A controversial 2022 North West 200 took place in Northern Ireland on Saturday. The racing Gods smiled upon the North Coast event, blessing the 14.4 kilometres triangle circuit with perfect conditions. This was a welcome change from the racing on Thursday when it seemed as though winter had returned to the region, for one night only.
However, while the weather was perfect, Dunlop suffered major embarassment with their batch of slicks eventually being rendered unsafe due to a ‘fault in their batch of Superbike-spec slick tyres’. Minutes before the start of the big money second Superbike race, an announcement came over the public address system stating that Dunlop had pulled their riders from the race due to a defect in their slick offering. Michael Dunlop, Peter Hickman, Dean Harrison and Davey Todd amongst others were all pulled from the grid.
“On the grounds of safety, Dunlop has informed the NW200 organisers that the company will have to withdraw riders using their products from the final Merrow Hotel and Spa Superbike race today. Those riders include Michael Dunlop, Michael Rutter, Dean Harrison, Peter Hickman, Brian McCormack and Sam West plus a number of other competitors.”
While the announcement was shocking, it wasn’t until after the roads were open and the dust had settled on the meeting that the true enormity of what had happened filtered through.
The Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine area becomes an internet black spot during the races. The population of the area is swollen so much by the sudden influx of 100,000 race fans that the 4G masts cannot handle the traffic and smart phones are rendered redundant. This evening, it wasn’t until the twitterites and facebook heads returned to the sanctuary of their wifi conection that the racing public saw videos of Michael Dunlop’s superbike rear tyre exploding and photos of decimated rubber on the machinery of many of the top stars, most notably Todd and Hickman. It was a PR disaster for Dunlop.
Further revelations that Richard Cooper had been disqualified from his double SuperTwins victory due to a technical infringement was merely a caveat. It’s hard to believe that the total domination Cooper had enjoyed was all for nothing but the tyre story takes the prize for being most controversial.
Despite all that, the 2022 NW200 Saturday races were worthy of the hype that surrounds the event. Although Thursday evening races have been a part of the event since 2012, Saturday at the North West has and always will be ‘race day’.
The fans come in their thousands to grab a glimpse of the spectacle. They congregate in the gardens, in the hedges, along the railway embankment and in Church grounds. A golf course on the coast road section becomes a fan zone and adjacent to that, punters lean over the walls and fences that enclose the caravan parks in a desperate attempt to catch a glimpse of the road racing stars who compete for glory at Ireland’s biggest sporting event.
And it must be said that the racing was indeed great.
Pole sitter Glenn Irwin completed the day by taking his 6th NW200 Superbike race in a row after winning both races on Saturday. The lack of Dunlop tyre shod opposition in the second race did take the shine of that victory a little, although Richard Cooper wasn’t a million miles away from the Honda racing ace. Cooper was close to him but not close enough; all race long.
“Job done! When I came here I’d had success before at the North West 200, but to come here with Honda was something else and we arrived at a time where my BSB career has taken a huge step forward, so we arrived probably with me riding the best I have ever ridden. You do put pressure on yourself, you’ve won here before and you feel like you can do it again, but it never works like that, you have to fight for it and you can’t be complacent. Fair play to my team, today has just been a dream! We came here to win the big ones and the level here is so high, so to win both the Superbike races this year and lead that calibre of field is such a good feeling. I want to thank everyone who has helped and supported me along the way, the team, Honda UK, my family, my friends and all my sponsors, as well as the North West 200 organisers, its sponsors the marshals and everyone behind the scenes who makes the event happen, and of course the supporters. The last lap of the feature Superbike race was incredible, it was so overwhelming with the support out there along the course.”
Josh Brookes completed the podium on the PBM Ducati, quite some distance behind Irwin and Cooper after overshooting the fast ‘University’ corner which lies in wait at the end of the famous 320 kmh straights on the approach to Coleraine. Ian Hutchinson was 4th and Michael Rutter 5th.
Earlier, in the opening superbike race (in which the tyre controversy first came to light), Todd pushed Irwin really hard. The pair scuffled from start to finish on their Fireblades.
When the riders arrived at the metropole on lap one, the circuit commentator announced that Irwin had a handsome lead. Onlookers rubbed their eyes in disbelief when Todd upped his game to catch Irwin and apply pressure to Honda racing’s star man.
