The start of the the international Road Racing season starts as per usual with the North West 200, The annual event is without doubt the largest sporting event in Ireland with up to 150,000 spectators lining the roads between Portrush,Portstewart and Coleraine to watch some of the fastest racers in the world battling it out at speeds up to 200mph if not more.
Name: Alastair Seeley
Nickname: The Wee Wizard
Team: TYCO BMW/Gearlink Kawasaki
Where to begin with Seeley after taking two supersports wins at last years event he sits atop the all time win table alone on 17, He is without doubt the king of the North coast and to bet against him to miss out on a win is foolish since taking his first win in 2008 he has not missed the top step of the podium.
This year started out rocky for Seeley failing to secure a ride in the British championship and only having a Supersport ride lined up for the North West thanks to the Gearlink Kawasaki squad it looked as if he would miss out on the Superbike classes till it was announced that he would ride for the TYCO BMW squad again at this years event.
Along side these rides Seeley was tasked with helping to develop the Spirit Moto 2 bike, The bike would be raced alongside the British Supersport class but would not score any championship points but would allow Seeley to keep his bike fitness up. Seeley was called upon as a replacement for the injured Davide Giugliano subbing into the TYCO team for the weekend and showing well for his first time on the bike this season.
Name: Michael Dunlop
Nickname: The Bull
Team: Bennetts Suzuki/MD Racing
Michael Dunlop the enigma of the Road racing scene the Ballymoney man holds 5 wins around the Coast road but has never shown the sort of form that he has at the Isle of Man TT, He took his first win in 2008 in the 250cc race only two days after the death of his Legendary father Robert Dunlop since then he has had one Supersport win one Superstock and two Superbike wins. He showed last year in the Superbike race that if given a bike he is happy with he is a formidable opponent for anyone taking the win in convincing fashion.
This year the bike may be an issue for him while he did remain with the same team the Hawk racing squad ran by Stuart Hicken the actually machinery has been changed with the team moving from BMW to Suzuki, Suzuki have brought out brand new Superbike for this year and while the bike in Superstock trim has been going well in the hands of Richard Cooper the Superbike still looks a little way off in terms of all out pace.
Dunlop has been riding in the opening rounds of the BSB this year getting alot of bike time as well as learning about the new GSXR, This has been a change in approach for him but with the majority of his competitors now getting full time rides in the British series it is seen by many as the right approach to get the necessary bike time to compete at the international events now.
Name: Ian Hutchinson
Teams: TYCO BMW/McAms Yamaha
Alongside Michael Dunlop Ian Hutchinson is currently at the top of the road racing scene currently he has the title of fastest road racer in the world after setting the new fastest lap at the Ulster Grand prix, With only three wins to his name at the North west Hutchinson hasnt had as much success here similar to Dunlop seeming to save his best for the TT. He did show in last years Superstock race that he was very much the man to beat in that class with another full season under his belt on the BMW it is hard to look past him for the honours in this class again.
As I mentioned Hutchinson has stayed with the same team in all classes staying with the TAS squad for the Superbike and Superstock classes he has also be retained by the McAMs Yamaha squad formerly known as the Keith Flint racing team this consistency sets him up well as he looks to build on what was a banner year for him last season, Hutchinson has been riding all season in the British Superstock championship racing at the front of the field as he did last season this added bike time as well as the close racing has seemed to sharpen his bike skills.
Name: Glenn Irwin
Team: Paul Bird Be Wiser Ducati
Glenn Irwin makes his return to the triangle circuit after a year away this time he comes with the backing of one of the top Superbike teams in the BSB paddock. Irwin showed on his debut that he is an outstanding talent on a motorbike pushing North west veterans Lee Johnston and Alistair Seeley all the way in the two Supersport races retiring in race one and getting on the podium in race two.
Irwin has been having a break out year in BSB currently sitting inside the top six showdown and scoring his best ever result with a second place last weekend at Oulton Park. The Paul Bird team he will be riding for has a strong racing pedigree having backed a few teams and riders that have raced at the North West including Michael Rutter and Stuart Easton.
Name: Peter Hickman
Team: Smith Racing BMW/Trooper Beer Truimph
Peter Hickman regarded by many as the best all round racer currently in the UK he is a front runner in the British championship as well as the international road race scene, He had a fairly disappointing year by his standards on the roads in 2016 never really clicking with his Kawasaki for 2017 he returns to BMW a bike that he has done well in the past on.
He has joined the Smith racing team leading their charge in the British Superbike championship he has started the year well scoring well in the opening rounds of the championship and sitting just outside the top six showdown places. Along with his Superbike and Superstock bikes he will have his a Truimph 675 sponsored by Iron Maiden’s Trooper beer that bike is easily one of the most striking in the paddock with the Iron Maiden mascot Eddie emblazoned on the fairing.
Name: Bruce Anstey
Nickname: The Flying Kiwi or Bruce Almighty
Team Name: Padgetts Racing
What can I say already about Bruce Anstey that hasnt already been said before on his day and depending what side of the bed he gets out of he is still one of if not the fastest road racers in the world and even at the age of 48 has to be considered one of the favourites. With ten race wins to his name he is one of the all times greats to have raced at the North West his first win coming in 2002 and his last in 2014 it shows the longevity that he has been able to maintain.
