NW200: Alastair Seeley chasing repeat of Thursday double

Alastair Seeley has won four races in the past two years on the Thursday evening of race week at the North West 200
Alastair Seeley has won four races in the past two years on the Thursday evening of race week at the North West 200

Alastair Seeley is aiming to maintain his prolific strike rate in the Thursday evening race schedule at the Vauxhall International North West 200.

The Tyco BMW rider dominated Tuesday’s opening Superbike, Superstock and Supersport practice sessions in mixed conditions on the north coast to fire a warning shot over the bows of his key opponents with a classy display at the 8.9-mile ‘Triangle’ course.

It was an ominous start to race week for Seeley, who will be confident of carrying his momentum into final qualifying as he bids to seal front row starts in the feature classes ahead of Thursday’s opening Supersport and Superstock events.

The 35-year-old has been quick out of the traps over the past two years on the Thursday evening of race week, winning four times from four races.

Another double would leave the Carrick man requiring only one more victory on Saturday to equal Robert Dunlop’s benchmark of 15 successes at the famous old road race and the omens certainly favour Seeley, who has made the evening races his own at the North West.

“For the past two years the Thursday night has been good to us; we got two wins two years ago and two wins last year,” Seeley said.

“When things go well on the Thursday, people talk about a clean sweep on the Saturday but things change quickly and riders get their bikes dialled in better and have built up more track time after practice on the Tuesday and Thursday and then the Thursday races.

“When you finally get to Saturday, everyone is more switched on and have their bikes set-up better so it becomes a lot more difficult,” he added.

“Track time means a lot around the North West but I give myself the Supertwin race off to fuel up and hydrate, chill out and have a think about things before the next race.”

With dry weather forecast, lap times will soar after high winds and rain showers on Tuesday kept speeds down, although Seeley managed the fastest lap of the day at 118.306mph on a drying course in the final Superstock session.

His flying start to the week only strengthened his status as the big pre-race favourite, but it is a tag the experienced British championship protagonist has become accustomed to during a stellar North West career, which has saw Seeley amass 12 wins since he made his debut at the event 11 years ago.

The Ulster rider looks relaxed and confident and at ease with the expectation that comes with the territory.

He has been there and done it all before but once he pulls on his helmet, Seeley’s easy demeanour belies a fierce competitor whose hunger for success remains undiminished by his sizeable haul of North West 200 trophies.

“People seem to say that I look as though I’m not trying but under the helmet it’s a different story because I am trying; I just make it look like I’m not trying,” he said.

“We had heart monitors fitted a few years ago when we were out on the track - myself, Jeremy McWilliams and Gareth Keys, and they studied the data when we came back after the qualifying session.

“Those guys were up around 180, 185 and 190bpm whereas I was around 130bpm and my average was 131bpm. I must be able to keep myself quite calm on the bike and there’s probably a mix of reasons for that,” he added.

“I think it’s part of my character and then my training plays a part too because I’m out doing motocross quite a bit and doing duration stints on the bike.

“On the long straights at the North West you can sit back and have a bit of a think about things, but on the Coast Road that’s probably where the heart rate would rise a bit because you’re having to think more and work the bike up through the bridge at Dhu Varren and into Black Hill and then along to the chicane.”

Seeley’s iron will was perfectly illustrated six years ago when he had a lucky escape after a high-speed crash in the Supersport race when Scotsman Keith Amor’s machine lost power in front of him as the pair accelerated towards Mather’s Cross.

It was a huge accident, but he took his place on the grid for the next race and showed incredible mental resolve to put the incident to the back of his mind and bounce back with a victory.

“I had a big crash, probably one of the fastest I’ve ever had, at the North West and I was very lucky that day because it was one of the few places where there was a bit of space at the side of the road and I managed to jump off and miss anything hard,” Seeley recalled.

“It was unavoidable because Keith’s [Amor] bike cut out in front of me and I was behind him in his slipstream; I was in the hands of the Gods that day.

“I went out in the very next race and won the Superstock race but I can’t say I wasn’t shook up by what happened, because it was a big crash,” he added.

“But people say if you fall off the best thing to do is just to get straight back on the bike again and I had a great battle with Ryan Farquhar and it took my mind off what had happened because I just got on with the job.

“It was quite special after a big crash like that to go straight out and be able to run at the front.”