Todd, obviously had had enough of finishing second at the event (he had already had a hat-trick of runners-up finishes by this stage) and decided he was going to shake off the bridesmaid tag in this prestigious superbike race. It was nip and tuck all the way, with Richard Cooper just behind, not quite within touching distance but riding really hard.
Josh Brookes gave a good account of himself, finishing 4th but not quite on the pace of those in front. Dean Harrison had been circulating well, but was eventually black flagged. At the time, mystery surrounded the exclusion. Michael Dunlop had disapeared without explanation also. Few people knew he had got away with an exploded tyre at speed. It would be much later before the crowd would understand what had gone on.
Peter Hickman overshot on the first lap going into ‘University’ (it proved to be the undoing of many riders throughout the day) and it was assumed he was out of contention. However, the angry Lincolnshire man got down to business and was picking off riders of the calibre of Conor Cummins in highly impressive style after losing so much time.
Commentator Adrian Coates almost swallowed his microphone when Hickman broke the lap record by six-seconds. However, it wasn’t long before the FHO BMW was touring. Of course, Hickman was yet another Dunlop rider and his tyre had fell apart. Michael Dunlop’s outright lap record was broken not only by Hickman, but also by Irwin, Davey Todd (Milenco Padgetts Honda), Richard Cooper (Buildbase Suzuki) and Dean Harrison (DAO Racing Kawasaki) during the race before Peter Hickman set a new mark at 124.799mph on his FHO Racing BMW.
Josh Brookes reflected on his fourth and third places from the two Superbike races.
“After a few years away from the roads, the first few laps were quite breathtaking and intense, but I was soon at ease again. It was just a case of getting on with the job and whilst I was quickly up to speed in Tuesday’s qualifying session, I knew the pace would quicken on Thursday. We only made small improvements compared to other riders and with a relative lack of track time, especially with not riding in any other classes, we weren’t able to fully try all the changes we made. That meant we went into race day still working on set-up but the changes we made for the two races definitely worked and I ended up setting a new personal best lap. It was certainly pleasing to end the week with a podium finish and after eight years away from the event I think, realistically, that’s the best we could have hoped for. The pace at the front was red hot but we got quicker and quicker and we can be pleased with our efforts this week.”
Honda’s North West 200 campaign has also been successful for John McGuinness MBE, who comes away with solid results aboard the Fireblade coming home 11th in the opening Superbike Race, as well as fifth in both the CP Hire Limited Superstock and Merrow Hotel and Spa Superbike Races.
“It’s all super positive today, the team has worked mint and we’ve all had a laugh, but got down to business when we needed to. My other side of the garage with Glenn, what can I say, just brilliant, what a class act! My side has just been getting better and better, the first Superbike race was a bit disappointing, the tyre on the bike in front of me delaminated and it spooked me out a little for the rest of the race. The Stocker race I got stuck in, I ride that week in, week out and just felt comfortable and bike fit! We had the six-lap Superstock race, followed straight away by a seven-lap Superbike race, that’s quite hard, but I felt good. The sun shone today, everyone is safe, there was no red flags and it’s a testament to the riders and organisers. It was so good to see the fans out there, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen crowds like that around the course here – it was epic! I’ve enjoyed this week, working again with Honda, my team, Glenn – the atmosphere in the paddock, the weather today – road racing is back!”
