Sunshine, Ice Creams and Carbon Wheels on Ireland’s North Coast.
Up until a few weeks ago, this year’s NW200 looked to be dead in the water – torpedoed by exorbitant insurance costs. The fact that the event ran at all is entirely due to the success of a crowd funding campaign that raised around £90k and a generous philanthropic donation from a County Tyrone businessman.
So, from a position that looked hopeless a few weeks ago, Ireland’s largest outdoor sporting event had been saved at the eleventh hour! Hats off to Mervyn White and his team for getting everything in place in double quick time.
As always, the racing was spectacular but following the Supertwins “Clampgate” debacle of last year, there was another major ‘stramash’ this year that’s already being referred to in the bike racing media as…. “Wheelgate.”
It centred around technical regulations concerning the carbon wheels on the FHO Racing BMW M1000RR machines. Whatever actually happened – or, more to the point, failed to happen - a topic way too complex to explore here, it resulted in the exclusion of two of the “big bike big guns” - Peter Hickman and Josh Brookes from Thursday evening’s Superstock race. Ultimately, it led to the withdrawal of the FHO Racing Team from this year’s North West – a mega loss for the event, not to mention the team, riders, sponsors and fans.
On the positive side, the sun had its hat on, the double nougats and pokey hats were scoffed with gusto on the coast road and all eight races ran - although many were cut short or interrupted by red flags. Most importantly, the fans turned out in their droves which was great to see. Let’s hope they kept a few quid aside to purchase a programme and, in turn, mitigate the necessity for crowd funding and philanthropic gestures next year.
Of the eight individual races on the Thursday evening and Saturday, main race day there were four winners each lifting double victories in one of the four classes.
Richard Cooper produced two dominant rides (again) on the Farquhar built KMR Kawasaki 700cc. Happily, this year he retained the wins! In Supersport, Davey Todd's performance on the Milenco by Padgetts CBR600RR was outstanding in both races and he ended up doing the double in the class. Some of his late braking manoeuvres were just phenomenal – he’s a monster on the brakes! Having raised his NW200 wins to three, his first IoM TT is surely not far away.
Alastair Seeley’s ‘wizardry’ around the Triangle continues as he completed the Superstock double, and racked up his NW200 tally to an astonishing twenty-nine wins!
Although he didn’t take the top step in any races, Bradford’s Dean Harrison had a great main race day bagging a hat-trick of podiums in the three big bike races: two 3rds in both Superbike races and another 3rd in the second Superstock race. He also posted two strong top six finishes in the Supersport class on the BPE / Russell Racing Yamaha R6. The man, the DAO Racing team and the ZX-10RRs (Superbike and Superstock) look to be in great shape for the TT.
John McGuinness (Honda Racing) also had a strong meeting. He qualified in fifth in Superbikes and that’s where he finished in both Superbike 1 and 2. In Superstock, he finished seventh in Thursday evening’s race and went one place better in Saturday’s second encounter taking the flag in sixth. He’ll be well satisfied with his weekend – as will Honda Racing.
Photo: Diego Mola
Thankfully there were no fatal crashes, however, five times NW200 winner Lee Johnston unfortunately sustained some serious injuries in an accident at Church Corner during Thursday’s practice session. It’s a huge blow for the Fermanagh man. He’s currently leading the British Supersport championship and was also looking very strong on the Ashcourt Racing Superbike – (Glen Irwin’s ex 2022 BSB Fireblade) - having qualified third in Thursday’s practice session. We send him our best wishes for a full recovery. James Hillier, Mike Browne and Nathan Harrison also had accidents and it’s not certain whether they’ll all be fit for the TT – but here’s hoping.
In Superbikes, Irwin did the business on the PBM Beer Monster Ducati making it eight straight SBK wins in a row around the Triangle. He’ll now switch his attention to going all out to secure this year’s BSB Championship.
The day drew to a close but there was still time for one last contender for the “NW200 Most Contentious Moment of the Year Award.” This one took the form of an interminable wait prior to the winner of the final feature SBK race being officially declared. The race had been reduced to five laps from the start but ended prematurely with a red flag being shown around the start of lap four. The indecision revolved around whether there should be a countback to determine who was leading on the previous lap or whether the winner should be the person leading at the time the flag came out.
At one point it looked like Harry Hill might have to be called upon - “there’s only one way to find out - FIGHT!”…… as verbal “sparring” had broken out between Irwin and another top rider and his team. Hashtag awkward. Whilst it wasn’t a particularly edifying spectacle for worldwide streaming, the guys and teams shouldn’t have been held in limbo for so long. However, eventually Irwin was declared the winner, a section of the crowd threw him skywards a few times and fist bumps were eventually exchanged on the rostrum.
Let’s hope there’s some more talking and closer examination of all published regulations before next year’s event. In the meantime, there’s BSB at Donington Park this coming weekend for those riders that participate in the British Championship. Oh - and there’s only eleven days to go before TT practice week gets underway!