Triangle titan Michael Rutter showed he has lost none of his old magic as the Birmingham rider rolled back the years during Tuesday’s opening practice at the Vauxhall International North West 200.
The 42-year-old fired his Bathams BMW S1000RR to the top of the Superbike times with an average speed of 121.106mph to clinch provisional pole for Saturday’s feature races by 1.6 seconds from Alastair Seeley on the Mar-Train Racing Kawasaki.
Rutter’s pedigree in the Superbike class at the North West is matched only by Ulster great Joey Dunlop, with both riders standing alone as the most successful ‘big bike’ specialists around the seaside course with nine victories apiece.
The popular Birmingham man is also tied with Joey on 13 North West wins, two less than all-time record holder Robert Dunlop, and on Tuesday’s evidence Rutter will be knocking on the door of his 14th success this week.
“If we had to race tomorrow I’d be happy,” Rutter said. “It’s just like the old days and although we’ve a few issues to resolve it’s a nice way to start things off.”
Rutter also qualified second fastest in the Supersport and Superstock sessions on the Smiths Triumph and Bathams BMW machines respectively.
Tyco Suzuki’s William Dunlop continued his excellent form as the 28-year-old recorded the fastest Supersport time in the warm sunshine to edge Rutter and Seeley, while Scotsman Keith Amor blasted the old Supertwin lap record to snatch the top spot on the SGS KMR Kawasaki from team boss Ryan Farquhar.
The Superstock session was red-flagged minutes before its conclusion after French rider Franck Petricola crashed at Primrose corner.
The 31-year-old was airlifted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where his condition last night was reported as ‘serious but stable’.