2022 North West 200
Superbike Race One Results
Glenn IRWIN Honda – Honda Racing Uk 25:59.274 123.935mph
Davey TODD Honda – Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles 25:59.527 123.914mph
Richard COOPER Suzuki – Hawk Racing 26:10.765 123.028mph
Josh BROOKES Ducati – MCE Ducati Racing 26:24.608 121.953mph
Alastair SEELEY Yamaha – IFS 26:33.987 121.236mph
Conor CUMMINS Honda – Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles 26:34.230 121.217mph
James HILLIER Yamaha – RICH Energy OMG Racing 26:54.449 119.699mph
Michael RUTTER BMW – Bathams Racing 26:55.280 119.637mph
Ian HUTCHINSON BMW – Milwaukee BMW Motorrad 27:02.307 119.119mph
Nathan HARRISON Honda – Quayside Racing by IOMSP 27:05.106 118.914mph
2022 North West 200
Superbike Race Two Results
Glenn IRWIN Honda – Honda Racing Uk 30:21.682 123.809
Richard COOPER Suzuki – Hawk Racing 30:24.176 123.639
Josh BROOKES Ducati – MCE Ducati Racing 30:50.639 121.871
Ian HUTCHINSON BMW – Milwaukee BMW Motorrad 31:21.252 119.888
John McGUINNESS Honda – Honda Racing UK 31:24.664 119.671
James HILLIER Yamaha – RICH Energy OMG Racing 31:32.108 119.200
Michael RUTTER BMW – Bathams Racing 31:45.310 118.374
Phillip CROWE BMW – Agriwash 32:10.500 116.830
Craig NEVE BMW – Callmac Scaffolding 32:19.203 116.306
Lukas MAURER Kawasaki – L78 by Heidger Motorsport 32:30.033 115.660
A change to the schedule had earlier saw the cancelled Twins event carried over from Thursday to open the event. Richard Cooper ran away with it on the JMCC Kawasaki. By the end of the first lap, he had a sizeable lead, somewhat surprising in a class renowned for wheel-to-wheel racing.
While Cooper cleared off at the front the real contest was for 2nd. No one could have known that it was really the race for the win as Cooper would later be excluded from the results. Frenchman Pierre Yves Bian, Paul Jordan, Lee Johnston and McWilliams and Jamie Coward fought a furious tussle. In the end Jordan and Bian broke free to battle for what turned out to be the win.
Cooper’s disqualification in race one means that Pierre Yves Bian has the honour of being the first ever Frenchman to win a North West in over 90 years of history. Quite the feat. His grin was enormous as he enjoyed beer in the paddock with his team after the event.
2022 North West 200
Supertwin Race One Results
Pierre Yves BIAN Paton – VAS Engine Racing 19:25.797 110.366mph
Paul JORDAN Kawasaki – PreZ Racing 19:26.082 110.339mph
Lee JOHNSTON Aprilia – Ashcourt Racing 19:30.544 109.918mph
Jeremy McWILLIAMS Paton – IFS / Bayview Hotel 19:30.883 109.886mph
Jamie COWARD Kawasaki – KTS Racing by Steadplan 19:31.876 109.793mph
Michael SWEENEY Kawasaki – KBS 19:36.224 109.387mph
Christian ELKIN Kawasaki – Dynocentre NI 19:45.906 108.494mph
Michael RUTTER Paton – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 19:59.103 107.300mph
Peter HICKMAN Aprilia – PHR Performance 20:00.768 107.151mph
Andrea MAJOLA Paton – VAS Engine Racing 20:04.806 106.792mph
Supertwin Race Two
And it was similar next time around (only Bian ran into trouble with his brakes and retired early in the race). This time it was the man dubbed the ‘craziest man in road racing’; Joe Loughlin, who gave chase on his Paton.
Again, the fans were unaware that Cooper would later be excluded and that Loughlin would be declared the winner, ahead of Lee Johnston.
It is a watershed moment in the Castleblayney man’s career, for Loughlin has never before had a result of that magnitude. You have to feel sorry for Cooper though. Apparently it’s a modified bracket that saw him thrown out. His team claim it is legal. Expect the final results to be declared in the courts.
2022 North West 200
Supertwin Race Two Results
Joe LOUGHLIN Paton – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 19:19.849 110.932mph
Lee JOHNSTON Aprilia – Ashcourt Racing 19:24.940 110.447mph
Jeremy McWILLIAMS Paton – IFS / Bayview Hotel 19:25.233 110.419mph
Jamie COWARD Kawasaki – KTS Racing by Steadplan 19:25.740 110.371mph
Michael SWEENEY Kawasaki – KBS 19:29.860 109.982mph
Matthew REES Kawasaki – KMR / Rees Racing 19:53.941 107.764mph
Andrea MAJOLA Paton – VAS Engine Racing 19:54.154 107.745mph
Gary McCOY Kawasaki – MadBros Racing 19:54.390 107.724mph
Emmet O’GRADY Aprilia 20:29.483 104.649mph
Barry GRAHAM Aprilia – BG Boats & Cars 20:33.903 104.274mph
The Supersport race was really special. The lap record never stood a chance as Davey Todd and Lee Johnston went elbow to elbow all the way.
