Michael Dunlop will take his place on the grid on Saturday at the Vauxhall International North West 200 with a burning desire to cover himself in glory in the blue riband Superbike races.
The Ballymoney rider earned his first four-stroke victory on the Triangle circuit in last year’s weather-hit second Supersport race and is now after the Holy Grail of a premier class triumph on his factory-backed BMW Motorrad S1000RR.
Dunlop only sat on the German machine for the first time on Tuesday after riding the British Superbike version in the Buildbase colours at Brands Hatch, but the 25-year-old clocked a new unofficial Superbike lap record on his last lap to grab pole position during Thursday’s final qualifying session on the north coast.
The seven-time Isle of Man TT winner lapped at 122.274mph as he dipped under Alastair Seeley’s four-year-old benchmark of 121.875mph, which the Carrick rider set as he powered to victory in the feature Superbike race in 2010.
Dunlop is joined on the front row for the two seven-lap Superbike showdowns by Michael Rutter on the Bathams BMW and Mar-Train Racing’s Seeley, who raised the bar with an outstanding Supersport and Superstock double on Thursday evening.
He also starts from pole in the Superstock race and will be desperate to make amends after dropping back to finish third behind Seeley and Rutter on a heart-stopping final lap in Thursday’s first race, when Dunlop actually led at Metropole in Portrush.
Reflecting on that race, the Ballymoney racer has vowed to adopt a different strategy today and will attempt to make a break for it to avoid the potential of a last-lap free-for-all: “It is the way it is. It was pretty hard work at the end when [Michael] Rutter came past me. But we’re out racing twice more on Saturday and that’s where it’ll come good.
“The bike is working well now. I made up a lot of ground in lap five, but these boys were slowing down in the corners where I like to carry my speed so it was tough to pass.
“The plan for the next race is just to get out front and into some clear space,” he added. “Come Saturday I’ll be doing some wrecking!”
Dunlop, who considered taking a year away from the sport in 2014 until penning a deal with BMW for the international road races, believes there is much more to come from his new Superbike as he gears up for a crucial month.
Practice for the Isle of Man TT commences next weekend and Dunlop has one eye on the Mountain showpiece.
“We’re getting there, slowly but surely,” he said. “This new engine is a lot faster than the BSB one and we’ve made a lot of changes to the chassis, but I still think there’s lots more to come from this bike.”
Seeley, meanwhile, has now won 12 times since his first success in the Superstock class at the North West six years ago and conceivably could equal or even surpass Robert Dunlop’s all-time record of 15 wins on Saturday.
The Mar-Train Racing recruit competes in both Superbike events plus the final Supersport and Superstock races and on current form Seeley could take some stopping in his quest to bolster his burgeoning tally at the famous road race.
The two-time British champion has already staked his claim for the new ‘Man of the Meeting’ award, with the winner collecting the Robert Dunlop trophy and a cheque for £2,500.
Wily veteran Rutter, though, must not be overlooked and the 13-time North West 200 winner has been in terrific form this week.
Roads close at at 9.30am.
Race 1 – Supersport (6 laps)
Race 2 – Superbike (7 laps)
Race 3 – Supertwin (4 laps)
Race 4 – Superstock (6 laps)
Race 5 – NW200 Superbike (7 laps)