Preview: North West 200

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By Philip Wain

This week sees the start of the International road racing season with the traditional opener again being at the North West 200. And with the competition getting ever and ever closer, it should be a frantic, high speed encounter.

Of course, recent years on the Causeway Coast have been severely hit by the weather so what everyone’s keeping their fingers crossed for most of all, as well as a safe day’s racing, is a dry day and no interruptions.

Although the weather has caused lengthy delays, when the racing’s taken place it’s been the usual slipstreaming battle at the head of the field. Whether it’s the Superbikes or the Supersports, we can expect 5-6 bikes scrapping it out along the coast road on the final lap.

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Arguably, the man they all have to beat again is Alastair Seeley and having tied with Robert Dunlop’s record total of 15 wins last year, he’ll be keen to finally take it outright. He rides for his familiar RAF Reserve BMW team in the Supersport and Superstock classes whilst he’s reunited with Gearlink Kawasaki for the two Supersport encounters.

Whilst the Carrickfergus rider has an uncanny knack of getting himself positioned correctly on the final laps, it certainly won’t be easy and one man who’s started the season on fire is Ian Hutchinson. He clicked with the Tyco BMW, in both Superbike and Superstock trim, immediately and his short circuit form has been exemplary.

Seeley should carry his home nation’s main hopes but Michael Dunlop and William Dunlop have both been victorious at the North West in the past and will no doubt do so again. Michael may have one eye on the TT but the duo are sure to well to the fore.

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Like Hutchinson, Valvoline Racing by Padgetts rider Bruce Anstey was on the podium at last year’s event and is showing no signs of slowing down despite having recently turned 47. 2015 was another superb year for the Kiwi and having made his NW200 debut in 2002, he has the astonishing record of finishing on the podium, at least once, every year since.

“I’m feeling pretty good heading into the new season and although the bikes are pretty much the same as last year, Clive’s got a bit more power out of the Superbike so we should be in a great position. Having been on the podium at least once every year since my debut in 2002 I’ll be looking to extend that record but what we all need most of all is good weather. The event’s due a bit of luck on that side of things and the sun’s well overdue!”

Honda Racing’s John McGuinness and Conor Cummins can never be counted out and whilst the Isle of Man TT now sees the Morecambe man at his best, he loves the North West and won’t be going just to make up the numbers. It’s his 11th year with the Honda team and that familiarity continues to pay dividends in his results.

“It’s the same CBR I love and adore, but we can’t stand still as the competition is really strong so we have to make a few small changes here and there so we’re ready. I’m feeling great at the moment and I’ve got a great package with the team, the CBR and there’s no reason not to bring any trophies home this year. I’m in a good place and can’t wait to get going now at the North West!”

The list of potential race winners is endless with Peter Hickman, James Hillier, Michael Rutter, Ryan Farquhar, Lee Johnston, Gary Johnson, Martin Jessopp , Jeremy McWilliams (standing in for the injured Dan Kneen who is injured after a mountain bike crash) and Dean Harrison just some of the other riders on the entry.

 

Tony Carter

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