Michael Dunlop made a mistake in the opening stages, however he consistently set the fastest laps of the race in an attempt to hunt the leading duo down. The problem was that Todd and Johnston were only slightly slower and Dunlop struggled to make inroads despite the leaders making mistakes further up the road.
Todd spent a lot of time at the front, especially over the final coast road section but it was Johnston who used his experience to take the win. Todd recorded his third 2nd place finish of the event with Dunlop completing the podium. Thursday’s double victor Alastair Seeley had retired from the Supersport race.
2022 North West 200
Saturday Supersport Race
Lee JOHNSTON Yamaha – Ashcourt Racing 27:31.644 117.003mph
Davey TODD Honda – Milenco by Padgett’s Motorcycles 27:31.723 116.998mph
Michael DUNLOP Yamaha – MD Racing 27:41.461 116.312mph
Dean HARRISON Kawasaki – DAO Racing 28:02.148 114.882mph
Jamie COWARD Yamaha – KTS Racing by Steadplan 28:11.769 114.228mph
Joe LOUGHLIN Yamaha – Team ILR / Mark Coverdale 28:12.280 114.194mph
Paul JORDAN Yamaha – PreZ Racing 28:12.708 114.165mph
Jeremy McWILLIAMS Yamaha – Burrows by RK Racing 28:21.596 113.569mph
Michael SWEENEY Yamaha – EM Building 28:22.410 113.514mph
Pierre Yves BIAN Kawasaki – Martimotos Racing 28:35.533 112.646mph
Seeley was unhappy with his Superbike mount after qualifying and decided at the 11th hour to ditch it, opting to instead campaign his Superstock Yamaha R1 in all three 1000cc Saturday races. While this meant he was unlikely to challenge in the Superbikes, it allowed him extra practice on the stocker. This paid dividends when he added a 27th victory to his CV in Saturday’s Superstock bout.
Michael Dunlop managed to put his near death experience in the superbike race behind him and hounded Seeley in the early stages. But Dunlop made a mistake that saw him drop back and after that it was only ever going to be Seeley’s. You simply don’t allow the ‘Wee Wizard’ that kind of room around the North West. In the end Dunlop dropped out and it was Lee Johnston and Dean Harrison who completed the podium.
2022 North West 200
Superstock Saturday Race
Alastair SEELEY Yamaha – IFS 26:23.700 122.023
Lee JOHNSTON BMW – Ashcourt Racing 26:35.442 121.125
Dean HARRISON Kawasaki – DAO Racing 26:36.421 121.051
Michael SWEENEY BMW – MJR Racing 26:55.105 119.650
John McGUINNESS Honda – Honda Racing UK 26:55.355 119.632
Sam WEST BMW – Moto Hub (PRL) 27:02.857 119.079
Nathan HARRISON Honda – Quayside Racing 27:05.442 118.890
Craig NEVE BMW – CN Racing 27:40.461 116.382
Jamie COWARD Yamaha – KTS Racing by Steadplan 27:45.440 116.034
Lukas MAURER Kawasaki – L78 by Heidger Motorsport 27:49.920 115.723
By the end of the day, all the talk was about tyres falling apart, and Glenn Irwin’s domination.
The Dunlop debacle certainly casts a cloud over the sun-kissed cliff top races. The footage and photographs of what went wrong are sobering; it doesn’t bare thinking about what might have been. Thankfully the race schedule went to plan and everyone went home safe. The racing Gods smiled upon the 2022 North West 200 in more ways than one.
Dunlop has some work to do before the TT. Hickman, Harrison and Dunlop will take heart from the fact that they are all in the same boat. The likes of John McGuinness and James Hiller will perhaps sniff an opportunity. Only time will tell.
Gary McCoy’s 12th and 8th place finishes in the Milltown Service Station and JM Paterson Supertwin races plus 12th and 14th place finishes in the Strain Engineering and Tides Restaurant Supersport events aboard MadBros Racing Kawasaki and Yamaha machinery saw the Donaghmore rider claim the Newcomer award at this year’s fonaCAB and Nicholl Oils North West 200.
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