MUCH of the hype surrounding this year’s Relentless International North West 200 is centred on the prospects of Tyco Suzuki British Superbike rider Alastair Seeley.
A five-times winner around the 8.9-mile ‘Triangle’ circuit, the 31-year-old has taken over former NW200 specialist Steve Plater’s mantle as the rider who sets the benchmark at the famous old international road race, which takes place annually against the breathtaking backdrop of the beautiful Causeway Coast.
Both men were present at last night’s final press conference for the event, when they were joined by special guests including MSS Bathams Kawasaki’s Michael Rutter, KMR Kawasaki riders Ryan Farquhar and Jeremy McWilliams, plus Seeley’s Tyco Suzuki team-mate Guy Martin at the new Titanic Belfast attraction.
Plater will continue in his role as a rider liaison officer at the North West this year, passing on his knowledge and expertise of the high-speed course to 30 newcomers preparing to take on the challenge for the first time.
Last night, it was confirmed that Rutter – 12 times a winner at the North West – will compete in Farquhar’s KMR Kawasaki colours in the new Vauxhall Supertwin race, which will be held as part of a schedule revamp on Thursday evening, May 17, along with the first Superstock race.
Carrickfergus man Seeley won the only race held at the North West in 2011 when he edged out Cameron Donald to seal the Supersport honours in tricky conditions.
And although Seeley is equally adept at riding fast in the wet as he is on dry roads, the reigning British Supersport champion is praying for kind weather.
“What we don’t want is another race day like last year: cold and wet. We have a good wet set-up so that won’t bother me at all but it’s no good for the fans,” said Seeley. “I think we’d all prefer dry and sunny weather if we had a choice.”
Seeley lists a five-timer at the North West among his career ambitions, a feat that would see him equal Phillip McCallen’s incredible 1992 achievement.
With an array of top-notch notch machinery at his disposal and previous victories in the Superstock, Supersport and premier Superbike classes, it is an accomplishment that is not beyond the bounds of possibility.
Seeley, though, is taking nothing for granted.
“The season’s now in full swing and it’s just Oulton Park this coming Bank Holiday weekend for the triple header then back home to try and add to my tally at the North West 200, and get the Tyco Suzukis on the podium… but despite what people think, it isn’t going to be easy,” he said.
“I need to be getting some decent results at Oulton, as it’ll work both ways,” Seeley said in his official Tyco Suzuki blog. If I do well there I’ll be back in the hunt in BSB, and it will give me confidence for the North West, even though we’re back onto the full FIM-specification Superbike there.
“It’s all about having a good Tuesday practice at the North West. I know how I prepared last year and also in 2010, so we can build it up on Thursday; then we have that Superstock race on the Thursday night.”
Seeley and Martin will be joined on the grid by Manxman Conor Cummins in a three-pronged attack for the Northern Ireland team.
However, the calibre of the opposition is formidable, with Honda TT Legends riders John McGuinness and Simon Andrews in the line-up, plus Gary Johnson and Bruce Anstey (Padgetts Honda), Michael Dunlop (MD Racing/McAdoo), William Dunlop and Cameron Donald (Wilson Craig Honda) and Martin Jessopp (Ducati).
Swan Yamaha’s Ian Hutchinson is also entered, but continues to recover from injury.
Practice will be held on Tuesday, May 15 from 9.30am-2.30pm and on Thursday from 9.30am-2.30pm.
Roads will close on Thursday from 5.30pm-9pm for the Livewire AV Superstock and Vauxhall Supertwin races.
On Saturday, May 19, roads will be closed for the main race programme from 10am-6.30pm.