NW200: Peter Hickman in Burrows deal as big race launched in Belfast

Pictured at the launch of the NW200 in Titanic Belfast are: Front L/R: William Dunlop, Jeremy McWilliams and Ryan Farquhar. Back row, from left: Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman, Conor Cummins, Dan Kneen, Michael Rutter, Lee Johnston and John McGuinness
Pictured at the launch of the NW200 in Titanic Belfast are: Front L/R: William Dunlop, Jeremy McWilliams and Ryan Farquhar. Back row, from left: Alastair Seeley, Peter Hickman, Conor Cummins, Dan Kneen, Michael Rutter, Lee Johnston and John McGuinness
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Road racing revelation Peter Hickman could be set to make his Supertwins bow this year for John Burrows’ Cookstown B.E. Racing team at the Vauxhall International North West 200.

Hickman, a sensational winner in the Superbike class at last year’s Ulster Grand Prix and at Macau in the Far East, is a definite starter on the Kawasaki ER-6 in the Lightweight race at the Isle of Man TT.

However, he may also ride for Burrows at the North West in May dependent on whether or not Carrick’s Glenn Irwin returns to the North Coast meeting after making a dazzling debut in 2015, when he finished on the rostrum in the second Supersport race after retiring from the opener while battling for the lead with 15-times winner Alastair Seeley.

Irwin has joined the Be Wiser Ducati team for his maiden season in the MCE British Superbike Championship this year alongside four-time champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne but his BSB commitments could mean he is forced to skip the North West in 2016.

The 26-year-old has been promised the ride on Burrows Supertwin, but if he is unavailable then new JG Speedfit GBmoto Kawasaki signing Hickman will take over.

Team owner Burrows explained: “Peter will be riding for me at the TT on a Supertwin and he would also like to ride the bike at the North West, but I’ve a gentleman’s agreement with Glenn Irwin that if he does arrive at the North West with Paul Bird, then he can have the ’twin.

“Glenn has obviously rode for me in the past but at this moment in time it’s not certain that Bird will be a the North West because of his British Superbike commitments, so if that’s the case then obviously the bike will be there for Peter.

“He’s one of the hottest prospects in road racing at the moment and I think he’s going to be even better again this year.”

Dublin man Derek Sheils and exciting talent Malachi Mitchell-Thomas will also ride for Burrows this season.

Both Hickman and Irwin were in attendance at the official launch of the NW200 on Wednesday night at Titanic Belfast, where a stellar line-up included John McGuinness, William Dunlop, Conor Cummins, Ryan Farquhar, Jeremy McWilliams, Lee Johnston, Michael Rutter, Dan Kneen and of course reigning NW200 king Seeley, who needs one more win to become the most successful rider in the history of the event.

Ballyclare’s Jamie Hamilton, badly injured in a crash at the TT last year, also made a special appearance.

Following mountain criticism in recent years, Event Director Mervyn Whyte has vowed to integrate a number of key changes in 2016 aimed at addressing recurring gripes surrounding the organisation of the race, specifically the amount of time taken between the sighting lap and the actual start of racing.

“I think everyone would like to see the racing getting underway faster so we are making some changes to the grid management to speed things up,” Whyte said. “Most importantly, we will run two groups instead of three in each race this year.”

Whyte also announced improvements in respect of race communications.

“We want to keep riders, teams and fans up to date with everything that is going on so there will be an extra big screen put in place at the start and finish area and more speakers deployed around the course for the PA system,” he said.

This year’s Vauxhall International North West 200 takes place from May 10-14.