Road racing great Phillip McCallen feels the Superbike bragging rights could be the domain of the home contingent at the North West 200 for some time to come, ending a long run of overseas dominance on the north coast.
Last year, William and Michael Dunlop shared the honours in the feature class while Alastair Seeley is a double winner of the blue riband race, scaling the top step for the first time in the Superbike division in 2010 and repeating the feat in 2012.
Seeley’s triumph in 2010 ended a 13-year hoodoo for Irish riders on home soil, with McCallen – who famously won five races in a day at the North West in 1992 – the last local hero before that to bag the spoils following a brace in 1997.
With bad weather combined with an oil spill forcing the cancellation of the Superbike races in 2013, Morecambe’s John McGuinness remains the most recent English winner in the premier class at the event, scaling the top step in the Superbike opener in 2012 before Seeley powered to victory in the showpiece race.
And McCallen – who is part of BB NI’s NW200 commentary team this week – feels the tide has finally turned in favour of Northern Ireland’s cream of roads talent, with the Dunlops plus Seeley and rising star Lee Johnston part of a formidable line-up.
“The Irish contingent is really strong with Seeley and the two Dunlop boys, Lee Johnston and Ryan Farquhar,” McCallen said.
“A lot of William and Michael’s history was on small bikes and they did a lot of racing on 125s and 250s and then moved into 600s.
“Then they moved up to the 1000cc bikes, but it’s really only in the last few years when they have stamped their authority on the Superbike class at the North West 200.
“A Superbike is hard to ride, it’s harder to ride than a 600 or a Superstock bike and it really is the daddy in the pile,” he added.
“Whether or not Ryan is able to get a Superbike win or not I’m not sure, but I hope he is. I just don’t think you can take a couple of years out on a big bike and come back and beat those boys on a Superbike at the North West.
“If it was as easy as that then everyone would be making a comeback. If you were a rider competing regularly in top form and a competitor who had been out of the game for a while came back and beat you, then you’d think there was something wrong.”
Michael Dunlop has teamed up with the Milwaukee Yamaha squad, while Seeley and William Dunlop have the might of Tyco BMW behind them to enhance their prospects of international glory.
The change of manufacturer for many of the leading riders and teams has added extra intrigue to the 2015 season but McCallen, who runs a successful motorcycle business in Lisburn, doesn’t foresee any major issues for the big teams.
“A manufacturer like Yamaha isn’t stupid obviously and they’re not going to be building bad bikes,” he said.
“There’s always going to be a bit of fine-tuning to get them right, it just depends if that clicks early in the year or later in the year.
“Those teams know what they’re doing and you’ve got Mar-Train who’ve been setting up great bikes for years and Shaun Muir’s team is racing every week in the British championship.
“They’ve got Yamaha’s help behind them and I don’t think there’s going to be much of a problem; I’d say the bikes will be competitive straight out of the blocks,” he added.
“The BMWs are already competitive and if anything the Hondas and Suzukis are a wee bit behind, although they’ll be there or thereabouts too.”