Kyle White: Alastair Seeley's low-key preparations could be a NW200 blessing in disguise

All-time North West 200 record holder Alastair Seeley won’t mind that he is coming into this year’s event with the spotlight shining a little less intensely on the Carrickfergus man.

By Kyle White
Tuesday, 10th May 2022, 7:00 am

The 24-time winner has been going about his business in the Ulster Superbike Championship away from the British Superbike limelight after failing to land a suitable ride over the past two seasons to compete in England.

Teams are now prioritising riders who can bring some financial muscle with them, and Seeley freely admits that he hasn’t been in a position to effectively ‘buy’ a British championship seat.

The 42-year-old has therefore turned his attention to the domestic scene and, as it was reasonable to expect of a rider of his short circuit pedigree, has dominated the Superbike and Supersport classes on the IFS Yamaha machines, winning both championships in 2021.

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NW200 record holder Alastair Seeley on the IFS Yamaha R1 Superstock machine.

He has also made an unbeaten start to the new season at Bishopscourt and Kirkistown, where Seeley concentrated on setting up his Yamaha R1 Superstock and Supersport machines at the Ulster Superbike rounds in April.

His preparation has not been carried out against the level of opposition faced by several of his key rivals this week, with the likes of fellow Northern Ireland man Lee Johnston, Peter Hickman and Dean Harrison among those riders racing at the sharp end in the British championship.

Nonetheless, Seeley has impressed in everything he has done in the Ulster Superbike Championship, winning all 12 Superbike races on the YZF-R1 last year and only failing to win one of the nine Supersport races he started, with Cookstown’s Gary McCoy edging him out in the wet at Bishopscourt.

He has a close-knit team around him and is well accustomed to the Yamaha machines he will ride at the North West, where Seeley’s record of securing at least one victory every year since his maiden success in 2008 ended in 2019.

Yet, he was still right in the hunt for more silverware, slipping off moments after taking the lead from Lee Johnston on the final lap of the Thursday Supersport race at Juniper Hill chicane.

He was also under Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record in Superbike qualifying, despite having little testing time on the PBM Ducati Panigale.

A 25th win around the 8.9-mile ‘Triangle’ circuit would be a prized milestone for Seeley, and it would be no surprise to see him even surpass that over the course of Thursday’s and Saturday’s races.

Any wet weather this week wouldn’t be a major concern for him either, and in fact could even play into his hands given his experience and past performances in less than ideal conditions.

And what of his prospects in the blue riband Superbike class?

Seeley has been testing a Yamaha R1 Superbike and made some final preparations at Kirkistown in Co Down in perfect weather on Sunday, where World Superbike champion Toprak Razgatlioglu’s crew chief Phil Marron was in attendance.

It seems all the stops are being pulled out, and Seeley won’t need any extra incentive to show that he can still cut it at the highest level at the event where he made his name.

Of course, no race win at the NW200 comes easy, and the quality of the grid is as high as it has ever been.

First, Seeley will have to beat another Carrick man, Glenn Irwin, who has won the last four Superbike races.

Irwin will give the new Honda Fireblade its roads debut and must start as the favourite, while Peter Hickman (FHO Racing) and Dean Harrison (DAO Racing Kawasaki) aren’t far behind him in the pecking order.

Michael Dunlop’s disrupted preparation could count against him, but never say never, and the returning Josh Brookes is an intriguing contender on the PBM Ducati Panigale.

Davey Todd is a dark horse on the Milenco by Padgett’s Honda machines, as is 2019’s top newcomer Richard Cooper, while Lee Johnston, Michael Rutter, Ian Hutchinson, James Hillier, Gary Johnson and Conor Cummins are high on the shortlist.

Ulstermen Adam McLean (McAdoo Racing) and Paul Jordan (PreZ Racing) will also be looking to impress before the TT and will have their own designs on an eye-catching result.

It’s been a long time coming, but finally the wait is over and a new chapter in the history of this famous old race is about to be written.