East Antrim riders shone at the North West 200 with Jeremy McWilliams, Jamie Hamilton and Glenn Irwin on the rostrum at the world-famous circuit. But the big winner was Carrick’s Alastair Seeley who equalled Robert Dunlop’s record tally of 15 wins.
It was a difficult day on Saturday with delays and rain showers, but 35-year-old Seeley battled against the tough conditions to produce some fantastic performances.
In what was very nearly a perfect week for the local rider, he topped the time sheets on Tuesday and Thursday in every class.
In Thursday’s opening EventServ Supersport race he bagged a convincing win after fellow Carrick racer Glenn Irwin’s Gearlink Kawasaki broke down at University with engine problems on lap four while challenging for the lead.
In the end, Seeley took a comfortable victory over Michael Dunlop and Lee Johnston and set a new lap record on the Tyco Suzuki to put him level with Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter on 13 wins.
“The wee bike worked a treat and the Metzeler tyres gave me the grip and stability I needed to make it 13 wins here at the North West 200. It’s an honour to join North West 200 greats like Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter. It sets us up well now for Saturday,” he told the Times after the race.
The ‘Wee Wizrad’ opened his account on Saturday in a Supersport race that turned out to be a classic.
During what was a real dogfight, Seeley made an impressive move at Juniper Hill chicane to take his first win of the day. Lee Johnston, on his ECC Burdens Triumph, lost out on second place to Irwin after he overshot the chicane and was docked 10 seconds, leaving the young Gearlink Kawasaki racer to take the runners-up spot.
“That was a great race,” smiled Seeley after taking his 14th win. “We were chopping and changing the lead at almost every corner and I had to peg Glenn back to get the win.
“It was a real dogfight throughout. In fact, I was nearly spat over the highside on lap two or three at Mathers. I looked over my shoulder and saw no-one was with us and decided that we could sort it out between ourselves on the last lap.
“At Black Hill I had a good position behind Glenn and at the Juniper chicane I had the inside line and luckily the plan worked. Credit to Glenn in his first year racing at the event. He was so close to winning.”
In the Superbike event, Seeley, on the Tyco BMW Motorrad Racing S1000RR, held off a strong challenge from Ian Hutchinson on the PBM Kawasaki ZX10R and Honda star Bruce Anstey, to take the chequered flag.
“I made a good start but dropped back to fourth at one stage before making my way up through the group. With two laps to go, I was back behind Hutchy trying to gauge where he was weakest.
“He gave it his all, but I was able to get past at Ballysally and Magherabouy to win.”
Reflecting on equalling Robert Dunlop’s record, hetold the Times: “I have been coming here since I was child and Robert and Joey Dunlop were heroes of mine.
“To be with those guys is totally awesome and to equal Robert’s record is very special to me. Thankfully, I won’t get asked about the record anymore and if I can keep getting competitive rides in the future I don’t see why I can’t be in contention for more podiums and see if I can set my own record.”
Veteran KMR/SGS Kawasaki team-mates McWilliams and Ryan Farquhar fought a thrilling battle with Hamilton on the BE Racing Kawasaki in the Supertwins race. It was ex-Grand Prix star McWilliams, who muscled his way into the lead for the Coast Road section, holding off Farquhar and Hamilton for the win.
“It’s a great feeling to come back and stand on the podium again,” said 51-year-old McWilliams. I knew when I looked around on grid and saw the gaps that it would be between the three of us. I made a small suspension change from Thursday night and with Ryan having gearbox problems the racing was a lot closer. Wins don’t come easy around here and I am happy to add to my 2013 victory. It was a great race.”
For newcomer Irwin it was a great debut and he was over the moon at Saturday’s result after the disappointment of Thursday night.
“On Thursday I was going to challenge for the win at Juniper Chicane as that was where I felt I was stronger, but it wasn’t to be as the Gearlink Kawasaki developed an engine problem at University and that was my race over,” he said. “With a new engine fitted, I was feeling good for Saturday’s race and I was quicker everywhere than anyone else.
“I was surprised how easy it was to sit with the front guys. On the last lap I was determined not to be third on the Coast Road and took the lead at Metropole but I left the smallest of gaps at Juniper and Alastair got through. I tried to go back past him on the outside but Lee (Johnston) ran wide and I had no room.
“Still, I am happy with second. I did say I wanted to go to the North West and prove a point. I think I did that. Whether I return remains to be seen.”
Ballyclare’s Hamilton was well pleased with his two podiums on the Cookstown BE Racing Kawasaki Supertwin bike.
On Thursday evening he was down on speed as he finished third, but after a trip to the workshop the team found the missing ingredient for Saturday’s race and although he still had to settle for third he did lead the two KMR/SGS riders on more than one occasion during the four-lap race.
“Both my Supersport and Superbike broke down on Saturday as I was struggling with a bad dose of the cold and had no energy. The bike was so much better than Thursday and I felt I had a bit in reserve on the Coast Road for the last lap, but I made a mistake at Magherabouy and went onto the grass, losing any chance of beating Ryan and Jeremy.
“I was worried there was a problem with the bike and eased the pace to settle for third. I was happy with another rostrum as there were bigger names than me leaving the North West with nothing. Now I am looking forward to the TT,” said Hamilton.
The final race of the meeting was the Superstock race and it was another thriller, with Seeley just losing out to Johnston who snatched the lead in a last lap.
“I tried to lead into Black Hill but Lee was able to use the slipstream and with the momentum into Juniper, defended his line on the brakes and parked it,” said Seeley. “It’s something I would have done myself, so fair play to him.”
The final race of the day, the feature Superbike event, was abandoned after high winds made racing unsafe. “It was a good decision. It was the first time I have had to ride a bike on the back brake for so long to keep the front wheel down. The bike was just getting blown across the road,” added Seeley.
The opening race of the day, the Superstock event, was abandoned after an incident involving racers Stephen Thompson, Horst Saiger and a female spectator.