The 2015 Vauxhall International North West 200 is over for another year.
This year’s race meeting saw Alistair Seeley draw level with the late Robert Dunlop’s 15 win record. A hat-trick of victories helped Seeley get there but it was Lee Johnston who prevented the record being broken as he held off the Tyco BMW rider to win the final race of the day.
Following practice sessions on Tuesday and Thursday it was down to the nitty gritty on Thursday evening. First up was the Supersport class and Seeley kicked off his account with a hard fought win against Michael Dunlop and Johnston. Newcomer Glenn Irwin had been a contender early on in the race but his Gearlink Kawasaki let him down on the third lap, taking him out of the equation and allowing Seeley to ease home and equal Joey Dunlop and Michael Rutter’s 13 wins. Next up was the first race in the Supertwins class and this was won by Ryan Farquhar who beat team-mate Jeremy McWilliams. Farquhar’s former protege Jamie Hamilton was third place, after Martin Jessopp was given a 60 second time penalty for jumping the start. The third and final race scheduled for the evening was the first Superstock race but this was red flagged after a lap following an incident involving Sandor Bitter at Ballysally Roundabout. The newcomer has since left hospital with a few broken bones and posted a statement about his participation at this year’s Isle of Man TT on Facebook, saying he would not be riding while his health was not at 100%.
With the roads scheduled to reopen by 9pm organisers ran out of time to get the Superstock race back on track again and instead it was rescheduled for first thing on Saturday morning. It was red flagged a further two times on Saturday, once as a result of a nasty accident involving Dean Harrison, Horst Saiger, Stephen Thompson and a spectator. Saiger and Thompson were taken to Causeway Hospital while the female spectator – since named as Violet McAfee – was airlifted to Belfast. Thompson was also transferred there and there has been good news. Both have been moved out of ICU and are recovering. Saiger was discharged and put a statement on his Facebook page revealing he had broken his elbow.
Following a number of delays – including the red flags and the interchangeable weather conditions – the Superstock race was eventually cancelled. Next up was the second race of the Supersport class, the first of which was won by Seeley. The Tyco BMW rider was a man on a mission as he looked to break Robert Dunlop’s record. As had been the case on Thursday evening, it was a close fought affair between Seeley, Johnston and Irwin. Any of the three could have taken the chequered flag first but a costly mistake by Johnston at the Juniper Chicane, which put Irwin off as well, meant that Seeley had a clear run to the line. Irwin finished ahead of a time penalised Johnston, who held onto third with a big enough advantage over William Dunlop.
The record was equalised in the first Superbike race but Seeley had a fierce battle on his hands. Ian Hutchinson took the early lead but eventually lost out. The top two were joined on the road by veteran riders Bruce Anstey, – who took third – Michael Rutter, and John McGuinness, showing that they had lost nothing. Anstey’s podium meant he continued his record of at least one podium at every North West 200 since his debut in 2002. Johnston took fourth place while W Dunlop won the inter-team battle between himself and Guy Martin in a distant seventh and eighth.
Following the Superbike race it was the turn of the Supertwins again and, having lost out to Farquhar on Thursday, McWilliams turned the tables on his boss. The pair went wheel to wheel and exchanged the lead and were not alone as Hamilton also joined the battle. He also had a stint at leading the race and didn’t lose sight of the top two until a mistake on the final lap saw him come home a distant but solid third.
It was a case of not third but fourth time lucky for Johnston when he crossed the line first in the second Superstock race. He had been leading the earlier Superstock race prior to every red flag but was not given the chance to do anything with it. So he was no doubt delighted to eventually cross the line first in what turned out to be the final race of the day. It was another close fought affair with Seeley but Johnston managed to prevent the record of 15 wins being broken. Hutchinson took another podium finish in third, just ahead of M Dunlop.
Riders had faced tricky weather conditions for most of the day, with McGuinness calling one of his citing laps ‘scary’ due to the high winds. Eventually the North West 200 feature race was called off due to a threat of high winds.