Swashbuckling Glenn Irwin’s dazzling Superbike triumph at the Vauxhall International North West 200 was the defining moment of the 2017 showpiece.
All-time record-holder Alastair Seeley showed once again why he’s the most successful rider ever around the 8.9-mile Triangle course, winning four races to move onto a staggering 21 victories since his maiden triumph in 2008, but it was Irwin who brought the house down.
The 27-year-old British Superbike star was riding on the crest of a wave heading into the first major international roads meeting of the season after sealing podium finishes at Donington Park and a career-best second place at Oulton.
Nonetheless, the North West represented a major test for Irwin, who was making only his second appearance at the event after skipping the race in 2016 to focus on his BSB chance in Paul Bird’s factory-supported Ducati team.
In contrast to Seeley and the rest of his chief rivals, he was only entered in both Superbike races as he prepared to make his race bow on a 1000cc machine.
The challenge Irwin faced increased considerably when he lost vital track time in opening practice last Tuesday, when the Superbike session was reduced following English rider Chris Dixon’s crash in Supersport practice.
The odds seemed stacked even higher against Irwin when Thursday’s final Superbike qualifying session was scrapped with 21 minutes to go after John McGuinness crashed out at Primrose corner on his Honda Fireblade.
He only managed 11 laps in total last week on a bike that had never before been unleashed on the roads. Yet, Irwin somehow qualified on the front row alongside pole man Michael Rutter and fellow Carrickfergus rider Seeley, raising expectations over his prospects for the premier races on Saturday’s main race bill.
Damp roads ended any realistic hopes Irwin had of running at the front in the Superbike opener, which played into the hands of those with more experience of the conditions and prior set-up knowledge.
Irwin, though, remained unbowed and with drier roads prevalent for the seven-lap headline race, he strutted his stuff to the awesome soundtrack of the Italian Panigale.
Valiant warrior Seeley battled Irwin throughout, but the new pretender came up trumps – and how the fans loved it.
Irwin justified the hype and the North West 200 has fallen in love with a new star.