North West 200: International road race ‘blasts back into action’

Riders on the start line for the first practice session at the North West 200
Riders on the start line for the first practice session at the North West 200
Venue: Triangle Circuit Portstewart Coleraine Portrush dates: May 10-14
coverage: Live video streams of all practice sessions and races; Live Radio Ulster and BBC Sounds coverage and text commentary on all races; TV highlights on BBC One NI on Friday 13 May, Sunday 15 May and Monday 16 May.

It had been a long time coming… but at 10:23 BST on Tuesday motorcycle racing bikes finally revved back into action on the Triangle circuit for the first time since 2019.

After that two-year absence because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s North West 200 has been even more keenly anticipated than usual and there was a tangible buzz in the paddock situated between the seaside towns of Portrush and Portstewart as the seconds ticked away to the road closure time of 09:15 and the first of the practice sessions.

The crowds were not on the scale of the tens of thousands expected to lap up the action on Thursday and Saturday race days, but a sizeable number of spectators were in position from early morning to book their preferred vantage point behind the hedges, walls and fences around the nine-mile public roads circuit.

Periods of glorious sunshine were punctuated with intermittent showers and high winds but the rain, when it came, failed to dampen the spirits or curb the enthusiasm of the fans who had been deprived of their annual speed fix for too long.

The course, awash with the color of sponsors’ branding, looked in mint condition and the ‘pop-up village’ which plays host to marquees, massive transporters, portacabins and awnings, in addition to the bikes themselves, gave ‘the pits’ all the look of a major motorsport event.

All this against the spectacular backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, the flags representing the nations of all the competing riders fluttering in the sea breeze above the grandstands which help create the sense of an amphitheater fit to host the drama which will unfold on track over the coming days.

The organizing Coleraine and District Motor Club has assembled a stellar line-up of machines and competitors for the return of one of Northern Ireland’s showpiece sporting events and the engines roared into life with the session for newcomers, complete with their mandatory orange bibs.

While the instantly recognizable big names may attract most of the headlines during race week, the riders who are new to the course and those further down the field each have their own personal hopes and ambitions to realize.

Lee Johnston
Lee Johnston won the opening Supersport race at the last staging of the North West in 2019

First up of the qualifying sessions for the specific classes was the Supersports and at the end of their practice period it was Fermanagh native Lee Johnston who led the way on his Ashcourt Racing Yamaha.

His average speed of 114.132mph was 1.2 seconds faster than fellow Northern Irishman Michael Dunlop, with Kawasaki-mounted Dean Harrison third.

Yorkshire rider Davey Todd, like Johnston a Supersport winner three years ago, occupied fourth position on the leaderboard, followed by record 24-time race winner Alastair Seeley and McAdoo Kawasaki’s Adam McLean.

Josh Brookes (left) was fastest of the Superbikes in Tuesday practice
Josh Brookes (left) was fastest of the Superbikes in Tuesday practice

Next up was the blue riband Superbike class and by the end of their session it was Australian double British Superbike champion Josh Brookes who set the provisional pole position speed at 120.045mph on his Ducati.

Dunlop was second fastest, followed by Todd, Seeley, four-time Superbike winner Glenn Irwin and James Hillier.

Richard Cooper, the fastest newcomer two years ago, led the Supertwins category at 101.465mph, followed by Frenchman Pierre Yves Bian, three-time winner Jeremy McWilliams and Michael Rutter.

The Superstock session began in changeable conditions but Dunlop ultimately recorded the fastest average lap speed when the track began to dry at 115.273mph, with Rutter and Cooper making up the top three places.

The second practice run is scheduled for Thursday morning and early afternoon, with racing on Thursday evening and Saturday.

Tuesday practice leaderboard

super bikes – 1 Josh Brookes (Ducati) 120.045mph; 2 Michael Dunlop (Suzuki) 119,967; 3 Davey Todd (Honda) 119,648; 4 Alastair Seeley (Yamaha) 119.64; 5 Glenn Irwin (Honda) 119,095; 6James Hillier (Yamaha) 118,081

Super Stocks – 1Michael Dunlop (Honda) 115.272mph; 2 Michael Rutter (BMW) 114,929; 3Richard Cooper (Suzuki) 113,431; 4 Dominic Herbertson (Suzuki) 113,015; 5 Ian Hutchinson (BMW) 112,874; 6James Hillier (Yamaha) 112.169.

super sports 1 Lee Johnston (Yamaha) 114.132mph; 2Michael Dunlop (Yamaha) 113,642; 3 Dean Harrison (Kawasaki) 113,330; 4 Davey Todd (Honda) 113,088; 5 Alastair Seeley (Yamaha) 112,923; 6 Adam McLean (Kawasaki) 112,898.

super twins – 1 Richard Cooper (Kawasaki) 101.465mph; 2 Pierre Yves Bian (Paton) 101,086; 3 Jeremy McWilliams (Paton) 100,477; 4 Michael Rutter (Paton) 100,374; 5 Joe Loughlin (Paton) 98,419; 6 Christian Elkin (Kawasaki) 98.221

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