Kyle White: Ulster pride, lap records, controversy and drama at resurgent NW200

Big-time road racing returned with a full-throttle assault on the senses as Thursday’s wet and miserable weather became a fleeting memory by the time the latest chapter in North West 200 history had been written on Saturday night.

By Kyle White
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 11:35 am

Huge crowds, inspired by fantastic weather on the north coast, flocked to every vantage point around the 8.9-mile course to witness the return of Northern Ireland’s premier road race for the first time since 2019.

They wouldn’t leave disappointed.

Even the old gripes of past years could not be revisited as the organisers ran the event like clockwork on Saturday, with a revised six-race programme – including an additional race after Thursday’s postponed Supertwin race was added to the schedule – completed in its entirety by 4pm.

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Saturday's North West 200 showcased Northern Ireland's biggest motorcycle race at it absolute best.

And best of all, both race days passed without any major incidents, while not a single red flag appeared throughout Saturday’s main bill.

Lap records were obliterated in every race at the weekend except the showpiece Superbike event, making a mockery of suggestions speeds would be down after a three-year enforced absence due to successive Covid-related cancellations.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and Glenn Irwin stole the lion’s share of the limelight as the Honda Racing rider extended his winning Superbike streak to six victories, stretching back to his maiden triumph in 2017’s epic duel with fellow Carrick man Alastair Seeley.

This was Irwin’s second Superbike double, coming after he engineering a big-bike clean sweep on Paul Bird’s Ducati in 2018, when Irwin was a runaway winner.

Yet, the 32-year-old didn’t quite have it as easy on this occasion, and Irwin – by his own admission – had to push harder than he has ever done around the ‘Triangle’ course to see off hard-charger Davey Todd.

It has now been 10 years since an overseas rider scaled the top step in the Superbike class, when that man was John McGuinness back in 2012.

Long gone are the days when Northern Ireland’s homegrown riders were upstaged by their British counterparts, who arrived with the backing of the big British championship teams and dominated the blue riband class in our backyard.

Todd, though, looks like the man who could unsettle that established order after a sensational week for the 26-year-old, who sealed four runner-up finishes in wet and dry conditions, and left with the Supersport and Superstock lap records.

With Clive Padgett’s team behind him, the partnership appears to be a match made in heaven.

Who knows what Todd might achieve at the Isle of Man TT in a few weeks’ time?

Prior to the North West, a TT podium might have been considered a stretch too far for Todd in only his third year at the event, but now I’m not so sure. Todd has the perfect mentor in Padgett in his corner and something special could be on the horizon next month.

He was a strong contender for man of the meeting at the North West, but Carrickfergus rider Alastair Seeley was deserving of the accolade after he secured the fourth treble of his career at the ‘Triangle’.

Seeley now has 27 wins and served a timely reminder that he is far from finished after some were quick to write him off when he left the event empty-handed in 2019.

With Jeremy McWilliams still doing great things at the North West aged 58, who’s to say Seeley’s wish to reach his race number of 34 NW200 victories won’t be realised?

Lee Johnston also got in on the act at the weekend as NI riders won six of the eight races in total. The Fermanagh man has been hugely impressive in the British Supersport Championship and carried that form over to the roads, and Johnston will now be targeting a second TT win on the Ashcourt Yamaha.

One sour note was the exclusion of Richard Cooper from the Supertwin races on a technical infringement after the 39-year-old did the double on Ryan Farquhar’s Kawasaki for Northern Ireland team J McC Roofing.

Farquhar is determined to pursue the matter, but even if he is vindicated down the line, the protest spoiled the party for everyone involved with Cooper – another man of the meeting contender – on Saturday.

The feature Superbike race also descended into an anti-climax when top names including Peter Hickman, Todd, Michael Dunlop and Dean Harrison did not compete on safety grounds after an issue with a batch of Dunlop rear Superbike slick tyres.

The outcome of the race may not have been any different, but I feel Todd and new outright lap record holder Hickman would have given Irwin a serious run for his money.

But safety is of paramount importance in road racing, and although it was a slightly disappointing end to the day, in no way did it detract overall from what was a truly magnificent return for the North West 200.