the same Co Antrim town of Carrickfergus and have been training partners and British Supersport championship rivals – as well as close friends – for many years.
The rift after a falling out several years ago has now been healed but the duo’s on-track rivalry is as fierce as ever. Irwin’s arrival on the Ducati superbike at the event Tyco BMW star Seeley has dominated for the last decade guaranteed this year’s NW200 would be the scene of a titanic struggle.
Irwin managed just 11 laps of practice on the big Ducati, with incidents forcing a cut to the length of both superbike qualifying sessions. Despite this, the young BSB star posted the third fastest time behind Seeley and pole setter, Michael Rutter on the Bathams/ SMT BMW.
The opening big bike encounter, in which Irwin finished fourth, was run on wet roads but after a frustrating day of showers and delays, the 27-year-old’s hopes were fulfilled when the skies cleared before the final race of the day, the seven-lap feature superbike race.
“This is what I wanted and what everyone has come to see,” said Irwin on the start line before blasting into an early lead ahead of Tyco BMW’S Ian Hutchinson and Michael Rutter. The early laps were an Irwin versus Hutchy tussle as Seeley battled to catch the pair following a sluggish start. But by half distance he had joined the battle for the lead.
Taking an early lead
The leading trio were separated by less than a second from Rutter who had Michael Dunlop on the Bennett’s Suzuki on his tail with Peter Hickman (Smith’s BMW) chasing hard.
“I wanted to lead and do my own thing.” Irwin explained. “I don’t really like slipstreaming because you could get caught up in somebody else’s accident, so I led from York on the first lap.”
At 192.9 mph, Irwin’s Ducati was five mph slower than Seeley’s fastest speed on the BMW through the speed trap and only split seconds separated the pair during the second half of the race.
Seeley, who had already secured a hat-trick of victories in the Supersport, Superstock and opening Superbike encounters, looked set to make it four wins from four starts on the day when he made a brilliant pass on the Tyco BMW between Metropole and Church corners on the final lap to lead on to the vital coast road section.
The grandstand crowds were on their feet as they watched the duo battle it out on the big screens. There was no doubt who they wanted to win when the cheers went up as Irwin pushed his Ducati back into the lead at Black Hill. Seeley, usually the master of late braking at the final Juniper chicane, had no answer to his younger rival’s determination and Irwin held on to take the chequered win by 0.172 seconds, with Hutchy third.
“I was surprised where Alastair took the lead, I didn’t see that coming and we were going from kerb to kerb, right and left, elbow-to-elbow on that last lap,” said Irwin after performing a huge celebratory burnout and throwing his gloves into the crowd.
“I got Black Hill on the money on that last lap and I did to Alastair today what he did to me in 2015,” Irwin added before paying tribute to his foe. “Being the only guy to stop Alastair Seeley today makes this win extra special. What Alastair has done at the North West is incredible. I have only won one race here and he has won 21!” Irwin was taking nothing away from his maiden road race victory though. “I came here to win and I really thought I could,” he added. “Everything was against me this week with the lack of practice and then the rain today but when it was dry I put everything on the line. People say that you ride the roads at 95%, holding something back, but that is b******t. I rode at 110% today, I left nothing in the paddock, everything was out there on that track.”
“The greatest ever in my time.” That was the verdict of North West 200 supremo, Mervyn Whyte after watching Glenn Irwin’s incredible victory in the feature Superbike race.
Whyte has seen all the greats of the last four decades compete on the famous 8.9-mile Northern Irish circuit as he worked his way up from making the tea to now running the weeklong event. The emotional race boss was moved to tears as he watched Irwin’s ecstatic celebrations after winning his first North West 200 superbike race.
“We have had some great days here thinking back to Joey and Robert Dunlop, Carl Fogarty success and Michael Dunlop’s dramatic victory in 2008 but this has been a very, very special day,” said Whyte.
‘We have had some great days here in my time, but this was very special’ MERVYN WHYTE, NORTH WEST BOSS
Irwin gives it 110 per cent as Seeley refuses to give in