The stage is set for a blistering Superbike showdown at the Vauxhall International North West 200, with little to separate Triangle titans Alastair Seeley and Michael Dunlop on the time sheets.
Seeley, whose Supersport victory on Thursday evening lifted him above Robert Dunlop as the most successful rider ever at the event with 16 wins, sealed pole with a flying lap of 122.343mph on the Briggs BMW to deny Dunlop by only 0.017s.
The Ulster pair are joined on an all-BMW front row for the Superbike races by 13-time winner Michael Rutter, who clocked 121.656mph on the Bathams SMT S1000RR to finish 1.5 seconds in arrears.
With his father’s record finally surpassed, 27-year-old Dunlop will be eager to put one over on Seeley in the name of family pride as he seeks a repeat of his 2014 triumph in the showpiece Superbike race at the 8.9-mile Triangle course.
The 11-time Isle of Man TT winner has been fearsomely fast on the Hawk BMW in practice and a titanic scrap is on the cards in the premier races on the North Coast.
“On Tuesday we had a couple of small issues with the big bike and we didn’t have much time,” Dunlop said.
“But we cured them and then obviously with the session being stopped a little bit earlier [due to Nico Mawhinney’s crash], we didn’t get to try our last setting. Hopefully we shouldn’t be too far away now.
“We’re relying on what we’ve got with the settings for the Superbike and the ’stocker and we’ve brought the Superstock bike back to where we need it: we’re a little bit away from what we need in terms of a base setting, but we’re not too far,” added Dunlop, who qualified in fifth place on his MD Racing BMW Superstock machine.
“There’s not a big lot of difference between them and the ’stock bike is really nice to ride too – it’s got a little bit less power and it’s that bit more comfortable to ride than the Superbike.”
The Ballymoney man is satisfied with his 1000cc machines but Dunlop says he is lacking top-end speed with his Supersport Yamaha.
He didn’t take part in Thursday’s opening 600cc event after being forced to pull his bike off the grid with a problem moments before the start of the race.
Meanwhile, Seeley – who admits some of the pressure is off after he finally set a new NW200 win record on Thursday – is bidding for a fourth Superbike victory after achieving his first win in the blue riband class in 2010.
The 36-year-old won the only Superbike race in 2015 and made his intentions clear in final qualifying to throw down the gauntlet.
“I went out at the start of the session and didn’t feel like I had much grip so I came in and changed from the harder to the softer tyre,” Seeley said.
“We made some adjustments and it immediately felt better and with clear traffic on the second lap I set my fastest speed.
“I can still tidy the bike up a bit because it isn’t 100 per-cent yet but we have laid a marker down and everyone likes to get P1.”
North West legend Rutter has been impressive all week on his BMW Superbike and Superstock machines and the 44-year-old has the experience and pace to upset the applecart.
Rutter is on the front row in both classes on his resplendent black and gold Bathams SMT BMW machines and it would be no surprise if he managed to claim his 14th success.
Roads close at 9.30am sharp with the first race due to commence around 10am.
A revised schedule has been announced, with Thursday’s Superstock race added to Saturday’s programme.
The new running order is as follows:
Race 1 – Bet McLean.com Supersport Race
Race 2 – Spidi Superstock Race
Race 3 – Anchor Bar Superbike Race
Race 4 – John M Paterson Supertwin Race
Race 5 – CP Hire Superstock Race
Race 6 – Vauxhall NW200 Superbike Race