Anstey has remained with the Padgetts racing team he first joined the team in 2011 after leaving the TAS squad after many years of great success with the Northern Irish outfit. The partnership of Clive Padgett and Anstey has proven to be a real dream team with the team manager able to perfectly deal with the laid back nature of Anstey and properly harness the pure talent of the Kiwi. Unfortunately for all of us fans the Padgett’s team wont be bringing the now famous RCV bike instead Bruce will be riding the Fireblade but even then Anstey will be right at the front of the field.
Name: John McGuinness
Team: Honda Racing
John McGuinness is very much a living legend only the great Joey Dunlop has more wins around the TT while the North West hasnt been as happy a hunting ground for him he still has five wins to his name and can never be counted out of contention in any class, In recent years however it has felt that to McGuinness the NW was more of a trial run for the TT but with his time racing seemingly coming to an end this year he sounds like he is here to win.
2017 sees the Honda team in a similar situation as the Suzuki team having to develop a brand new bike on the fly the new bike has been struggling in WSBK trim but has shown positive signs in BSB, McGuinness has been positive in recent interviews about the bike but he has also had a couple of crashes in testing which is unlike him as with the Suzuki only after Tuesday night will we get a clearer picture of how these new bikes are shaping up.
Name: Lee Johnston
Nickname: The General
Team: Jackson Racing
2016 was a very disappointing year both on and off the track for Lee Johnston suffering injuries and losing his father it was very much a year to forget, For 2017 he joined the Jackson racing squad after his former team pulled out of racing all together. Jackson racing has been one of the top teams in the road racing/endurance racing scenes for many years running Supersport bikes for John McGuinness recently.
For his 2017 campaign Johnston will have use of a 2016 WSBK Spec Nicky Hayden Fireblade prepared by the Ten Kate racing squad this bike is sure to one of the most top spec bikes on the grid, Alongside the Superbike Jackson racing will be providing a Supersport bike for Johnston unfortunately Honda were unable to provide them with a new Fireblade Superstock bike so Johnston’s old team have provided him the use of last years BMW.
Name: Dean Harrison
Team: Silicone Racing Kawasaki
Dean Harrison was a relative unknown on the road racing scene in 2015 but in a short space of time he has sprung right to the front of the pack, He is very much seen as a front runner in any of the classes he has remained with the Silicone racing team that he joined last year after leaving the Mar Train Yamaha squad.
Harrison has started off his 2017 roads campaign well taking wins at the Oliver’s Mount meeting in April, He has also had plenty of track time on his superstock bike as he has been taking part in the British Superstock championship another road racer seeing the advantage to more bike time to help his Road racing.
Name: Michael Rutter
Nickname: The Blade
Team: Bathams BMW/KMR Racing
The elder statesman of the paddock now Michael Rutter is still very much a threat around the North Coast with thirteen wins to his name Rutter is right up there with the very best and was the man to beat for many years before the emergence of Alistair Seeley,His biggest achievement at the North West is one nobody can ever take away he was the first rider to record 200mph through the speed trap.
For 2017 Rutter stays with his Batham beer backed BMW team this is a partnership that has been going for a few seasons now and has given him a competitive package both on the roads and in the Superstock class. He will also ride in the supertwins class for the KMR team replacing South African Hudson Kennaugh with depth of talent in the other bigger classes this could be seen as his best chance of victory.
Name: Guy Martin
Team: Honda Racing/Wilson Craig
Guy Martin makes his return to road racing after taking a year out to pursue other opportunities, His return has come with alot of coverage as was to be expected with his every step where ever it may be covered in the highest detail. Last time he raced at the North West Martin did not hide what he though of the circuit calling it boring this did not go down well with the fans or organizers.
For 2017 Martin has joined the Honda racing team to partner John McGuinness on the new Fireblade, So far his return has not gone entirely to plan crashing out in race one of the Tandragee 100 and then failing to get near the front at the Cookstown 100 Martin has said he is struggling with the new Fireblade and there is alot of work to do with it. Martin will also make his return to the Wilson Craig team he will ride a Supersport bike prepared by the team he did this at Cookstown and performed better showing a decent pace on a bike he had never ridden before that weekend.
Name: James Hillier
Team:JG Speedfit Bournemouth Kawasaki
James Hillier is usually the forgotten man in the road racing scene he is always there or there abouts but not quite on the pace of Hutchinson or Dunlop, Like those two the TT has been seen as Hillier’s bread and butter with the North West more of a warm up session for him to get the bikes set up.
2017 sees Hillier stay with the Bournemouth team but with the added bonus of them becoming the official Kawasaki team in BSB for 2017, The team who run Leon Haslam and Luke Mossey in BSB has a tonne of experience on the roads and now with Kawasaki backing this may be the year Hillier makes the next jump. Hillier has done a few rounds in the BSB paddock on both his supersport bike and superstock so should has had good time on the bike leading up to North West.
I believe that is all the front runners for this years event in the big races at least, If you think I have missed anyone out let me know on twitter @weephil56. As always big thanks to @photography_rjd and @SamScott2271 for the photos, If you like any of the photos go check out http://rjd-photography.weebly.com/ where there are many more.