Seeley kicks off North West 200 with two wins

The Vauxhall International North West 200 is over for another year but, as the clear up begins, the memories of last weekend’s racing are still fresh in the memory. Fans were treated to plenty of close action throughout three days of practice and or racing, in races which saw Alistair Seeley, the Dunlop brothers, and Bruce Anstey among the winners. There may have been rain on Saturday but that did nothing to deter the enthusiasm of the fans who lined the roads and filled the grandstands, and was certainly nothing on the persistent rain which caused a washout in 2013. Thursday racing took place under glorious sunshine, and the action on track certainly dazzled as well.

As usual, practice took place on Tuesday and Thursday. Newcomer Franck Petricola suffered a heavy accident on Tuesday which saw him airlifted to hospital where he was said to be in a critical but stable condition. Updated news on Tuesday 20 May revealed that he has been taken to his native France, after “responding well to the medical team”. Maria Costello’s North West 200 came to a premature end after a crash on Thursday in which she injured her knee. After plenty of practice it was time to get the racing under way on Thursday evening and first up it was the first Supersport race. Seeley – a ten times winner at the North West 200 – lined up on pole position with Michael Rutter and Lee Johnston joining him on the front row of the grid. The order behind them was William Dunlop, Gary Johnson, Josh Brookes, returnee Keith Amor, Guy Martin, an injured John McGuinness, Dean Harrison, Conor Cummins and Michael Dunlop. At the start of the race Johnston came off his bike at York Corner in a slow speed incident, but luckily was not collected by any rider. The incident saw Seeley drop down the order to 16th and he faced a fight back through the field if he was to feature on the podium. Rutter, who has been coming to the race for the past 22 years, took the early lead but this was taken by both Johnson and Brookes throughout the race. As Brookes ran wide at one of the chicanes, he took Johnson with him, allowing Martin to pull away in the lead. Seeley soon caught the Tyco Suzuki rider and the pair battled for the lead of the race. When they encountered a back marker, Martin was held back allowing Seeley to get away and eventually win the race. The pair were joined by Brookes on the podium – at only his second visit to the North West. Behind them Martin’s Tyco team-mate William Dunlop finished ahead of Amor, Rutter, Johnson, Anstey, Dan Cooper, and James Hillier.

Next up was the Supertwins and all eyes were on KMR Kawasaki, in particular how Ryan Farquhar and Amor would fair on their return to the North West 200 after brief retirements. It was Johnston, Amor and Ivan Lintin who formed the front row of the grid, ahead of Michael Dunlop making his Supertwins debut, James Cowton, and Jeremy McWilliams. Next up were Farquhar, Martin Jessopp, Connor Behan, Harrison, Hillier and Jamie Hamilton. Lintin made an impressive start to take the race lead and built up a substantial gap in the opening laps. Behan became the next rider to fall foul to an incident at York Corner, but once again he walked away after slipping from his bike at slow speeds. As Farquhar and team-mate McWilliams fought side by side, Cowton sailed straight past the pair of them enjoying the benefit of a slipstream. Elsewhere Harrison slid off his bike. Johnston made a late fight back to catch and pass Lintin at the final chicane at Juniper Hill. The podium therefore was Johnston, Lintin, Cowton, with Hillier, Hamilton, Farquhar, Jessopp, McWilliams, Paul Shoesmith and Timothee Monot completing the top ten.

The third and final race of Thursday evening was the first of the Superstock races. Michael Dunlop lined up on pole position ahead of Seeley, Rutter, Jessopp, Simon Andrews, Horst Saiger, Anstey, Cummins, Stephen Thompson, Johnson and Johnston. An injured McGuinness, who had been due to line up 12th, was missing from the grid, instead opting to save himself for Saturday. At the start of the race, as had been the case in the Supersport race, Rutter took the lead but it changed hands a number of times, going to Seeley and then Johnston. The buzz word of the day was slipstream, with a number of riders benefiting from a tow up the long straights and using it to their advantage. Harrison compounded his disappointing evening with another retirement while Johnson also returned to the pits during the race. Up at the front, Rutter suffered a wobble as he pulled a tear off from his visor at speeds of nearly 200mph. While Michael Dunlop had a brief stint in the lead of the race, Seeley took it back at Black Hill and went on to win, finishing ahead of Rutter with M Dunlop in third. Jessopp was fourth while Saiger finished an impressive fifth, with a new lap record. Andrews, Cummins, Martin, Peter Hickman and William Dunlop rounded out the top ten. It was an impressive result for Hickman, making his North West 200 debut with a ninth place finish in his first race. He finished just tenths of a second behind Martin.

With the Superstock race concluding racing for the Thursday evening, attention turned to Saturday with an ever changing weather forecast predicting rain. With five races on the programme – including the feature race – there were plenty of riders with their eyes on the top step of the podium.

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